Dragon Ball Z
Young man in a fight stance.

Death of An Era: A Lookback at DragonBallZ’s Legacy to the Anime World

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The sudden and tragic passing of Toriyama Akira left shockwaves not only throughout the manga and anime world but also throughout the greater global society. Toriyama was the creator and writer of the beloved Dragon Ball Z, the Shonen Manga that captivated and delighted audiences worldwide, sharing the ongoing adventures and rivalries of famous characters like Goku, Vegeta, Krillin, and Frieza. He was also the author and creator of numerous logos, album covers, other art pieces, and additional manga and anime works, including the 1980s cult hit Dr. Slump.

The man who was knighted by the French Government and mourned by world leaders and fans worldwide reflects just a small fraction of his profound influence – and how profoundly felt his departure will continue to be. 

Opening New Dimensions in Manga and Anime

Dragon Ball Z was, in essence, a Saiyan in the manga world, bringing great power to alter the course of the writing world. Oda Eiichiro, famed author of the highly acclaimed manga One Piece, whose own work was inspired by Dragon Ball Z, spoke of the last words Toriyama spoke to him: “Do your best.” Kishimoto Masashi, author of Naruto, offered similar remarks about Dragon Ball’s influence.

Another important point about the work’s art style is that Dragon Ball moved the needle on artwork away from realism and into the unique and eye-pleasingly cartoonish forms of manga and anime we have come to enjoy today. 

Toriyama’s ability to influence many others comes from his innate ability to take original spins on classic works and other pop culture icons, including the Classic 16th-century Chinese Novel “Journey to the West,” famous American cartoons, and more. It’s because Dragon Ball Z drew heavily from such famous inspiration, which is part of why it has continued to have such lasting charm and comfort even in the most high-adrenaline adventure scenes. While striving for novelty in familiarity is nothing new to manga, Dragon Ball Z upped the standard for all others. 

the fierce stare of a warrior

Opening New Dimensions in Fandom

Just as impactful as Dragon Ball Z was on art and literature is the lasting influence this work has had on how we express our appreciation for the characters and storylines. One need not look further than to see over 20,000 people crowding the square in Buenos Aires, all performing the “Genki Dama,” to see how eager fans have been to find unity in their shared love of the same story. 

This is because what Dragon Ball Z did went beyond storytelling: it created an experience, complete with symbols, tools, clothing and uniforms, customs, and belief systems that made a certain culture. And with that culture comes excitement for wearing and sharing that “culture.” Dragon Ball Z merchandise ended up taking the world by storm in a way few other anime ever achieved prior, including crystal ball versions of those found in the series, as well as t-shirts, stationary, action figures, and nearly anything under any of the suns of the universe.  

This consumer trend paved the way for an even more widely accepted culture of people who privately enjoyed the genre and publicly celebrated it. This has been as revolutionary for the anime world as it has been for merchandising and e-commerce. The most interesting new development has been the rise in cosplay and interest in more hand-made pieces. Laser Bed 3D printed figures for customized action figures or as parts to assemble for a costume or prop have, of course, found their way back into the fact that any character from Dragon Ball Z could be found at any major anime convention. 

Opening New Dimensions in Diplomatic and Intercultural Relations

Perhaps the biggest reason Dragon Ball Z left such an extensive legacy was because the story resonated with global audiences both in and outside Japan in a way few others had before. The most enthusiastic international Dragon Ball Z audiences have been among Central and South American fans and, even more, among immigrants to the U.S. from Central and South America. For many, Goku’s experiences as an otherworldly Sayan were comforting to those who wanted uplifting stories of people who left their past lives behind to find new adventures in new lands. 

Interestingly enough, appreciation for “Abuelo” Toriyama also caused a few tense moments in International relations – but nothing a good world martial arts tournament couldn’t have fixed.

Ode to the Boundary Breaker

The death of Toriyama Akira indeed marks the end of an era of manga and anime alike. Even amid the profound loss, it is important to remember that not only was Toriyama’s life one of paving the way for new eras and new generations of this medium, but it was also fiercely one that brought the once-obscure medium of Japanese graphic novels into the mainstream of art, storytelling, and even philosophy. Dragon Ball Z proved to the world that the graphic novels from Japan were art mediums in their own right, meant to be enjoyed worldwide. For that, we have a world of thanks.

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