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Why 'Dragon Ball' creator Akira Toriyama was so important to the world of anime

This black and white photo taken in May 1982 shows Japanese manga artist Akira Toriyama, whose death was announced on March 8, 2024.
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JIJI Press/AFP via Getty Images
This black and white photo taken in May 1982 shows Japanese manga artist Akira Toriyama, whose death was announced on March 8, 2024.

Akira Toriyama, one of the most influential manga authors of all time, has died at age 68.

His production company, Bird Studio, said in a statement on Friday that the cause of death was an acute subdural hematoma.

The studio said the Japanese author was in the process of creating several manga works, but they did not say whether the works will still be released despite his passing.

Toriyama was born in Nagoya, Japan, in 1955. He was known globally for his best-selling manga series Dragon Ball, which follows the adventures of an eccentric young warrior named Son Goku, who possesses superhuman strength and practices martial arts.

"Toriyama's character Goku is so iconic that he has his own float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," journalist and author Lauren Orsini told NPR.

The Goku from "Dragon Ball" balloon floats during the 95th-annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 25, 2021, in New York City.
Kena Betancur / Getty Images
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Getty Images
The Goku from "Dragon Ball" balloon floats during the 95th-annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 25, 2021, in New York City.

She added that Toriyama took a lot of inspiration from the classic 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West.

The 1984 comic gave rise to the hugely popular anime series Dragon Ball Z, multiple films, and video games. "He's directly inspired what we expect role-playing games to look like today," Orsini said.

"If Dragon Ball hadn't existed, we might not have some of the other major anime that there are," Orsini said, referring to creations like Naruto and One Piece. "We certainly wouldn't have had America's largest distributor at the time, Funimation. The entire fandom landscape would look different."

The franchise has a fan base globally, especially in Latin America.

But beyond the world of anime and manga, Toriyama's influence can be seen in somewhat surprising ways as well. The poop emoji, for example, drew direct inspiration from a character in Toriyama's first major hit in the 1980s, Dr. Slump.

Toriyama received various awards, including France's Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

"Thanks to the support of so many people around the world, he has been able to continue his creative activities for over 45 years," his studio's statement said. "We hope that Akira Toriyama's unique world of creation continues to be loved by everyone for a long time to come."

Toriyama died on March 1, and a funeral service was held with his family and a few relatives.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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