Akira Toriyama is one of the most acclaimed Japanese manga and game artists. Toriyama’s illustrations have a signature style that’s instantly recognizable upon a glance or distance. Akira’s most notable works are Dr. Slump, Dragon Ball, Dragon Quest, and Chrono Trigger.
Akira became the wealthiest man in Japan with his first success, Dr. Slump, a story about an animatronic girl robot. After concluding his manga series and animation TV, in November 1984, Toriyama’s next series, Dragon Ball, was released. Dragon Ball would go on to become one of the world’s most beloved and influential cultural phenomenons.
Toriyama’s illustrations are attractive and easy to understand; they are also cute or how the Japanese say “kawaii.” The images communicate with both children and adults. Each of his characters is memorable, with a lot of facial expressions and a range of emotions.
During my childhood, I first came in contact with Akira while watching Dragon Ball on Cartoon Network at night. As each episode aired, I’d begin to love the characters and the fast-paced action that wasn’t seen on any other television show at the time. All the western animations on Cartoon Network didn’t have the same level of quality.
Years later, as an adult, I’d come to appreciate Akira Toriyama’s collaboration in the creation of some of the industries most acclaimed video games.
Akira began working on videogames in 1985 as a character designer for Enix’s upcoming RPG Dragon Quest. Game designer Yuji Horii and staff members would send ideas through concept art for monsters or characters, and Akira would illustrate them in his image. The entire team was impressed by Toriyama’s simplistic illustrations.
The monster, Slime, is the mascot and the most iconic monster of the Dragon Quest series for its design. Akira mentions,” Since the character illustrations are ultimately going to be developed into 8-bit sprites, I can design detailed and more complex drawings.”
Dragon Quest celebrates over thirty years of traditional Japanese role-playing video games. The latest iteration, Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, is a testament to how far the series has evolved, and Akira’s designs stay as faithful as ever to their humble beginnings.
In 1992, Akira collaborated on the development of Chrono Trigger, which is considered one of the greatest role-playing games of all time. Chrono Trigger was innovative in presenting seamless transitions between battles. Players could walk across areas and begin to fight there instead of loading a separate screen.
Chrono Trigger is also known for the intriguing battle system, allowing players to combine moves between party members for devastating attacks.
Known as the Dream Team, development was led by Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy; Yuji Horii, creator of Dragon Quest, and Toriyama, who participated as a designer. Beautifully orchestrated music done by Yasunori Mitsuda would bring Akira Toriyama’s illustrations would come to life. Once again, Toriyama spent time designing all the characters, enemies, and settings for each era.
As mentioned above, kawaii is present throughout Japanese culture. You’ll notice that Akira’s early work has an essence of kawaii designs. He has an extraordinary talent to simplify his unique style or add more detail and still appeal to all ages.
The following image shows a comparison between Akira Toriyama’s work and other Japanese illustrations. Starting from the top left corner, his more detailed drawings of Dragon ball have charming facial expressions and strike captivating poses. He can draw Bulma, monsters, and machinery with lots of detail, or he can also make sensual illustrations.
Bottom left to right: Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Puzzle Bobble, Pikachu, and Super Mario riding on Yoshi’s back.
His early work of Dragon Quest has more straightforward illustrations. As Akira progressed in his career, so did the amount of detail without losing touch of his unique designs.
Akira Toriyama likes to work by himself, separated from the rest of the development team to focus on his illustrations. He works mostly with a pen, paper, and colored markers. Check out the following video of Akira Toriyama illustrating Goku with a ballpoint pen and marker. Notice how he uses quick strokes and two tones of the same color to create shadows.
He happens to also use the oldest version of Adobe Photoshop, as technology is not his strength, as mentioned by his colleague, Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy.
Akira’s work is significant because he has been able to bring his talents for manga illustration and adapt them to video games. His contribution to the industry has been vital to the development of the role-playing genre. Gamer’s get to appreciate the quality of one of the most remarkable illustrations of the previous and current generation.
During my time in Tokyo in 2018, I noticed that Akira Toriyama’s work is more popular and well-received in Japan. His character designs from Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball appear on public transportation and are used for tourism.
The protagonist of Dr. Slump, Arale, breaks through a wall. Suica is the Japanese fare card for transportation.
His work has been solidified in video game history hallways, touching the hearts of millions of players and developers worldwide. It is inspiring that his entrepreneurship, with his talent and dedication, found success.
I’ve played the recent Dragon Quest XI for the Nintendo Switch and loved the traditional role-playing mechanics and great storytelling. I can’t wait to see what the future brings in the upcoming generation of video games.
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