Dragon Ball, the original manga by celebrated creator Akira Toriyama, turned 35 this year and to celebrate Viz Media has put out a comprehensive art book that takes readers back to the early days of the strip's life when it was serialized in Shōnen Jump through to the release of the theatrical film Battle of the Gods in 2013. Special thanks to Viz for sending this to Bleeding Cool for review.
The book is a must-have for Dragon Ball fans! Whether coming to the franchise with the original manga or with one of the later anime. It dedicates space to showcasing Toriyama's design work and attention to detail. One of the most iconic aspects about the franchise, and one that has allowed it to remain fresh and relevant over three and a half decades, is how it simply does not look like anything else on the stands, or at least it did not until it came along.
Whether it is the various instances of Capsule Corp technology or the wealth of imaginative characters, most of what can be defined as the visual language of the adventures of Goku and his friends comes through the static images, including the Dragon Ball book's cover which is adorned with rough sketches, a particular pleasure as it helps to show the process of a true master artist.
Included with Dragons Ball visual history are many of the promotional posters, including those that were seen as the work made its way to the West. Any retailer poster or half-translated printout hanging in a comic store in the late 90s is probably here, in its original full-color glory. The book is a celebration of the work that made all the cartoons, merchandise, and movies that came from it seem entirely plausible because no comic this good could help but connect with fans.
In his introduction to the Dragon Ball Visual History Toriyama thanks fans for "…browsing this book. Especially those who actually spent money on it." That self-deprecating tone, that moves the spotlight from the person to the work, infuses the art with an honestly that eschews vanity. He was not designing and drawing to make himself look good or impress you but to tell a story, one that would make you laugh and turn the page regardless of how ridiculous it got.
The bulk of the book is organized by year, parsing out key years of Dragons Ball's iconic history and providing a collection of art both from the comic and other works from that year. Included are an interview with Toriyama originally from Dragon Ball: The Complete Illustrations, as well as a so-called Super Interview that is new for this work and has him reflect on the comic from inception through 2013, and an archive of the original collected edition covers.
Toriyama's design work is key. From the various technology to all of the fanciful beasts that the Dragon Ball characters pal around with, the book shows not just the sometimes absurd human(oid) characters and their crazy fights but the lived-in world they fight in. In the interview he discusses how much of the original technology came from having no interest in the sometimes painstaking process of properly drawing real-world cars and motorcycles.
The book covers the Dragon Ball projects that Toriyama worked on so while Dragon Ball and the equivalent of Dragon Ball Z are here, along with Battle of the Gods, there is little for GT and Super. This is just a head's up for fans, it in no way takes away from what is on display. It also provides a fascinating look at some of the work from the period subsequent to the Z story and before Super began, where Dragon Ball had made an indelible impact on popular culture, worldwide, and continued to have a presence.
See below for a gallery of selected works. Dragon Ball: A Visual History is on sale now.
Images credit to DRAGON BALL CHOGASHUU © 1984 by BIRD STUDIO/SHUEISHA Inc.