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From Manga to Millions: Akira Toriyama's Journey of Turning Challenges into Opportunities

James Huang | 2024.03.15

Akira Toriyama ventured into the world of manga when he was 23. It is said that he was dissatisfied with his income and, upon observing the substantial earnings of other manga artists whose work he deemed inferior to his own, decided to quit his job to dedicate himself full-time to manga. Yes, Akira's initial foray into manga was motivated by a desire to earn more money.

Often, what drives an individual's decisions is not a distant dream, but immediate incentives.

Toriyama pondered on what he should illustrate. At the time, sports manga were all the rage. However, there was an oversaturation of artists in this field. Additionally, other themes lacked distinction. Toriyama wondered, what subject could he excel in? After much thought, given his knack for drawing machinery, particularly the intricate detailing of mechanical parts, and his upbringing in the countryside, he decided to create a sci-fi robot story set in a rural environment. The protagonist: a village scientist passionate about inventions.

Toriyama's editor at the time, Torishima Kazuhiko, offered a suggestion. Having a village scientist as the main character was uninteresting, why not make the robot, which had a young girl's image, the protagonist? Toriyama agreed, and, unable to resist his editor, decided to make the little girl robot the lead character. This was the inception of "Arale". The animated version of "Dr. Slump", released in 1981, achieved a viewership rate of over 36%, becoming that year's national anime in Japan. This marked the first pinnacle of Toriyama's career.

Looking at the birth of "Dr. Slump", it could be said that it was more of a passive design rather than an active creation. Due to the fierce competition in other themes, he was left with rural sci-fi. Additionally, he accepted his editor's suggestion, leading to the creation of "Arale Norimaki".

Based on one's unique expertise, create differentiation and be open to the perspectives and suggestions of others.

Toriyama had an interesting approach to dealing with passive pressure. His editor frequently offered suggestions, which he accepted. However, he was somewhat disgruntled. His solution? He incorporated his editor into his manga as a villain. This minor irritation, sparked by his editor's comments, paradoxically became a source of creative inspiration. Several infamous villains in "Dragon Ball", such as Cell, Frieza, and Piccolo, are reportedly based on Toriyama's previous editors.

Returning to "Dragon Ball". When "Arale" was created, Toriyama intended it to be a short manga. However, it unexpectedly turned into a long story, contrary to his plan, and he had been wanting to conclude it. At this point, the publisher set a condition: he could conclude "Arale", but he must start a new work. So, what should he draw? At the time, Toriyama enjoyed watching Jackie Chan's films, he also liked "Journey to the West", and Chinese elements were trendy in Japanese anime. Therefore, Toriyama decided to amalgamate kung fu, "Journey to the West", and other Chinese elements to create a new manga. This was the initial "Dragon Ball".

From this perspective, the birth of "Dragon Ball" also had certain passive elements. Moreover, this passivity accompanied "Dragon Ball" until its conclusion. During the serialisation process, Toriyama wanted to end the story multiple times, but was met with strong objections from the readers. To continue drawing, he had no choice but to keep the story going. How did he do this? For example, by continuously reviving the protagonist, transforming him, and expanding the worldview from a martial arts tournament to a grand competition between parallel universes. It wasn't until 1995 that the manga of "Dragon Ball" officially concluded.

All in all, "Dragon Ball" has sold over 200 million copies worldwide, becoming one of the highest-selling mangas in history.

Often, what determines an individual's success or failure is not only their proactive actions but also their reactive responses. Much like Toriyama, whenever he encountered constraints, he was able to adopt the optimal response strategy, turning every passive response in his life into an opportunity for self-improvement.

In other words, a successful person not only needs to create every initiative but also needs to effectively utilise every reaction in life.

From Manga to Millions: Akira Toriyama's Journey of Turning Challenges into Opportunities
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