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Interview: Dragon Ball Super's Toyotarou

by Todd Ciolek,

Dragon Ball Super is a big step for Akira Toriyama's vast and influential action series. It's the first major follow-up to the original Dragon Ball Z storyline in a long time, and it's the first Dragon Ball TV anime series since Dragon Ball GT to continue the story. In manga form, Dragon Ball Super runs on plotlines and oversight provided by Toriyama himself, but the artwork comes from Toyotarou, a manga creator who started off drawing Dragon Ball because he was a big fan.

Toyotarou visited New York Comic Con this month, and we interviewed him to find out what it's like to take on a manga powerhouse like Dragon Ball.

Your manga is being published in English now. How does it feel to be part of a series as internationally recognized as Dragon Ball?

It's been incredible working on such a large and internationally well-known title. It has such value for fans around the world, so I feel a lot of responsibility to create something that won't let them down. It's something I think about every day.

Did you ever think you'd be working for 
Shueisha on the official sequel to Dragon Ball? Was that ever the goal?

Not really. I just loved Dragon Ball. It never mattered where my work would be displayed. I just kept drawing it for years!

It sounds like you have a pretty close working relationship with Akira Toriyama. He gives you the outline and you make changes. What is the most interesting thing about working with him?

Every month, I'll create a storyboard for him to review, and then he'll give me input and suggest changes. When I'm working with Toriyama, there are many portions he gives me props for coming up with, but he is very particular about other things and always points them out for me to correct. And when he corrects me, I think “Wow, I guess I don't completely understand the way he looks at things,” so his corrections and feedback are incredibly accurate and helpful. It's a lot of fun to be able to get closer to his way of thinking.

What surprised you the most about working with him?

First of all, to be honest, I'm surprised that he's okay with someone like me carrying on his work! The other thing…I thought Toriyama would be more particular about the story, but he's actually more particular about the gags and the comedic moments! I can tell that he really loves those parts.

Are there specific details of his art that you really admire and reference often?

I'm very confident in reproducing what Toriyama has created with the characters and their subtleties, but when it comes to robots and mecha, that's something I never really tried to mimic myself, and I realized that I really need to study up on them!

When did you first start reading Dragon Ball?

I think it was when I was in grade school. My introduction to Toriyama's world was Dr. Slump, and then it was Dragon Ball. So it was Dr. Slump, then the Dragon Ball anime, and then the manga! I was a grade-schooler, so I don't have exact memories of it, but my first memories are of being obsessed with it.

Did you have a favorite character when you were a kid?

Goku! And he's still number one.

And do you have a favorite character to draw?

The Pilaf gang! They're small and I can move them around as I want, and their comedic expressions are really fun to draw!

You have a little freedom to suggest changes to Toriyama's outline, so what's the biggest alteration you've made?

Fundamentally, I don't deviate from the major plotlines that Toriyama's laid down. As far as the plot getting from A to B, that's written as Toriyama it lays down. But as far as the details between those plot points, I'm free to fill them in myself. The Trunks arc within Dragon Ball Super  will hit the U.S. soon, and while a certain reveal is the same in the manga, anime, and Toriyama's outline, both the anime and manga have different ways of getting there, each taking advantage of the unique aspects of their medium, so I hope everyone enjoys comparing them. The parts I really want my fans and readers to look at are the comedic gags, because I'm pretty free to create those!

Is there pressure to find the right balance between new characters and fan favorites?

Well, you have favorite characters, and those are pillars that can't change and everyone loves them. So it's really hard to create new characters who rise to that level!

Between getting the outline and the final phase, what is the most difficult part of making the manga?

What I receive from Toriyama is literally words on paper, without drawings or anything. So when I'm reading it, I have to fill in the blanks as far as the specifics are concerned. I think of what kinds of expressions the characters wear, which way they're looking when they say a certain line. Many times, Toriyama-sensei doesn't give me specific feedback on the details that I fill in, so I put a lot of thought into those aspects, knowing that my interpretation is what the readers will see.

I would love to have Toriyama just sit next to me so I could ask him questions all the time, but unfortunately, I can't!

What is your relationship with the Dragon Ball Super anime?

At this point, I'm not very involved with it. I think going forward, I'll be more involved, but at this point in time, I actually receive more information from the anime team than I give to them. The anime is a little bit further along than I am, but in the near future I'll be ahead, so the information will be going back to them. Regardless, we'll continue to support one another as we go forward.

If you weren't drawing Dragon Ball Super and made an original comic, what would you make?

I've never drawn anything original of my own! It's all been Dragon Ball spinoffs. I've maybe had a thought about doing something original, but I gave up on it almost immediately.

Are there any manga that inspire you?

I draw more inspiration from movies! Toriyama's visuals are closer to being a movie than manga-like, so I like action films with straightforward good-versus-evil heroes. I like Disney and the Marvel films. I do love Pixar!

Among the gags in the manga, do you have a favorite one?

In the upcoming Trunks storyline, there's a part where Trunks' tutor explains a certain important part of the story…and I can't go into more detail. So keep an eye out for that!


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