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The Joyful Mechanical Design of Akira Toriyama

Written by teobrito.com

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Image: Akira Toriyama

Akira Toriyama is responsible for some of the most memorable and beloved character designs of multiple generations. From Goku and the cast of Dragon Ball, to Dragon Quest’s legendary beasts like the Slime, and countless more, the mangaka is in rare company when it comes to a singular talent responsible for so many global icons. But one frequently joyous aspect of his work that deserves highlight? The man could draw the hell out of a tiny car.

Mechanical design is a hallmark of Toriyama’s work as much as the spiky hair and shapes that define his incredible characters. Dragon Ball’s worldbuilding is suffused with a sci-fantasy bend where dragons and ancient monsters sit next to flying cars, boats, bikes, and contemporary roadsters. Famously introducing his 2000 manga Sand Land, Toriyama bemoaned that he wanted to create a short, simple series and then realized he built it around a tank he now had to draw over and over again. Even beyond the vehicular, his unique eye for mechanical design that blended simple shapes and a sort of worn-down complexity can be seen across the robots and mecha he designed in his work (a special shout out to Robo from Chrono Trigger, one of the all time great robot designs).

But above all, Toriyama’s mechanical design just oozes charm and fun. More often than not these vehicles, regardless of how futuristic or fantastical the vehicle was, or how mundane, there is an inherent joy to his approach to design: big, soft, simple shapes covering a hotbed of complicated technical wiring and pipes, vehicles that in scope always feel just a tad too comically small for their occupants. To look at a vehicle in any of Toriyama’s work is to just feel a sense of delight: delight in the motion and energy his work had, delight in the design, and delight in those tiny, adorable vehicles. In memory of the work of an absolute titan, let’s take a look back at some of his best cars, planes, bikes, robots, mechs, and of course, that brilliant tank he immediately regretted.

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