Manga Review: Akira Toriyama’s Manga Theater

Akira Toriyama’s Manga Theater compiles all three volumes of the series that were released in Japan into one hardcover release that has 626 pages.

Akira Toriyama’s Manga Theater
Written by: Akira Toriyama
Publisher: Shueisha Inc.
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: December 7, 2021

Akira Toriyama’s Manga Theater is a collection of short stories written by Akira Toriyama that were published between 1978 and 1994, and it serves as both a collection of his early works and a history of his life as a mangaka. In between each story, there is a one page comic that sees Toriyama explaining what was happening or what he was going through at the time he was writing and drawing the various stories.

The collection opens with “Wonder Island,” which is Toriyama’s first published work from 1978. From the art style, you can see the beginnings of the style that Toriyama has come to be known for. The story itself was kind of “meh,” at least to me. The main character is Petty Officer 2nd Class Furusu from the Imperial Japanese Army. He’s been trapped on Wonder Island for years and is insisting on finding a way to fly back home. He has run-ins with some of the local animals and people. It’s full of gags, with only a minimal overarching story to bring the gags together. From the art style and the writing, it’s obviously one of Toriyama’s early works. It’s not bad for what it is, but it’s something that just doesn’t personally grab me.

This is followed by “Wonder Island 2,” which was published in 1979. This one shot sees a detective named Herring, who comes from Los Angilas, California, being sent to Wonder Island to hunt down a suspect. There’s a lot of gags at the police station before Herring ever goes to Wonder Island. Very little time is spent on the island, and at the end, it’s revealed the suspect is actually in New York. The main thing that stood out to me is that the face on one of the characters at the police station looks like an early version of Mister Satan from the Dragon Ball franchise. But like with the previous “Wonder Island” story, it’s more of a gag manga than anything with an overarching story.

Next is “Tomato the Cutesy Gumshoe,” which was published in 1979. In this story, a cute yet ditzy 18-year-old girl named Tomato joins the police force as a detective. Outside of her, the main person from the police force focused on is a cop named Slump. This story doesn’t seem to have any connection to Toriyama’s Dr. Slump series, but I’m guessing he took the name for the character from this one shot. Toriyama’s art doesn’t look quite so rough here, but the character of Slump doesn’t really have the look that I associate with Toriyama’s art. All of the other characters do, though. While this one still has gags involved, there’s at least an attempt to include some kind of overarching story. While I thought this was stronger than either of the Wonder Island stories, I still didn’t enjoy this one as much as I’d hoped.

“Pola & Roid” is a story told in 14 acts, and it was published in 1981. This would have been drawn and published during Dr. Slump‘s serialization. When it comes to the art, I can definitely tell that Toriyama had developed his art style to the point that most readers associate with him. Roid works as a taxi driver and lives on the artificial planet Yakandagaya. He only wants to give rides to cute girls, but other people can persuade him for rides with money. Pola is a girl on the planet Congargatta, who wants to be a defender of justice. Her hair made me think of Launch from Dragon Ball, and her outfit looks like what young Chi-Chi wears in Dragon Ball. The story sees Pola calling Roid for a ride, and Roid’s ship being downed when he goes to pick her up. “Pola & Roid” follows the adventures these two have as they go after the Gananboans, who have been terrorizing the planet Congargatta. Of the stories presented in this volume up to this point, it’s the first one to have a real overarching story. It probably helps that this is a longer story than the previous three, though.

“Mad Matic” was published in 1982, and it establishes that a land was beset upon by a ferocious saber-tooth dragon. To put an end to the dragon’s terror, they built a large refrigerator and filled it with sake. The dragon was lured inside the fridge and it was shut inside and locked up. Since then, the people have been tasked over generations to guard this fridge. But over time, the guardians no longer know why they’re guarding it. In the story, a young man, along with his winged dog, are traveling through the desert and the young man desperately wants beer. He comes across the large fridge and thinks there might be some inside. They encounter a couple of girls guarding the fridge, and they are attacked by the Gungun army. Well, let’s just say that the fridge manages to be opened and the dragon escapes. The young man is able to tame it, and the dragon helps to take out the Gungun army. With this story, I can definitely see the style Toriyama was utilizing for Dr. Slump, and this makes a lot of sense since he was still drawing that manga at this point in time.

Next is “Chobit,” a story about a 21-year-old man named Mugifumi who lives with his two younger siblings and is basically the police force for their small village. The crimes, though, are basically laughable. The five-year-old sister serves as the mother of the family, and she seems to have more sense and have more smarts than her 21-year-old brother. With the hairstyle and some of Mugifumi’s facial expressions, I can see some traces of Goku from the Dragon Ball Z era and later. Anyway, Mugifumi comes across a small spaceship which has a small girl inside, and she’s wearing what looks like a genie outfit. I couldn’t help but think of the character Sumomo from Chobits when I saw her, primarily due to the fact that they’re both small and wear genie outfits. Yes, the girl has magical powers, which Mugifumi is able to use to help him with the “permission kidnapping case” that takes place in the third chapter. This story really wasn’t bad for what it was, and at this point in the volume, it was one of the better ones that I read. The three chapters that comprise this story were published in 1983.

There is also “Chobit 2,” which was published in 1983 and is a sequel to the previous story. This one was only one chapter long, but Mugifumi brings his two siblings, as well as the little genie girl, with him to a bigger city to serve on their police force. While this “big city” would still seem small to most readers, the reactions of Mugifumi and his siblings are amusing when they see what this town has to offer, because it’s all a step up from where they came from. Unfortunately, their “small town knowledge” has made them unaware of Wanted posters, so they misunderstand what it means when they see one. Hijinks and misunderstandings occur when someone on a wanted poster comes into town. This was a decent story, and I’m glad that Toriyama didn’t try to stretch it out beyond one chapter, because I think it needed to be this short in order to work.

This is followed by “Today’s Highlight Island,” and it’s, at least to me, one the least memorable stories included in this volume. It’s another one of Toriyama’s early stories, and this one was published in 1979. A kid named Kanta shows up late to school, gets a toothache, and is dragged off to the dentist. There’s quite a few hijinks, but in the end, things work out for Kanta in a surprising twist. Since it’s among Toriyama’s earlier works, it’s not surprising that it’s not quite as strong as his work that would be published just a few years later.

“Escape” was originally published in 1982, and it’s one of the shortest pieces to appear in this compilation. It follows a girl in the year 2070, and the story is being set up to appear to be some kind of major chase going on… but there’s a twist at the end that shows that what the reader thought was happening wasn’t what was actually going on. It’s good for how short this was, and it just wouldn’t have worked if it had been any longer.

“Pink The Rain Jack Story” was originally published in 1982, and it’s set at a time when it hasn’t rained for a year. The Silver Company has been hoarding water and selling it for ridiculously high prices, and a girl named Pink keeps stealing it from them. Sheriff Cobalt Blue is asked to take on the case, and he’s given the vague description of the thief as being a small guy on a floater bike. As Cobalt investigates, he comes across a floater bike at Pink’s home and talks to her. Cobalt isn’t very bright, though, because he doesn’t clue in that Pink had just finished taking a bath even though water is scarce. It takes him a little while to realize he had encountered the thief. Pink decides to go straight to the Silver Company to pull off her biggest heist yet, and what’s discovered and what happens is a nice twist. It was a little disappointing to see that the sheriff had to be portrayed as an idiot in order for this story to work, though.

Next are two chapters for a story called “Dragon Boy,” which were both published in 1983. Right from the title page for the first chapter, it jumped out at me that the boy looks a lot like young Goku, and the girl (who is a princess in this story) looks an awful lot like young Chi-Chi. The boy is training in martial arts under his teacher, Master Roshi (although he looks nothing like the Roshi from the Dragon Ball franchise). Tangtong, the boy, is given a mission to escort the princess of the Land of Blossoms back to her home. When Tangtong encounters the princess, he acts a lot like young Goku did when he encountered Bulma for the first time, because both had never seen a girl before. Tangtong is given a sacred dragon treasure, which will cause a dragon to appear if it’s placed on the ground and the user strikes it with every last but of their ki. That may not quite be the same thing as the Dragon Balls, it still is a similar concept. While on their journey, Tangtong and the princess encounter a shapeshifting creature that bears quite a resemblance to Pu’ar from Dragon Ball. After reading these two chapters, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps this story may have led to the creation of, or at least inspired, Toriyama to create Dragon Ball.

“The Adventure of Tongpoo,” which was also published in 1983, has a lead character who looks a lot like young Goku again. While he may look like Goku, Tongpoo seems to be a little brighter than him. In this story, Tongpoo is on board an experimental spaceship for a reconnaissance mission. He is the only person on board, and he’s in a cryosleep chamber. Seeing the chamber made me think of the pods we see the young Saiyans in on Planet Vegeta. Tongpoo is woken by the ship’s computer so he can evacuate before the ship explodes. His escape craft causes him to land on a planet, and we see him using capsules that have items stored in them. This is very much like the capsules in the Dragon Ball franchise, except for the fact that these ones have to be boiled in water to get the contents out of them, instead of simply pushing a button and throwing them to the ground. As he explores, he comes across a girl who had been part of one of the previous reconnaissance missions and is now trapped on this planet like Tongpoo. Attitude-wise, the girl kind of reminds me of Bulma. After reading this, I suspect that this was another of Toriyama’s works that helped to shape Dragon Ball, especially the use of the capsules and the interactions between Tongpoo and the girl.

This is followed by “Mr. Ho,” which was published in 1986 and makes it the first story Toriyama published after starting the Dragon Ball manga. The series is set in a world where peace has returned after a war between the north and the south. A former northern soldier is visiting a city in the south, and he gets treated rudely and isn’t trusted by most of the inhabitants, because they’ve been dealing with a gang of northern soldiers known as the Chai Gang. After two villagers approach the soldier and ask for help with the Chai Gang, he agrees to give them assistance. The thing that stood out the most to me in this story is the fact that the northern solider has a strong resemblance to Yamucha from the Dragon Ball franchise. It’s not a bad story, and I liked how Toriyama was trying to impart the idea of not judging someone, but I had a hard time getting over the fact that the character I was seeing here wasn’t Yamucha.

“Young Master Ken’nosuke” was published in 1987, and it’s about a boy in kindergarten named Ken’nosuke being asked out on a date by his female classmate. When he asks his mother about going on dates, he learns that a boring man on a date is a total loser. He then asks his friend, a pig named Shinobimaru, about dates. Shinobimaru also gives him the line about not being a total loser, and the pig tries to give advice about dates from television and magazines. Let’s just say that the information and advice is disastrous, and at the end of the chapter, Ken’nosuck ends up being the “total loser” that he didn’t want to be. To me, this wasn’t a forgettable story, but it wasn’t a great story, either. It was just kind of there.

Next is “The Elder,” which was published in 1988. An old man is the village elder, and he goes after people for minor infractions. But when a man (who looks like General Blue from Dragon Ball) drives by and throws a drink can out of his car window, the elder goes after him… and ends up stumbling onto something bigger than littering. I liked how, in the end, no one knows that the village elder had saved the world, and his life just returns to normal. This was a pretty good story, and it was just the right length.

“Little Mamejiro” was published in 1988, and the main character, Mamejiro, looks an awful lot like young Kuririn… except for the fact that he has hair. Six-year-old Mamejiro gets mad because his father takes his ice cream, and he decides he wants to become a delinquent. He asks his friend, Joji, for help. But since they’re both six years old, the ideas Joji keeps coming up with don’t work. When Mamejiro tries to demand money from a man running down the road, it turns out that he catces robber who stole money from the local farming co-op. I found this to be an enjoyable one chapter story, and the ending was perfect.

This is followed by “Karamaru and the Perfect Day,” which was published in 1989. A young ninja named Karamaru has to go to town to sell mushrooms because his grandfather is unable to do so. However, he is advised to not tell anyone that he’s a ninja. On his travel, Karamaru encounters a man who has stolen a car and claims to be a ninja. Of course, he really isn’t, but the young ninja doesn’t let on that he knows the man is a fake. While Karamaru talks with the man, a group of men take his mushrooms, and the young ninja has to try to get them back… but can only manage it when the man is knocked out. This was a neat little one chapter story, and I liked how Karamaru taught the man some important lessons.

“Soldier of Savings Cashman” is a three-chapter story that was published between 1990 and 1991. The premise is that an alien was chasing a duo of wanted murderers, and his ship’s fuel center was damaged. He had to make an emergency landing, and unfortunately he killed an Earthling in the process. The alien takes on this human’s identity, which was a police officer named Chapat. He discovers that the fuel he needs for his ship is known as gold on Earth, and that he needs a lot of money to acquire enough to return home. When he’s Chapat and comes across crimes, he changes into his true form (which looks like one of the forms that Dragon Ball Z‘s Cell has) to take on the identity of Cashman. As Cashman, he serves as a superhero… but will only save people if they pay him. In the long run, this story didn’t do much for me, and it didn’t help that I kept thinking Cashman was Cell.

Next is “Dub & Peter 1,” which is a four-chapter story that was published in 1993. Dub looks like a stereotypical bully. He has a friend named Peter, who is a book smart Black boy who designs a car for Dub. When Dub first gets the car, he likes it so much he names it “Peter 1” after his friend. Unfortunately, when the idea is for Dub to use the car to pick up girls and Peter makes it so it only seats one person, let’s just say that Dub gets mad. Peter fixes that issue, and then adds an onboard ultra computer. The ultra computer has no problem being sassy with Dub, though. Unfortunately, in the long run, the car doesn’t help Dub’s chances with the ladies, because, well… the car isn’t the problem. It’s Dub, but he can’t admit it. This was kind of an interesting story, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the portrayal of Peter. For a kid who’s supposed to be so smart, he keeps doing stupid things like making the car a one-seater instead of a two-seater even though Dub made it very clear why he wanted the car. To be honest, I didn’t find Peter’s various gaffes to be all that funny.

The final story is “Go! Go! Ackman,” which is an 11-chapter story that was published between 1993 and 1994. The main character is Ackman, a demon boy who turns 200 years old and is now expected to start collecting human souls. In the process, he encounters an angel that he knows. When the angel accidentally shoots a human while trying to get Ackman, he ends up helping Ackman acquire a soul. This keeps happening, and the angel becomes wanted as a mass murderer. The angel makes it his mission to kill Ackman, and that’s the running theme for the series. To be honest, this story didn’t do much for me. I felt it ran for too long, and there was a chapter that made me feel uncomfortable (it included a transgender character, with this character being used for a joke).

In the end Akira Toriyama’s Manga Theater is very much a mixed bag. It’s a release that I can only truly recommend to readers who are fans of Akira Toriyama’s work who want to be able to read his various one shots and short stories that haven’t been readily available in the West prior to this release. Personally, while I was glad to have the opportunity to see work by Akira Toriyama that wasn’t Dragon Ball-related, I have to admit that I had hoped to enjoy more of the content in this volume than I actually did.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

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