Nothing to learn from Dragon Ball?! Read my exclusive translation of an interview with Kazuhiko Torishima, the man who discovered Akira Toriyama and believes Dragon Ball is meaningless!
Kazuhiko Torishima is the editor at Shūeisha who first discovered Akira Toriyama’s talents.
He gave Toriyama his big break as an amateur manga-ka and developed his illustration and writing skills on Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball, two of the most successful manga and anime of all time.
I believe that Torishima-san is as responsible for Dragon Ball’s success as Akira Toriyama is.
Without Torishima-san, there would be no Akira Toriyama, the legendary author and illustrator. No video game character designs, no movies, and none of the manga series that were inspired by Dragon Ball either.
You can dive deep into his life story and influence on Dragon Ball in my 7-volume long Dragon Ball Culture book series, where I explore the origin of Dragon Ball and reveal its cultural roots. He’s a fascinating man.
But as you’ll read in the following interview, Torishima-san’s opinion about Dragon Ball may differ from almost every Dragon Ball fan on Earth.
You’ll also learn the secrets behind Dragon Ball’s three-dimensional action, the origin of the Tenkaichi Budōkai tournament, and how another popular manga, Fist of the North Star, influenced Dragon Ball’s story and fight scenes.
Interview Background Info
This interview with Torishima-san comes from Hiroshi Matsuyama, the President and CEO of Japanese video game company CyberConnect2. Matsuyama has developed the Naruto series of video games, the .hack series, and the recent Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, among others.
On October 12, 2019, Matsuyama-san posted on his blog a series of anecdotes from his conversations with Torishima-san.
In this blog post, Matsuyama-san says that he first met Torishima-san in the year 2000 when he started work on the Naruto game series, and had to repeatedly enter the Shūeisha offices for meetings.
But it wasn’t until recently that he mustered up the courage to speak with him, such as at social events, radio shows, and cocktail parties.
During these casual discussions, Matsuyama asked Torishima-san about Dragon Ball’s story and character development.
Afterward, he recalled Torishima-san’s responses in his blog post.
What follows is not an official interview published by Shūeisha, but it does come from a reputable source in the Japanese pop culture industry.
I have translated this post for you from Japanese. I’m not a professional translator, so I welcome adjustments.
Kazuhiko Torishima and Hiroshi Matsuyama Interview
Title: ‘The story about Dragon Ball I heard from Kazuhiko Torishima’
Torishima: At first, Dragon Ball wasn’t that popular.
Matsuyama: Eh? It wasn’t? I read Dragon Ball in Jump at that time, you know. But I thought it was always popular?
T: No, it was different back then. I thought it was good at the beginning of the series, but then it became less popular, and I thought it was bad.
M: When was that?
T: Around the end of the interaction with the Pilaf Team.
M: Eh?! After, “Gimme’ the panties off a hot babe!!”?
T: Yes, once Shenron was summoned, and their wish was fulfilled, there was a break, story-wise. I wondered if the reader would think, ‘Oh, so this story process will just repeat itself.’
M: That’d be useless?
T: It would be useless if you couldn’t feel the harmony and excitement of the pacing, because in the manga, the number of characters had increased a lot.
M: Ah, right, at that time the number of characters had increased a fair bit, such as Bulma, Yamcha, Puar, Oolong, Kame-sennin, Chichi, the Ox King, and Pilaf.
T: Right, so I had Gokū train at Kame-sennin’s to keep the story simple. Together with Krillin. Then, the Tenkaichi Budōkai was prepared as a place to test the results of that training. It’s been extremely popular ever since.
M: That’s right! Eh, but it’s surprising that there was something like a lull in Dragon Ball. Is that part of ‘story arrangement?’
T: You don’t have to analyze it.
M: Even so, how did you come up with the ideas behind organizing the story?
T: I studied Fist of the North Star.
M: Oh! Fist of the North Star?! That’s surprising.
T: It was because the popularity of Dragon Ball had declined, so I had no choice but to study it. The most overwhelmingly popular series at the time was Fist of the North Star.
M: That’s true, isn’t it?
T: So I researched it and read up to 3 volumes of Fist of the North Star.
M: What? To volume 3? Only up to that point?!
T: You only need to read that much of Fist of the North Star to understand it. I didn’t care for it that much.
M: Oh?! How can you say that?!
T: Nah, it’s alright because it’s just my personal preference. I don’t like it. But Fist of the North Star was so popular at the time, so I read it carefully and studied it, and that’s how the future of Dragon Ball evolved. I decided the policies.
M: You mean in terms of story arrangement?
T: Yes, I made the story simple by reducing the amount of characters.
M: So that’s it.
T: When I read Fist of the North Star I felt that it was a bit preachy. But I was struck by its dialogue, “You are already dead.” “I don’t qualify to live another day!!” “Because I love the same woman.” And, “I have no regrets in my life.” Children think that such lines sound cool, of course. It had a lot of appeal in that regard, and was incredible.
M: How did you plan to change the policy of Dragon Ball?
T: That’s when I decided to make Dragon Ball a work without substance.
M: Without substance?
T: That’s right, Matsuyama-kun, have you ever learned anything by reading Dragon Ball, that you can remember?
M: Well, of course, um…
T: No, there’s nothing you can learn by reading Dragon Ball. It’s not a lesson in life, it’s useless in our lives; it’s just a funny comic. And that’s fine!
M: … (Maybe that’s true, but to say it in such a way).
T: That’s another answer that came from studying and researching Fist of the North Star, because children don’t want to be preached to when they read comics, so we had to make it more interesting at the time. I decided to go a different way in Dragon Ball, because Fist of the North Star was so cool, that I figured since it couldn’t be useful for our lives, let’s just make it fun. After that decision, I learned more from Fist of the North Star and found out that there was a secret in the drawings.
M: A secret in the drawings?
T: In previous manga up ‘till then, when the main character hit the enemy, there were a lot of pictures in which basically two people were in the panel, and the main character was hitting the enemy from right to left. You saw that in works of Hiroshi Motomiya and Masami Kurumada.
M: You’re right about that.
T: But in Fist of the North Star, a punch goes, “Attata-tata!” and flies to the side of the reader who is reading it. That was a novel invention.
M: For sure!!
T: Because Tetsuo Hara was a great illustrator for still images, I wonder if Buronson had to keep this in mind, where Kenshiro would poke a hole through a guy and make him stagger, right? These pictures were so cool. Once I realized this, I changed the direction of the action of Dragon Ball. Consider what Tetsuo Hara doesn’t have, that Akira Toriyama does?
M: What’s that?
T: Three-dimensional movement. Akira Toriyama has great spatial awareness, so he’s better at drawing three-dimensional action, and I thought this would help differentiate it from Fist of the North Star. After this, it should have been easy, but I needed a place in the story’s development where we could coolly show off the fact that Gokū trained and became stronger on a three-dimensional stage, so we started heading toward the…”
M: Tenkaichi Budōkai!!
T: Yes, that’s why the battle platform is a square and there are rules for falling outside of the stage. As a result, not only do you get to fly around in all directions, but the action can make the most of the height difference in a natural way, see?
M: Wow, I just, I can only feel surprise. To think it was studied, developed, and designed with such a thought in mind.
T: So you see, there’s nothing in it to analyze!
Now that I have a headline, I’ve tried to finish it this time. Through my talks with Torishima-san I have extracted a ridiculously interesting anecdote and turned it into an article. So it may feel a bit unclear or unorganized, but please forgive me.
If there’s a good response in the comments, or such a request, I’d like to make another similar article.
Finally, I want to lower the curtain with a line that Torishima-san told me at the end of the day:
“Creating a manga that helps people isn’t as important as making a manga that’s fun.” 
My Concluding Thoughts
Where does a person begin to discuss Torishima-san’s astounding words?
If you’re a Dragon Ball fan, you might feel shocked right now.
The man who discovered Akira Toriyama, forced Toriyama to create Dragon Ball, and shaped almost all of its content, just said that it’s meaningless entertainment without any life lessons.
Imagine how I feel, after dedicating my life to writing about Dragon Ball’s rich cultural content, the psychological worldviews of its main characters, and what this series means to fans across the world.
Entire generations grew up on Dragon Ball and had their lives changed by its story and characters.
I even wrote a book called Dragon Soul that is filled with 108 stories of fans and professionals in 25 countries who found deep, meaningful lessons in Dragon Ball.
Many of them say they would have killed themselves as teenagers were it not for the inspirational message in Dragon Ball that helped them persevere through bullying at school.
Case in point, without Dragon Ball, I’d be dead. I would have committed suicide at the age of 16 if it weren’t for Gokū and his never-give-up attitude.
So Dragon Ball means a lot to me, and writing my books and website articles is my way of giving back to this series and its fandom.
Still others I’ve spoken to say Dragon Ball was responsible for establishing their career as actors or artists, or motivating them to pursue a particular trade, to get healthy in the gym, or to love their families with all their heart.
There are so many profound life lessons in Dragon Ball, and millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of people across the world who have experienced Dragon Ball’s life-changing content.
In fact, in a Japanese poll published on February 23, 2020, readers of Weekly Shōnen Jump were asked to rank the anime and manga series with “the most meaningful life lessons in it.” And Dragon Ball was ranked at No.3!
Of course, I think it should be No. 1, but third is still high on the list of 60 entries.
So how could the man who helped create Dragon Ball, and who worked so closely with Toriyama on a weekly basis for almost an entire decade, and then supported him behind the scenes for all the years to come, think that Dragon Ball has no “substance.”
Just look at these quotes:
“There is nothing to learn from Dragon Ball.”
“I decided to make Dragon Ball a work without substance.”
“Have you ever learned anything by reading Dragon Ball, that you can remember? … No, there’s nothing you can learn by reading Dragon Ball. It’s not a lesson in life, it’s useless in our lives; it’s just a funny comic. And that’s fine!”
“So you see, there’s nothing in it to analyze!”
Nothing to learn? A work without substance? It’s useless in our lives? Nothing to analyze?
How is that even possible?
Is Torishima-san unaware of how many fans there are who have had their lives changed by this series?
By how they see things in Dragon Ball that teach them profound life lessons?
That helps them achieve their goals, be their best selves, overcome adversity, and rise up to another level?
How can he not understand the powerful symbolism of transforming into a Super Saiyan and what it means for the fans?
Does he think that Dragon Ball is only successful because of its action and humor?
Why does he think Dragon Ball has made so much more money than other manga? Just because of the pretty pictures? Or because it’s entertaining?
Can he not see the 5,000 years of Eastern and Western culture that Toriyama fused into it, the way that he plays with folktales and religious and spiritual concepts to tell a modern tale of self-actualization?
Of course, maybe it’s because he’s a business man. Maybe he doesn’t have that emotional, inspirational, empathetic, or softer side to him.
Perhaps to Torishima-san, Dragon Ball is a money-making endeavor and nothing more. Where the goal is to entertain people, make a profit, and fund all of the producers, animators, composers, and voice actors who help create it.
If so, then he succeeded, because Dragon Ball continues to be the one of the biggest money makers in the anime industry.
But isn’t there more to it than that?
Granted that he’s not denigrating the series. Nor is he speaking speaking with malice. His statements are matter-of-fact. He thinks there’s nothing more to it.
In the end he says, “Creating a manga that helps people isn’t as important as making a manga that’s fun.”
Does he not realize that he’s already helped people? He’s helped millions upon millions of people.
For that reason and many others I think Dragon Ball is meaningful.
Now, having said all that, I’ll also say that Akira Toriyama feels the same way as his editor. He has repeatedly stated that he just wanted to make lighthearted entertainment that makes you feel good afterward.
But as I explain in my Dragon Ball Culture books, by trying to be meaningless, Toriyama and Torishima actually created the most meaningful series of all time. And this is why it’s so successful.
How about you? How do you interpret Torishima’s words?
And how do they make you feel?
– Share your thoughts in the comments below.
 Pilaf Team (ピラフチーム, Pirafu Chīmu) is the ‘official’ way to refer to Pirafu, Shū, and Mai, the terrible comedic trio of antagonists in Dragon Ball.
 Hokuto-no-ken (北斗の拳, “Fist of the North Star,” 1983—1988) is a shōnen manga serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump. It tells the story of Kenshiro, a wandering martial artist with a deadly technique.
 Torishima-san means that the action flowed in line with the Japanese dialogue, from right to left, such as toward the inner spine of the manga on the right-facing page.
 Hiroshi Motomiya (本宮ひろ志) is a manga-ka who wrote Bakudan and other popular series. He once hired Buronson as his assistant.
 Masami Kurumada (車田正美) is a manga-ka who created Saint Seiya and other popular series. Akira Toriyama admired Kurumada-san when he was an up-and-coming manga-ka, prior to the success of Dragon Ball.
 Torishima-san means that the action flowed in the opposite direction of the Japanese dialogue, from left to right, toward the outside of the page.
 Tetsuo Hara (原哲夫) was the illustrator of Fist of the North Star.
 Buronson (武論尊) was the writer of Fist of the North Star.
 Kenshiro was the main character of Fist of the North Star.
 Torishima-san’s final statement was difficult for me to translate. So here are alternatives provided by my friends online that have different meanings. “There’d be much more value in drawing manga that is helpful to someone!” “Creating a manga that could help people is what I’m still trying to aim for.” “It seems I still haven’t drawn a manga that can help people!” “It’s far too late for me to draw a manga that will help people!” “There’s much more to drawing a comic that is useful to people!”