Dragon Ball Z, Dr. Slump, and Kamen Rider composer Shunsuke Kikuchi has died at age 89 of aspiration pneumonia.
Japanese music news site Oricon reported that Shunsuke Kikuchi died on April 24, 2021 at a medical facility in Tokyo. This was revealed by The Japanese Society for Rights of Authors of Music (JASRAC), an organization in Japan focused on managing musician’s copyrights.
According to an NHK report in 2017, Shunsuke Kikuchi had been “absent from composing because he was being treated for illness.”
A private funeral will be held for relatives.
Shunsuke Kikuchi was born November 1, 1931 in Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan. He began his career in the 1960s by providing incidental music for anime and tokusatsu shows.
Shunsuke Kikuchi composed several decades worth of music that many children grew up with. He became the leading composer of the Showa anime generation, from the 1960s until 1989. Altogether he composed over 1,000 songs. Many for Toei Animation.
His most famous works among international audiences are Kamen Rider (1971), Doraemon (1979), Dr. Slump (1981), Dragon Ball (1986), and Dragon Ball Z (1989), including its many movies.
In 2018, Shunsuke Kikuchi said:
“Background music cannot be created without it going alongside the video content, and I am proud to have been involved in the animated work called Dragon Ball, which is still popular all over the world even after more than 30 years. I’d like to thank the original author Akira Toriyama, and all the staff at Toei Animation and Fuji TV.”
For Dragon Ball Z, Shunsuke Kikuchi won the International Award from JASRAC for earning the most royalties for foreign licensing, in 2008, 2015, 2018, and 2019. Altogether he won the award in ’83, ’89, 2004, ’08, ’10, ’12, ’15, ’16, and ’18. His music was beloved across the world.
In 2015, he received a lifetime achievement award at the 57th Japan Record Awards.
In 2017, the Dragon Ball Symphonic Adventure began a global tour with a 60-piece orchestra playing the music he composed to international audiences.
Shunsuke Kikuchi was arguably the greatest anime composer of all time.
I’m saddened and frustrated by this news.
It feels like a piece of Dragon Ball just died.
I am an admirer of Shunsuke Kikuchi’s music. I’ve listened to his music for tens of thousands of hours while watching Dragon Ball, and while writing about it.
Shunsuke Kikuchu’s music transcended the content it was composed for.
I attempted to reach Shunsuke Kikuchi for an interview several times over the last few years. Particularly in 2020, as I wrote my upcoming book, Dragon Ball Culture Volume 7: Anime, where I reveal the cultural origin and history of the Dragon Ball anime. There is a chapter dedicated to the background music in the anime, and it discusses the sources of Shunsuke’s cultural and cinematic inspiration for his music.
Shunsuke Kikuchu’s music was inspired by Chinese kung fu films, Western Hollywood films, and his native Japanese superhero films. All of these cultural influences combined to make Dragon Ball sound exactly how the Japanese wanted it to sound.
I reached out to JASRAC to interview Shunsuke Kikuchi. Unfortunately they did not reply with the info I needed to speak with him. Nor was a reason provided for why. Maybe it was because he was sick?
I’ll never know. But his voice would have added so much insight and clarity into the book! A true record of history.
Now he’s dead, and the opportunity to speak with him is gone.
Time is ticking for all of us.
While Shunsuke Kikuchi’s voice will be missed, his music will live on.
So go find your favorite Dragon Ball music and listen to a few pieces in Shunsuke Kikuchi’s honor.
Please comment with your feelings about your favorite Dragon Ball music, and what this news means to you.
Believe in Tomorrow!
From intense battle music, to lighthearted escapades, and sentimental drama, Shunsuke Kikuchi could do it all.