Akira Toriyama had a Brain Tumor, Says Former Dragon Ball Assistant

takashi matsuyama says akira toriyama had a brain tumor and operation

According to Akira Toriyama’s former assistant on Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball, Toriyama had a brain tumor and an operation to treat it prior to his death. Details and translation here.

Takashi Matsuyama, age 66, worked as an assistant for Akira Toriyama, and continued to be close friends with him even after Dragon Ball ended in 1995. Commenting on Toriyama’s worldview he said, “His determination to never give up was impressive.”

Matsuyama interviewed with the Chūnichi Shimbun for an article published on March 9, the day after Akira Toriyama’s death was made public.[1]

He also recounted a personal anecdote on his professional website, Artfront World, on March 9, titled “R.I.P Akira Toriyama.”

I registered with the newspaper’s site so I could read the article. I then translated portions of these two pieces into English and combined the narrative for you.

Toriyama and Matsuyama

takashi matsuyama on akira toriyama's brain tumor in chunichi shimbun newspaper

Matsuyama remembered the story of how he was hired by Toriyama. During their mid-20s, they were both interested in making and painting military miniatures.

As I stated in Dragon Ball Culture Volume 1, Toriyama was two years into authoring Dr. Slump, and his first assistant, Tanaka Hisashi, decided to stop being a manga-ka.

Toriyama loved miniature models, and Matsuyama had won the famous Tamiya Figure Remodeling Award every year, from 1979 to ’83 (and onward to 1989). This is a contest where you have to remodel a 5cm miniature solider to look like a different person.

Toriyama respected Matsuyama’s artistic talent. Likewise, Matsuyama remembers on his site that when Dr. Slump first premiered in Shōnen Jump (in 1981), “I was shocked by his drawing skills and became a big fan.”

He said, “Soon after, I was able to meet him through a friend of mine from the Japan Design Academy, when a few of us went to his home together.”[2] Matsuyama remembers Toriyama recognizing him from the Tamiya modeling contest, and saying to him upon their first meeting, “Hey! It’s you!”

Afterward, Toriyama mentioned that Tanaka-san was going to quit being a manga-ka, so he asked Matsuyama if he would come to work at his house. He says, “Of course I accepted.”

Matsuyama illustrated this scene on his site.

takashi matsuyama meets akira toriyama and receives job offer

In the comic, Matsuyama (on the right with the shaggy hair) is recognized by Toriyama and then invited to work at his home, where Bird Studio was located.

Matsuyama quit his job at a design agency the next day and moved to a house close to where Toriyama worked so he could travel there quickly.

He says, “It was 40 years ago that I became the second assistant … and it was an honor to be able to help such a great manga artist.”

Toriyama would never have more than a single assistant, unlike other manga-ka, as he preferred to do most of the primary work himself. Matsuyama was in charge of drawing buildings, backgrounds, and other details.

They worked together for 13 years, which includes the rest of Dr. Slump and the entirety of Dragon Ball.

According to the Chūnichi Shimbun report, “They would go to the studio in the late afternoon and return home the next morning. They listened to recorded radio programs as they worked together, laughing. In their free time, they relaxed by playing video games. It was in this relaxed and welcoming environment that stories full of dreams and adventures were created.”

Matsuyama said that during this time he respected Toriyama’s professionalism dealing with his strict editors and other responsibilities, and was inspired. He remembers Toriyama saying, “Ever since I was a child, I have drawn everything I wanted, like pets.” Matsuyama says, “I felt greatness in Toriyama-san’s words.”

Here is an image Matsuyama drew of the two of them working together on Dr. Slump. Matsuyama is on the left, and Toriyama (as Robottoriyama) is on the right.

akira toriyama and takashi matsuyama working together on dr slump in bird studio

Matsuyama says on his site, “We had common hobbies such as cars, motorcycles, movies, and model making, so I remember that we had a lot of fun together outside of work. In any case, he was a good artist and had a shocking amount of respect for everyone that he drew, and being able to watch him draw was a valuable experience.”

Toriyama’s Brain Tumor Surgery

Chūnichi Shimbun states that according to Matsuyama, last Fall he got married for the second time. Matsuyama asked Toriyama to be the witness at the wedding, and he immediately accepted.

During that conversation, Toriyama told Matsuyama that he would have brain tumor surgery after the New Year. Toriyama said, “Since it’s not deep, it won’t be that unpleasant [of an ordeal].”

Matsuyama recalls that Toriyama seemed calm, but remembers he was having trouble quitting smoking and saying, “I really want to smoke.”

This confirms my theory that I wrote about yesterday, where I discussed Toriyama’s lifelong habit of smoking and how it harmed his health. But I didn’t know if Toriyama had ever quit in his later years.

According to Matsuyama here, Toriyama still smoked at the age of 68, and was having trouble quitting. I would suspect he was forced to attempt quitting by his doctor’s orders.

Neither article states the exact date when Toriyama was scheduled to have his surgery. A colleague of mine stated it was in February, but I could not find evidence of this.

I asked Matsuyama via his social media for the exact date of the surgery, but did not receive a reply.

According to the Chūnichi Shimbun, Matsuyama had promised to visit Toriyama after his release from the hospital, so the sudden news of his passing came as a shock.

He says on his site, “Toriyama-san sometimes wondered if he could enjoy life while taking such a big break [to recover], and we had promised in March that we would enjoy more things together, but he had to say goodbye suddenly. Please rest in peace.”

Cause of Toriyama’s Death?

The reported cause of Akira Toriyama’s death was acute subdural hemorrhage. There was no mention of a brain tumor or of a surgery.

The sudden nature of his death, and this lack of information, led many fans to speculate that more was going on.

We now know that Toriyama had a brain tumor, but we don’t know what caused it, nor what caused the hemorrhage that killed him.

Likewise, if it was cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign), its size, or its position in his brain.

Could this tumor have caused the hemorrhage? Or the surgery itself? Or a complication during the recovery process?

Postoperative hemorrhage after intracranial surgery is a serious complication that can occur, but it is rare, and we don’t know when or how his death occurred relative to this surgery.

Depending on various factors, such as the tumor type and your age, electing to not have surgery can be just as dangerous.

Only his doctors, family, and close friends have the answers.

In any case, we know that one of Toriyama’s friends was just as surprised by his passing as the rest of us, because Matsuyama had planned on visiting Toriyama after his release.

Be sure to follow me on social media (in the footer of this site) so I can keep you informed if I learn something else.


[1] The Chūnichi Shimbun (中日新聞, “Central Japan News”) is a daily broadsheet newspaper published in Aichi Prefecture, and is based in Nagoya, where Akira Toriyama called home his entire life. It’s the third largest newspaper in Japan. http://www.chunichi.co.jp/

[2] The Japan Design Agency (Japanese: Nippon dezainā gakuin, 日本デザイナー学院) is a vocational school for design and manga located in Shibuya, Tokyo. It has produced many designers, manga artists, and illustrators. http://ndg.ac.jp/

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