Akira Toriyama’s Last Message Before His Death?

akira toriyama final words on health anime achievement award acceptance statement

Discover the heartfelt words from Akira Toriyama, the legendary creator of Dragon Ball and Dr. Slump, written just before his death. Read the details and my analysis.

On Dec. 17, 2023, I wrote that Akira Toriyama Was to Receive an Anime Merit Award at the 2024 Tokyo Animation Award Festival.

It was a form of lifetime achievement award for Toriyama’s significant contribution to the anime industry. They announced him as the winner on Dec. 14, and the event was to be held March 8-11, 2024. He was going to accept the reward on March 8.

Unfortunately, as the Dragon Ball Official website reported, Akira Toriyama died on March 1 of acute subdermal hematoma. This is a pooling of the blood between the skull and brain. It is often caused by a head injury, such as from a fall or sudden impact.

Prior to the TAAF’s award ceremony opening its doors, Toriyama submitted a written acceptance message that appeared in the pamphlet and signage at the event.

akira toriyama final words on health anime achievement award acceptance sign for dragon ball

I received pictures of this statement from @SupaChronicles on Twitter, who received them from a Japanese attendee named @Elise_zz.

In this message, Toriyama reflects on his involvement with the Dragon Ball anime, the changes in his career and art style, and his health.

It’s unspecified when Toriyama wrote the message. He most likely wrote it between Dec. 14 and March 1, and then at some point the message was printed for the show prior to March 8.[1]

Here is that message in full. It may be the last message we ever receive from Akira Toriyama.

I have added footnotes to help explain his comments and behaviors.

Akira Toriyama’s Award Acceptance Message

akira toriyama final statement for anime achievement award acceptance close-up

“To be honest, I have never had much interest in anime, and even when my work was made into animated format, I feel embarrassed to admit that I did not watch much of it; apologies to the staff.[2]

About 10 years ago, out of the blue, I was asked to revise the script for the Dragon Ball animated film, and I drew some simple designs for the characters and backgrounds.[3] I thought, ‘I can leave the difficult parts for the staff’ (laughs).[4]

Thus, it is truly embarrassing that I am the recipient of the Tokyo Anime Awards Festival’s Anime Merit Award.[5] Thank you very much.

One of my most unforgettable memories in animation works is when I met the late animator, Toyoo Ashida for an anime project called Kosuke-sama Rikimaru-sama, which was produced as a Shōnen Jump original.[6] This project did not have a manga prior to its production, so we arranged to meet.[7] He was an amiable person and we quickly bonded, and every time I saw his drawing style, I was moved by his careful and swift touch.

I thought, ‘Alright, I guess this kind of touch is what I need to speed up the drawing process and make Dragon Ball look smoother.’ My drawing time was reduced to about two-thirds of what it used to be. We influenced each other in many ways, and I think our time together was truly fulfilling. I pray for the repose of Ashida-san’s soul.[8]

Dragon Ball DAIMA, which will be rolled out in 2024, was originally planned to be an original anime series without me, but as I gave advice here and there, I ended up getting deeply involved with the project without realizing it. I was not only involved in the overall storyline, but also in the worldview, character design, mecha, and other aspects. I hope you will enjoy watching the series, which I believe is not only intense and action-packed, but also full of plenty of substance.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has supported me so far! I am not sure how much more I can do, as I am not very confident about my health, probably due to my lifestyle when I was younger, but I will try my best to create more interesting pieces of work, so please continue to support me!”

Analysis of Akira Toriyama’s Statement

There are many topics to analyze, but let’s focus on his health—which Toriyama saved for last.

There are many fans on social media discussing the cause of Toriyama’s death. They are speculating with hearsay because the official news that reported his death provided us with such little information.

The question we are most concerned with is whether or not Toriyama knew that he was going to die soon.

Toriyama’s Health

Toriyama starts by thanking everyone who has supported him “so far,” which means for his entire career, from 1978 to 2024.

Toriyama had a professional career as a manga-ka spanning roughly 45 years (from the age of 23), when he made his debut in Weekly Shōnen Jump #52 in November, 1978 with his first published manga titled Wanda Airando (ワンダー・アイランド, “Wonder Island”).

He then states:

“I am not sure how much more I can do, as I am not very confident about my health.”

Toriyama is one of the most famous and wealthiest public figures in Japan, and in-turn the world. Prior to this statement, he had never commented on his health in such a way as to declare that he could not perform his professional duties.

He is also one who downplays his personal situation, per Japanese etiquette. Despite his great influence and responsibility in the pop culture industry, he never boasted.

Thus, this is most likely Toriyama’s subtle and Japanese way of saying that he plans to retire soon due to health concerns. He is letting the public at large know that he can’t keep doing this, and the time is arriving for him to stop.

He adds a cause: “… probably due to my lifestyle when I was younger…”.

He is vague here, but Toriyama is likely referring to his decades-long habit of chain-smoking, a lack of health-conscious activities, poor diet during his youth and career, and the stressful demands of his profession.

For example, here is an image Toriyama drew of his depiction of paradise.

akira toriyama illustration of his personal paradise

In it, Toriyama’s self-styled likeness of Robottoriyama is smoking, eating salty Japanese snacks, and drinking cola, while reading an erotic adult magazine (for the articles!).

Despite his affinity for wearing track suits in his elder years, Toriyama never spoke of long walks or runs. Instead, he spoke many times of high-pressure deadlines where he would smoke several packs of cigarettes a day, hair loss due to intense stress, sitting for hours in a row as he drew and inked his art, tension with his editors, sleepless nights for days on end, and how he longed for time off to do nothing, take a vacation, build models, or ride his motorcycles and cars.

Toriyama often made these comments with a lighthearted wink, but they nonetheless refer to serious influencers on a person’s health.

Toriyama’s Sudden Death

One of the most painful parts of Toriyama’s death for his fans was the sudden nature of it. It seemed to arrive out of nowhere, and years before anyone would expect a Japanese man to die.

The Japanese are a famously long-lived people, with the most centenarians (people over 100-years-old) in the world, with over 92,000 of them, and rising every year.[9]

Toriyama died at 68, one month before turning 69. While it’s true that the average global life expectancy for men is 68.9—which is when Toriyama died— the average life expectancy for Japanese men is 81.

In response to Toriyama’s death I received an anecdote from a Japanese reader of mine named Issei who said, “Most popular ‘talents’ (aka ‘celebrities’ for Japanese) are still active in their 80s. If someone passes away before reaching 80, it’s usually considered to be too young to go. So I was really shocked and left speechless.”[10]

It’s true that Toriyama lived a life that was fuller than most, but he died early relative to the average Japanese man.

I thought I had time to travel to Japan and to make arrangements to speak with him, his colleagues at Shūeisha, and to interview him for my non-fiction books about Toriyama’s life and work.

That was my mistake and deep regret.

Cause of Death

akira toriyama smoking in his 20s

In this statement, Toriyama told us in advance that something was wrong, and he suspected it was due to his behavior earlier in life. This leads one to wonder what that could refer to?

In general, unhealthy behaviors detract from the average age of death, and healthy behaviors add to it.

Smoking is the number one way to detract from your lifespan. Heavy smokers cut their lifespan by 13 years on average,[11] and studies show that each cigarette reduces your lifespan by 11 minutes.[12] There are many ifs, buts, and personal situations, as some lifetime smokers live into their 80s, but considering Toriyama’s situation, he smoked thousands of cigarettes a year, for decades.

It’s unknown when or if he ever quit, as he never commented on it. But he did say here, “when I was younger,” which suggests he gave it up prior to the statement at 68.

And that’s on top of everything else he was dealing with as Japan’s leading manga-ka for around 14 years from 1981 to 1995, during Dr. Slump and Dragon Ball’s serialization. These are referred to by Shūeisha as ‘The Golden Era of Jump,’ as led by Toriyama’s work.

Toriyama smoked out of habit and as a form of stress relief. Toriyama smoked so much that it was an iconic part of his image for decades. Even adding it to his various likenesses, such as a bird.[13]

akira toriyama likeness of a bird smoking a cigarette

Did Toriyama know that his health was so poor that he could die from it? Did his stated health concerns suggest anything beyond getting older and becoming less capable of the tasks required of a writer and illustrator with such a great responsibility as leading Dragon Ball’s story and design?

Or was this merely a reference to him getting older and less capable than he thought he ought to be at his age, on account of prior behaviors?

Just because Toriyama was concerned about his health and career as a manga-ka in general does not mean that the issues he was concerned about were the same ones that caused his death, or led to a chain reaction that caused the acute subdural hemorrhage.

akira toriyama smoking in his 30s

In most cases, acute subdural hemorrhage is caused by a sudden impact to the head, not a lifetime of small-but-detrimental choices. This could be from falling, a blow to the head, a car crash, or other sudden trauma.

However, numerous studies have shown a causal connection between smoking and brain hemorrhages, as well as an expansion of hematoma—a pool of blood that spills outside of a weakened blood vessel when it ruptures.

For example, a subarachnoid hemorrhage is bleeding in the space between the brain and the surrounding membrane, which leads to the most severe headache you have ever felt, and nausea, due to a burst in a blood vessel. When left untreated, it can kill you.

One study about smoking and this type of hemorrhage said, “Even light smoking boosted hemorrhage risk considerably for both men and women.”[14] And if you smoked 20 cigarettes a day, “men who smoked that much were more than three times as likely to suffer a hemorrhage.[15]

It’s also “a major risk factor of intracerebral hemorrhage,” a spontaneous and deadly form of stroke, without any known treatment.[16]

Direct trauma remains the leading cause of acute subdural hemorrhage, but nontraumatic acute SDH accounts for up to 6.7% of all acute SDHs.[17] Common causes include cortical artery bleeding, vascular lesions, coagulopathy, neoplasms, spontaneous intracranial hypotension, cocaine, and arachnoid cyst. The mortality rate is as high as 37.2%.

And people who carried a genetic predisposition to smoke were at a 63% greater risk for having an SAH.[18]

The conclusion of these studies is that the more you smoke, the greater your risk of different forms of hemorrhage.

So, did smoking cause the hemorrhage, or was it stress, other factors, or a combination?

As it stands, only his doctors, family, and close friends could know the answer.

Future Work

Despite all of this, Toriyama ends his statement by saying, “… but I will try my best to create more interesting pieces of work, so please continue to support me!”

Toriyama did exactly that. The official statement of his death on the Dragon Ball Official website  said, “It’s our deep regret that he still had several works in the middle of creation with great enthusiasm. Also, he would have many more things to achieve.”

What these works are remain a mystery.

Time will tell if Toriyama’s works that were ‘in the middle of creation’ will be finished and released to the public.

If so, by whom? And when?

More importantly, the fact that Toriyama knew his time was limited, professionally or terminally, appears to have been a motivating factor in his determination to continue to work.

One would hope that this work did not hasten his death.

Toriyama’s Health Concerns

There are more topics I’d like to analyze regarding Toriyama’s statement, but those will come in separate articles.

What do you think Akira Toriyama meant about his health?

Did he sound optimistic or pessimistic?

Do you feel his lifestyle choices could have influenced his death?

Until we receive a more thorough statement on the matter, it’s best to not come to definitive conclusions.

The end result is the same. Akira Toriyama knew that his health wasn’t what it used to be.

It is a tragedy that his life was cut short one week before he could claim his Lifetime Achievement Award.


[1] While unlikely, Toriyama may have written his statement before the Dec. 14 announcement of his award was made public.

[2] Akira Toriyama had a unique characteristic of being a manga-ka who didn’t read manga. He didn’t even watch anime adaptations of his own titles, with rare exceptions of a few episodes.

[3] Toriyama is most likely referring to Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (2013), where he ended up revising the script and modifying characters and their designs. This is where he based Beerus, the God of Destruction, on his pet cat. Afterward, he became more involved in the Dragon Ball world and began contributing more to the series as a whole, including for Dragon Ball Super, until his death.

[4] Toriyama would often write “(laughs)” in his statements using the kanji of warai (笑), rather than ‘haha’, ‘lol’, or similar expressions.

[5] Toriyama had a habit of downplaying his involvement in projects and his achievements. He would make lighthearted comments about how he felt embarrassed by the work he did, or how he was lazy about the project as a whole, when the results say otherwise. He was always grateful that fans supported his work, in spite of his so-called ‘laziness.’

[6] Toyoo Ashida (芦田 豊雄, Ashida Toyo, April 21, 1944 – July 23, 2011) was an animator, character designer, and director. His design style was similar to Toriyama’s, due in part to working as the animation director on the anime adaptation of Toriyama’s Dr. Slump (1981): http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Toyoo_Ashida

[7] Kosuke and Rikimaru: Dragon of Konpei Island (Kosuke-sama, Rikimaru-sama: Konpeitō no Ryū, 小助さま力丸さま -コンペイ島の竜, 1988) was an animated special with a 47-minute runtime that was an original creation of, written by, and featured designs by Akira Toriyama. It was directed by Toyoo Ashida. It screened at the Jump Anime Carnival. It is a little-known artifact of Toriyama’s career outside of Japan. The entire film can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hq88e8glslY

[8] “I pray for the repose of ___’s soul” is a common expression in Japan for someone who has died, similar to Rest in Peace (RIP). It has been used a great deal on Japanese social media in response to Akira Toriyama’s death.

[9] Over 92,000 centenarians in Japan: http://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h01786/

[10] Anecdote on Toriyama’s early demise from a Japanese reader of mine on Facebook (written March 11, 2004)

[11] Smoking cuts your lifespan by 13 years on average: http://www.cbs.nl/en-gb/news/2017/37/heavy-smokers-cut-their-lifespan-by-13-years-on-average

[12] Smoking a cigarette reduces your lifespan by 11 minutes: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1117323/

[13] The tori (鳥) in Toriyama means “bird,” so Toriyama would often draw himself as a bird.

[14] If you smoke, you’re increasing your chance of having a brain bleed: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/if-you-smoke-youre-increasing-your-chance-of-having-a-brain-bleed/2016/07/29/12be0338-54e9-11e6-88eb-7dda4e2f2aec_story.html

[15] Smoking and the Risk of Hemorrhagic Stroke in Men: http://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/01.str.0000065200.93070.32

[16] Tobacco Use: A Major Risk Factor of Intracerebral Hemorrhage: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7900392/

[17] Nontraumatic Pure Acute Subdural Hematoma Caused by a Ruptured Cortical Middle Cerebral Artery Aneurysm: Case Report and Literature Review: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5386168/

[18] Smoking boosts risk for rare, often fatal, bleeding stroke: http://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/01/14/smoking-boosts-risk-for-rare-often-fatal-bleeding-stroke