Akira Toriyama deserves credit as a gearhead, one with impeccable style at that. The legendary manga artist and character designer may be most famous for creating Dragon Ball and designing Chrono Trigger, but Toriyama should be praised for his imaginative mechanical designs as much as his alien warriors, the Saiyans, and knights cursed to be frogs.
Fans of Toriyama’s work have observed the artist’s penchant for machines — a passion that appears in nearly all his works. Toriyama is so famous as an animator, he was knighted in France, but his mechanical designs are perhaps less well know.
Toriyama filtered real-world vehicles through outlandish concepts. What came out the other side were familiar objects with unfamiliar and radical abilities. Some of his designs made little mechanical sense; some were just neat cars with exaggerated proportions. And some even predicted machines to come, like Bulma’s Capsule bike, which looks like BMW C1. I’ll get to the capsules later because they’re why I love Toriyama’s work.
His art featured many beloved production models — icons like the Suzuki Jimny, Fiat Abarth and Porsche 911. He would usually depict his characters crammed into these cars, but nonetheless loving life on the road or in the air. Toriyama portrayed cars and motorcycles in a celebratory way! His appreciation for the things that move us is palpable on the page.
There were flying cars, flying motorcycles, and bipedal robots to ride aboard. His artwork convinced me that spaceships don’t have to be arrows or wedges. Toriyama’s spherical spacecraft charmed me as a kid. The next time I fell in love with a ship, it was Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, which, coincidentally, also features a spherical vessel hurtling through space.
Toriyama even had a talking car fitted with a supercomputer that becomes sentient — you might even say it was autonomous. In that sense, he was a mechanical designer who saw fantastical possibilities in the machines he drew. I mean, anime and manga is good at making the impossible seem real.
Which brings me to the Capsule Corporation, which shrunk down Toriyama’s creations into pill-sized objects that could somehow contain an entire functional machine. It’s the least believable invention, but it was my favorite because the capsules made those incredible bikes and cars into something you held in your hand. Into something I could carry with me, if only I were a character in a manga. And remember I said Toriyama had impeccable taste? Well, here. Look at this style king slay: