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Remembering 'Dragon Ball' creator Akira Toriyama, dead at 68

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The creator of the popular manga franchise "Dragon Ball" has died. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this appreciation of the 68-year-old artist and filmmaker Akira Toriyama.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Growing up in Japan, Akira Toriyama watched Bruce Lee martial arts movies and anime cartoons, and he drew a lot of manga comics. He became one of the most influential artists in these genres, bringing these storytelling styles to a global audience, first in the 1980s with his series "Dr. Slump," about a little girl who is a robot and the scientist who invented her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAI WAI WORLD")

ADO MIZUMORI: (Singing in Japanese).

DEL BARCO: The animated version of "Dr. Slump" was a hit on Fuji TV and spawned novels, video games and movies. They included what would become Toriyama's signature images and comedic themes - robots, spacecrafts, "Star Wars"-like space battles.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELECTRICITY BUZZING)

DEL BARCO: But it was Toriyama's series "Dragon Ball" that became an even bigger worldwide sensation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DRAGON BALL")

LINDA YOUNG: (As Frieza) Please.

DEL BARCO: The series follows the adventures of Goku, who grows from a boy to a man skilled in kung fu. Goku is a human-like alien who defends Earth from villains like Frieza.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DRAGON BALL")

SEAN SCHEMMEL: (As Goku) I am the hope of the universe. I am the answer to all living things that cry out for peace.

DEL BARCO: And with his friends, he searches for magical orbs known as Dragon Balls to summon a dragon who grants wishes. The original story was inspired by a classical 16th century Chinese novel and Hong Kong martial arts films. "Dragon Ball" became a franchise, inspiring bestselling anime series and films and popular video games. There's a lot of "Dragon Ball" merch, even an electric car Toriyama designed. And the characters became folk heroes and references in hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOKU")

SOULJA BOY: (Rapping) I look like Goku, riding in my old-school...

DEL BARCO: Toriyama's production company, Bird Studio, said in a statement that the artist had been in the middle of more creative work when he died. Fans around the world are mourning, with one tweeting, quote, "he taught us that we all have a Goku in us and a Frieza to overcome." Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRAGON BALL Z MAIN TITLE")

JEREMY SWEET: (Singing) Dragon Ball Z. Dragon, dragon, rock the dragon. Dragon Ball Z. Dragon, dragon, rock the dragon. Come get me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.