While combing through the boxes of old manga titles at a big comics sale, I recently came across this little gem. Sand Land is a one-shot series by Akira Toriyama, the creator of the mega-hit manga series: Dragon Ball. To give you a little bit of background information on my history with Akira Toriyama, the very first anime that I ever watched was Dragon Ball. It was my entry point into the wonderful world of anime and manga and I still love that series to this day! I’ve checked out several other works by Akira Toriyama over the intervening years, but I missed picking this series up when it first came out. I’m thrilled that I got the chance to read it now; this is a fun little title that contains a lot of the hallmarks of Akira Toriyama’s work: silly humour, exciting action and memorable characters!
War, human carelessness and a series of natural disasters have ravaged the world’s eco system and left it a desert wasteland. The corrupt king controls the only water source and uses this leverage to keep the people under his thumb. In hopes of changing things, Sheriff Rao approaches a village of demons to ask for their help in searching for a legendary water source known as the Phantom Lake. Rao suspects that the lake is located in the most perilous part of the desert and he’ll need the help of a powerful demon if he’s to have any hope of finding it. Even though humans have, up until this point, feared and shunned the demons, Sherriff Rao is able to gain their trust and Beelzebub, the prince of the demons, and his assistant, Thief, agree to help him. The three unlikely companions set out on a dangerous journey that could decide the fate of both their societies.
While the post-apocalyptic setting might give the impression that Sand Land is a grim story, I can assure you that the only thing that’s gritty in this comic is the sand (Get it? It’s a pun). While Sand Land isn’t as slap-stick as some of Toriyama’s other works, he keeps things light-hearted and the characters don’t ever spend much time dwelling on the tragic nature of the setting or on any of the darker plot points of the story. No time for that when they need to dress-up as Santa Claus to steal cars or fight off the Swimmers, a dangerous gang of men wearing speedos and swim goggles. I have a soft spot for Akira Toriyama’s brand of humour, so I was cracking up pretty frequently while reading this manga.
The rest of the time I was completely engrossed by the fluid and dynamic action sequences. Akira Toriyama is a master at drawing fight scenes and I was always completely engaged and able to follow what was happening. This comic mixes the action up a bit by including a couple of tank battles, as our heroes steal a tank from the military early on. I found these to be a lot of fun, as they aren’t something that I’ve seen a lot of in manga and they involved more strategy then your standard slug-fest. For example, the trio have some trouble with an aerial opponent, as the tank gun can’t shoot straight up, and they have to do some creative maneuvering to hit their opponent.
My favourite part of this manga is definitely the characters. Sheriff Rao is great and now officially ranks up there as one of my top Toriyama characters! He’s tough, honourable and clever and has some of the coolest fight scenes in the book. He’s also the one who comes up with most of the trio’s battle strategies throughout the comic. One of my favourite parts of the manga is the plan he comes up with to steal the tank: he pierces a can of hair spray and tosses it into the tank hatch while yelling that it’s poison gas. Once the soldiers all jump out, Rao and crew immediately hop in and drive away with it, much to the soldiers’ dismay. Beelzebub and Thief are also both great additions to the crew. Beelzebub is young (for a demon), a bit reckless and he loves to fight. He tries to act tough but is a big softy at heart and is always helping people out. Thief is a somewhat cowardly demon, but during his long life he has acquired a lot of knowledge about the world, which comes in handy on a number of occasions. They’re a pretty likeable group and the three of them develop a fun dynamic over the course of their journey.
My only real complaint with this manga is that there isn’t more of it. The story moves along at a good clip, but I wouldn’t have minded if it had spent a bit more time exploring the prejudice the humans have against the demons or Rao’s emotion reaction to some of the revelations regarding his past that are uncovered over the course of the book. Or really, I would have just enjoyed spending more time with these characters as they pal around in their tank and explore more of the world. That said, I do feel like the story wraps up nicely and, ultimately, I am happy with what we got.
This is a funny, action packed comic filled with likeable characters driving around in a cool tank and getting in and out of various scrapes and misadventures. If you’re a Dragon Ball fan, I definitely recommend checking this one out. If you haven’t read any of Akira Toriyama’s work before, then this is a great place to start, as it’s only one volume and contains a lot of the elements that have made Akira Toriyama’s manga’s so beloved by so many people around the world.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10
As a quick aside, does anyone know if this is supposed to take place in the same universe as Dragon Ball? Like, maybe at a different point in time or in an alternate universe? I ask because Beelzebub’s dad looks suspiciously like Dabura… except with horns… Let me know if any of you have any theories about this!
For more information on Sand Land, visit Viz Media’s website: https://www.viz.com/sand-land
Be sure to let me know your thoughts on Sand Land in the comments. Which of Akira Toriyama’s works is your favourite?