By Akira Toriyama
224 pages, black and white
Published by Viz
It’s no secret that Akira Toriyama is easily best-known for his 42-volume Dragon Ball/Dragon Ball Z epic. Wisely swearing off anything of that length ever again, a couple of years ago Toriyama created Sand Land, a one-volume story about demons, deserts, and tanks. And while Dragon Ball might be the more popular story, I think there’s a lot to recommend Sand Land.
In the distant future, the world is a desert wasteland, where water is a precious commodity and demons live among men. Now Sheriff Rao is in search of a rumored lake to the south, and assigned to help him is the prince of the demons Beelzebub and his sidekick, the demon named Thief. What they’ll discover, though, is a conspiracy about what really caused the drying up of the land…
Toriyama’s story in Sand Land is best characterized as light and breezy, with a bunch of small encounters with the new inhabitants of Earth that slowly builds to a grand conclusion as the protagonists learn the truth regarding the lack of water. It’s a fun little romp, and Beelzebub is a great character, as Toriyama brings him through a bit of a growth process as he encounters the outside world. If you’re looking for anything terribly deep, you’re not going to find it here. To be honest, you probably won’t remember any of the details of the story by the time you’re done reading it. It’s the ultimate disposable comic, executed perfectly.
The art in Sand Land has a nice, smooth line to it; his characters are well defined and despite Toriyama’s complaint in the book that he couldn’t draw tanks, he handles everything he’s imagined perfectly. At a single glance you can tell who the real bad guys are in the book, with their greased mustaches and shifty eyes. At the same time, it’s the fantastic creatures of Sand Land that really grab your eye, from Beelzebub’s hair-like tentacles on top of his head to the massive centipede-esque dragon that rises up out of the dust. With such a smaller scale to have to worry about, unlike Dragon Ball, Toriyama’s art stays concise and consistent the whole way through.
Sand Land is a comic that was clearly designed for younger readers in mind, continually moving to keep short attention spans from drifting away elsewhere. It’s a perfectly charming book, and it’s easy to see why Toriyama is such a big name in Japan. Working better as a single unit than being serialized in SHONEN JUMP (it was easy to lose track of what was happening by the very nature of the chapters), hopefully in graphic novel form Sand Land will build a little following of its own. Under eight dollars, it’s priced right for an afternoon of frivolity.