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How Disney Just Made a Move to Court Dragon Ball Z Fans to Disney+

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Highlights

  • Disney+ partners with Akira Toriyama to create an exclusive anime series for the Japanese market.
  • The series, Sand Land, is set in a post-apocalyptic desert world and explores themes of environmentalism.
  • Disney aims to solidify its presence in Japan and attract subscribers by securing exclusive content from Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball Z.



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Though the ‘Streaming Wars’ are starting to wind down with some clear winners and losers in sight, it appears that one of those winners might be Disney+. Disney+ always had an advantage by being the exclusive home to their various animated films, Marvel properties, and Star Wars, and few households were going to give up those franchises. Still, one of the markets that Disney+ has struggled a little bit in is Japan, a country that largely has not embraced streaming the way other countries have (this includes Netflix).


However, The Walt Disney Company not only wants to change that, they want to change that by being the home to content that is attached to big names. In Japan, there are few names that are as big around the world as Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, and Disney is now teaming up with him to create a new anime exclusively for their platform.

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Who is Akira Toriyama?

Akira Toriyama Dragon Ball

Akira Toriyama is a highly influential Japanese manga artist and illustrator, best known for his contributions to the world of manga and anime. He was born on April 5, 1955, in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan. Toriyama is renowned for his work in creating several iconic manga and anime series, and he has had a significant impact on the global popularity of Japanese pop culture.


Toriyama is most famous for creating the immensely popular manga and anime series Dragon Ball. The series premiered as Dragon Ball on TV before eventually becoming Dragon Ball Z when the mood of the show changed. After that series was created, Dragon Ball GT premiered with little to no involvement from Toriyama. Toriyama would eventually return to the franchise to help develop the Dragon Ball Super anime (and several movies as well). While this is his most successful project, Toriyama has had many other successes!

What Are Some of His Non-Dragon Ball Works?

Akira Toriyama Cowa! cover art featuring Paifu

Before Dragon Ball, Toriyama created Dr. Slump in 1980, a manga series known for its humor and whimsical characters. It was adapted into an anime series that was a huge hit in Japan (though less so in other countries). As a character designer, he designed the characters for the classic RPG Chrono Trigger by Squaresoft and has been the key character designer for the Dragon Quest series since it was introduced by Enix (both companies have since merged and have become Square-Enix).


When Microsoft was looking to expand the presence of the Xbox 360 in Japan, one of the games they commissioned was Blue Dragon, and Toriyama was hired to help write and design the characters for that game. While the game didn’t move that many Xbox 360 units in Japan, it was loved enough that it resulted in an anime series being produced (also with Toriyama’s iconic artwork).

In the manga world, while Toriyama has not committed to a full-blown series since Dragon Ball, he did pen the critically acclaimed short series Cowa! and Sand Land. Recently, he decided to revisit Sand Land, and this is where our story starts to take some interesting twists and turns.

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What Are Some More of Toriyama’s Non-Dragon Ball Works?

While Toritama is primarily known for Dragon Ball, some more of his non-Dragon Ball works include:

  1. Dr. Slump (1980-1984)
  2. Chrono Trigger (1995)
  3. Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (2013)
  4. Kajika (1982)

Furthermore, he has provided character designs for the following video games:


  1. Dragon Quest I-XI
  2. Chrono Trigger (1995)
  3. Blue Dragon (2006)
  4. Tobal No. 1 (1996)
  5. Tobal 2 (1997)
  6. Super Famicom Wars (1998)
  7. Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest: Shōgeki no Shippo Dan (2003)
  8. Blue Dragon Plus (2008)

What is Sand Land?

Manga artwork of Sand Land main characters, Beelzebub, Rao and Thief

Sand Land is a manga series created by Toriyama that was serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump, a popular manga magazine, from 2000 to 2001 (and a few years later in Viz Media’s American version of the magazine, Shonen Jump). The series consists of a single tankōbon volume, which was published in 2001.

Sand Land is set in a post-apocalyptic desert world where water has become a scarce and valuable resource. The story revolves around Sheriff Rao, a law enforcement officer, and his loyal sidekick, Beelzebub, who happens to be a demon. Together, they embark on a journey across the arid wastelands in search of a rumored paradise where a vast source of water is said to exist.


The manga explores themes of environmentalism, the consequences of resource depletion, and the importance of cooperation and friendship in a harsh world. As with many of Akira Toriyama’s works, Sand Land features his distinctive art style, humor, and creative character designs (as well as an inside joke that he will still be doing artwork for Dragon Quest all the way up to the PlayStation 8).

Though not as well-known as some of Toriyama’s other works, Sand Land has garnered a following among manga enthusiasts and fans of Toriyama’s storytelling and artwork. The single-volume format makes it an easily accessible and enjoyable read for those interested in a self-contained manga story with a unique post-apocalyptic setting. Because the story was so brief, it afforded Toriyama many opportunities to expand on and create a franchise.


A film has been released in Japan (a North American release is rumored for 2024) and a massive RPG is being developed around the property. There is also a TV anime that has been commissioned, and to watch it, fans will have to go to a streaming service that is not usually known for exclusive anime titles.

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Sand Land Lands on American Soil

Though you may not be familiar with the title, the reality is that American readers were introduced to Sand Land in 2002. Viz Media was launching their American version of Shonen Jump, and decided that a new title from the creator of Dragon Ball Z would be a great selling point for the magazine. It took less than a year for the whole series to be serialized before being published in book form. The manga can still be read online on the Shonen Jump subscription app.

Disney+ Makes a Power Play For Toriyama’s Fans

Beelzebub from Sand Land movie


Though Disney is not known for anime (most of their IP-branded series remain buried, and the Studio Ghibli catalog has moved over to GKIDS), they have been making some plays at the anime market. Many anime titles are now available on Disney+ as a result of the Hulu merger, but that is a small step compared to their newest move: to be the exclusive distributor for Sand Land: The Series. Historically, most original anime showed up on either Netflix or Crunchyroll (and occasionally Hulu through a third party company).

Disney is, however, aware of how big Akira Toriyama is. They knew that being able to be the home to a series from “the creator of Dragon Ball Z” would be a huge win for anyone. Once the movie became a success, and it was apparent that the franchise would continue with a game and other merchandise, Disney swooped in to become the exclusive home of Sand Land: The Series. While it has been stated that the series will be under the Star banner in several territories, in Japan the series will be on Disney+, which should be a drive for many fans there to subscribe to the service.


In the US, Sand Land: The Series is officially going to premiere on Hulu. If subscribers have the Disney+/Hulu bundle, the series will be on Disney+ via the Hulu tab. While for many fans Disney might not seem like the logical home for an anime from the creator of one of the most acclaimed action cartoons of all time, for Disney it is a major move to solidify the service as one with not only great original exclusives, but as a streaming service Japanese viewers need to have.

Source: Anime News Network

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sand land

Sand Land

Bandai Namco and ILCA’s Sand Land is an action RPG based on a shonen manga created by Akira Toriyama. On an unforgiving desert world, Beelzebub – a demon – is on a quest to find a legendary spring. Along with melee action, Sand Land focuses heavily on vehicular combat.

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