By Akira Toriyama & Toyotarou
Dragon Ball Super is inherently derivative of Dragon Ball. As such, Toyotarou’s blatant references to Toriyama’s artwork, going so far as to recreate exact poses and panels from Dragon Ball, could be passed off as innocent homages. Unfortunately, the recent controversy over Toyotarou’s blatant plagiarism of Dexter Soy’s artwork, retracing art of Captain America he drew for an issue of Captain Marvel with Goku for the July cover of V-Jump, questions both his artistic integrity and his ability. It’s one thing for Dragon Ball to cannibalize and recycle its own art, considering Toriyama is being credited on the manga regardless. A professional artist retracing the work of another without consent or credit is a whole other ballpark. In light of this, it’s impossible to not scrutinize Toyotarou’s artwork, reevaluating what’s really his own work and what’s been borrowed.
This mistrust will definitely cloud my Dragon Ball Super reading experience and any appraisals of Toyotarou’s art henceforth. While I didn’t notice any derivative artwork in this chapter, it’s hard not to notice other telltale signs of his amateur abilities. Toyotaro overuses straight-on medium close-ups in talking-head scenes, causing conversations to flow at a monotonous, unemotional pace. His page layouts flow awkwardly, with either a stacked box arrangement that’s boring to look at or confusingly cut diagonally segmented pages that don’t help to easily transition from panel to panel. These flaws have always been present, but they particularly interfere with the action in this chapter, making it hard to discern what is going on.
The above page is an exemplary case of some problems plaguing the readability of Toyotarou’s art and compositions. He starts off on the top right panel showing us a close up on Freeza’s face. Then he breaks the 180-degree rule with the bottom panel, showing us a long shot with the camera framed behind Freeza’s back, speed lines emphasizing Caulifla’s approach. The positioning of Freeza on the left of the panel is fine enough, as it leads from the left panel where Freeza uses his psychic attack. Freeza’s pose, however, is a problem. Not only is his posture odd, with the muscles on his right arm looking particularly lumpy, the arm is moving from top right to bottom left, guiding my eye to look in that direction. When viewing this page on my browser, this causes me to glance at the panels in the bottom of the next page. In single-page view mode, this causes my eye to glance at Caulifla in the left of the bottom panel, even though the action in the panel is meant to be read right to left. Freeza’s pose closes off the action in these top three panels, causing me to have to reset my eyes back to the right to read the bottom three panels instead of guiding me there naturally. If Freeza’s pose was flipped, and the diagonal gutter read left to right so as to guide my eye naturally to the next panel, it’d read much better. The bottom three panels are a little better in guidance flow. The placement of Caulifla’s word balloon moves towards the action happening in the bottom right panel since it’s positioned in the same direction as the speed lines indicating where the rock hits her face. Then the sound effect guides towards the next panel. Even then, it reads confusingly, because in the middle panel it looks like the rock is about to hit Caulifla head-on, but instead it hits her on the side of her face. If she was retreating and it hit her mid-motion, the idea wasn’t clear enough, making it hard to tell why her position in relation to the rock changed so suddenly. The rock also doesn’t seem to have a consistent volume, because on the mid-page panel it looks bigger than Caulifla, on the bottom right panel it looks the same size as her, and then on the bottom left panel it only looks as big as her torso. It’s difficult to be invested in the action when I’m straining my eyes to understand what’s happening on a single page.
That said, Toyotarou’s art isn’t without its strengths. As mentioned in previous chapters, his facial expressions are full of character. Especially when it comes to characters grimacing in pain: Decrori’s slack-jawed mouth, pursed lips, bulging eyes and veins satisfyingly sell how painful Kale’s jab to her stomach was. Freeza and Kale’s expressions are generally pretty great throughout the chapter. The way Toyotarou draws Freeza’s dopey looks of surprise with rounded eyes and narrowed full-circle pupils humorously contrast with his default smug expression, where his eyes are narrower and more angular, making his pupils look like semi-circles under his furrowed brow. He renders the Golden Freeza transformation with nice gradients of gray that do a good job of replicating the shiny textures of his body in a colorless state. Kale, meanwhile, has a lot of attitude from how her brows are narrowed and how her mouth is opened, at its simplest making her look constantly disgusted and fed up with the people around her. This is used to perfect comedic effect in her fight with Decrori, where her darted eyes and annoyed expression make it clear she doesn’t care at all about her opponent. The pupil-less eyes and simple grin she dons in her Super Saiyan form also convey the mindless brute strength she possesses really well. Though I criticize Toyotarou’s overuse of close-ups, drawing colorful expressions is certainly one of his biggest strengths, and he mostly maximizes the mileage he can get out of playing with facial expressions for comedic and dramatic effort.
While the art is a hit-or-miss subject, the narrative content in this chapter is loads of fun. It’s amusing seeing two characters as arrogant as Freeza and Caulifla go head-to-head, both of them making mistakes in battle due to underestimating the other’s capabilities. In general, it’s nice to see these characters in action after they seemingly dropped off in the last couple of chapter. Considering Freeza’s goal, it makes sense that the only thing that’d motivate him to bother fighting anyone would be his pettiness. He can’t beat up Goku or Vegeta, but picking on weaker Saiyans from another universe is fair game, and he clearly revels in being stronger than them. Freeza’s paltry pride is amusingly pathetic, and he’s in his element here as the clear villain of the situation. He’s so pig-headed that he literally kicks Goku aside while trying to help. Even as an ally, Freeza’s antagonistic status allows him to instigate conflicts with other universes and still be a threat to his own team, making his role in the tournament continuously unpredictable and always entertaining.
As fun as Freeza is, Kale is easily the star of this chapter. Her disdain for everyone except Caulifla and hidden fighting talents had been previously established, but this is the first time we’re really seeing how that translates into fighting. The sequence where she elbow-jabs Decrori in the stomach and then kicks her out with the back of her foot after she falls face-first on the floor, with her back-turned and never once looking at her, is just incredibly badass. It’s a moment that perfectly encapsulates the contempt she has for other people, as she doesn’t even respect her opponent to look her in the face when she beats her. Additionally, the fact she could do all of that with her back turned also indicates she has incredible confidence and instincts as a fighter. The reason she’s chosen to hide her abilities is rooted in an interesting psychological complex: she respects Caulifla more than anyone, so Caulifla must be stronger than everyone, including her. Caulifla’s inability to defeat Freeza on her own, requiring Kale’s assistance and Cabba’s intervention, challenges that worldview. Paradoxically, Kale believes she must eliminate people who are stronger than Caulifla, while maintaining the illusion that she is inferior to her. That crisis of identity ultimately leads her to lose all sense of reason, wildly attacking everyone she perceives as an enemy– which is anyone that’s stronger than Caulifla.
Kale’s characterization and motivations are informed by a surprisingly complex psychology that stands in stark contrast to most of Dragon Ball’s more simple-minded cast, which helps her stand out as an antagonist and threat in the Tournament. It’s also a very different take on the character compared to her anime counterpart, whose hidden abilities were suppressed by her lack of confidence and inferiority complex, and were brought out because of her jealousy of people Caulifla respected and her fear of being abandoned. Manga Kale and anime Kale are polar opposite characters in this regard, making the destination of her character arc in the manga truly unpredictable. Which interpretation of the character you like better will depend on your tastes. I personally enjoy both versions, but anime Kale admittedly draws more blatant similarities to Broly than her manga counterpart has so far, which I know is a point of contention among many fans. Certainly, manga Kale’s characterization feels less derivative and interesting, though I’d argue the anime’s Kale is a better-developed character, at least so far.
While I’ve lost some confidence in Toyotaro as an artist, this chapter proves he’s still a talented writer. The manga continues to make good use of its characters, coming up with matchups and scenarios that allow for the Universe 7 characters and their opponents to show off their powers and play off their personalities in fun and interesting ways. Additionally, Toyotarou’s version of Kale is a uniquely fascinating character and has been set up well as a threat to look out for as the Tournament continues. With Goku and Freeza begrudgingly teaming up to take on the super-insane Super Saiyan, while Gohan and Muten Roshi fend off the relentless Pride Troopers, I’m incredibly excited to read next month’s chapter and see what’ll happen next. Toyotaro might only be able to imitate Toriyama’s art, but he sure knows how to capture the spirit of Dragon Ball.