May 20, 2024

When I was very young my family was living in Del Valle, Texas, at my grandparent’s house due to some circumstances. As I was still going to elementary school in Austin, my little brother and I would have to load up into my dad’s old work van, which only had two seats, and rumble our way there and back every day. It was a very uncomfortable time. We lacked a lot, but my grandma did have a television in her guest bedroom. One day, I flipped on the TV after school and saw something that would inspire me for the rest of my life. 

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On the screen was an animated boy in a bowl cut flying like Superman. The animation style was something I’d not seen before, but it was spectacular. As I watched, a plot began to unfold. The boy, whose name was “Gohan,” was trying to find something called “Dragon Balls,” a set of seven magical wish-granting orbs that summon a massive dragon when brought together. The boy was trying to gather these MacGuffins while dodging a rogue fighter named “Vegeta” and a tyrannical alien dictator named “Frieza.” 

The show had everything. It had people with superpowers, mystic dragons, aliens, space travel, and people with the ability to shoot giant beams of energy out of their hands. For millennial boys like me, this was the greatest show ever created.

All the while during the show, there were allusions to the boy’s father being on his way to help. The father’s name was “Goku,” and that name would become an inspiration to many including the author you’re reading now. 

But there was one more very important name I would learn during the course of this show I would borderline obsess over, and the importance of this man and his influence on cultures around the globe can’t be overstated. 

This man was Akira Toriyama, a humble man with a global fanbase, and on Thursday, it was announced that this great man had passed away. The outpouring of love from every part of the world can be seen on the internet. Even major mainstream news outlets are reporting the passing. 

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Some of you won’t know who he is or why he’s so important. I’ll tell you because Toriyama’s work was truly inspirational to me and this is my humble little way of paying tribute to him.

Toriyama was a Mangaka who created the manga Dragon Ball in 1984, a work that would become so popular that it influenced everyone from children to moviemakers. Many films, television shows, and more here in America owe heavy inspiration to Toriyama’s story of Goku, but it doesn’t stop there. Line up 100 athletes and ask them where they find inspiration to become stronger despite the pain they go through to become so and a solid chunk will eventually bring up Goku, his most popular character. Toriyama’s influence extends to video games, as well. Without Dragon Ball or its anime adaptation, there would be no “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

That’s not to mention that Toriyama worked directly on massive cultural mainstays such as “Chrono Trigger.” 

But if you want to know more about how influential Toriyama’s works were to other people on a professional level, you can read the myriad of other articles and videos pouring into the internet as I write this paying tribute to the man. 

What I want to talk about is what Toyriama gave to people on a deeper, emotional level, and to understand that, you have to understand his most famous character, Goku.

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Goku is the chief character of Toiryama’s Dragon Ball series. You first meet him as a naive boy in Dragon Ball who, despite his uncouth behavior stemming largely from his ignorance of the outside world outside his country home, has a real knack for fighting and mastering martial arts. Throughout his adventures alongside other loveable characters that would become famous in their own right, Goku would become known for a few key things that would become fleshed out more in the series “Dragon Ball Z.” 

First and foremost, Goku is always trying to be the strongest fighter, but not because he wants power or any kind of reason involving greed or lust. In fact, Goku is a family man with a wife and two sons who live in a cottage out in the countryside. By the time “Dragon Ball Super” rolls around, Goku is trying to keep his family afloat by farming.

No, Goku is always trying to be the strongest because he wants two things; to be the best version of himself that he can possibly be and to be able to protect those he loves. That, and he really does love martial arts, and oftentimes uses his abilities and talents to defeat enemies, not to kill or even subjugate them, but to turn them into legitimate rivals and eventually friends. 

Goku might be the strongest in the world, and possibly the universe, but he has a very pure heart. The only thing he ever took pride in was his family and friends. 

He’s not bothered by a lot and maintains a happy-go-lucky demeanor through almost every situation. Even in the midst of a heated battle, Goku is a happy warrior. He considers difficulty and pain to be just a part of growing stronger. 

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But while he’s not quick to anger, making him angry is possible but very ill-advised. The fastest way to his bad side is to hurt his friends and family. In fact, one of those moments lives as one of the greatest in anime history. The moment the Western world got to see what happens when Goku becomes incredibly angry and serious was watched by millions. Every millennial knows where they were when they first saw Goku go Super Saiyan. 

     

What Toriyama gave to the world through Goku was a mentality. For many millennial boys, the inspiration to push through hardship to reach something better and to continuously improve even after that helped many, including one troubled boy in Del Valle who would use that mentality to push forward all his life.

In fact, you can look throughout the internet and see major instances where Toriyama’s “Goku mentality” didn’t just help someone get through hard times, but saved their life. Goku, and indeed many of Toriyama’s characters including Vegeta and Gohan, inspire people to keep pushing forward even when all seems lost and things are at their darkest. It helps set your sights on the stronger version of yourself you’ll become when you get through it to the other side. 

There’s a popular t-shirt that some people wear to the gym that reads “Training to Beat Goku,” but the cool thing about Goku is that he was never training strictly to beat someone else, he was training to beat himself. Goku was always pushing forward to become a better, stronger version of Goku. 

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That is what Toriyama gave me, and indeed, he gave the world. He gave us the Goku mentality. A truer gift than anything else a mere human can give. The inspiration to persevere, grow stronger, and be the best version of yourself that you can. 

For that, I think I can speak for the entire world when I say “Thank you, Mr. Toriyama. For everything.” 

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