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Sand Land: The Series (Disney+) review: A must-watch anime for all fans of Akira Toriyama

By Zelda Lee - 31 Mar 2024

Sand Land: The Series (Disney+) review: A must-watch anime for all fans of Akira Toriyama

Akira Toriyama's Sand Land might not have received the same level of acclaim as his other works like Dragon Ball or Dr. Slump. His biggest fans, however, will know that the series is the legendary manga creator’s most underrated work yet. That Sand Land is only now getting the attention it deserves, stands as a fitting tribute to Toriyama after his sudden passing earlier this year.

The revival of Sand Land began with last year’s critically acclaimed movie adaptation, and even the upcoming videogame of the same name by Bandai Namco is garnering a lot of anticipation among fans and gamers. With Disney+ launching an original anime series (it’s available for streaming now), Sand Land is arguably one of the biggest multiplatform IP based on a manga in 2024 – since its debut more than two decades ago.

Disney+’s Sand Land: The Series comes from the same creative minds that brought the movie to life. It’s a delightful, humorous, and accurate adaptation of Akira Toriyama's original manga, and is set in a desolate world plagued by severe drought. The story centres around Rao, a seasoned sheriff faced with the challenge of keeping peace in a town on the brink of chaos due to the acute water shortage. The situation is exacerbated by the kingdom's greedy monarch, who monopolises the dwindling water supply, selling it at exorbitant prices to his destitute subjects. This crisis isn't limited to humans; the demon population is also affected, leading them to pilfer water from the royal military to survive.

Sand Land here takes an interesting turn with the introduction of a demon seen distributing water to parched children at no cost, capturing Rao's attention. Driven by curiosity and a sense of justice, Rao sets out to find this community of benevolent demons. His search leads him to form an unlikely alliance with Beelzebub, a young demon prince with a rebellious streak, and Thief, his sagacious companion. Despite the deep-seated mistrust between their species, Rao persuades them to join forces in a quest for the "Legendary Spring", a mythical lake said to lie hidden in the heart of the desert.

Their journey is anything but straightforward. Together, the mismatched trio embarks on a daring expedition across the country in a dune buggy, confronting bandits, monsters, and a formidable human military determined to uphold the government's control over water resources. As with Toriyama’s Dragon Ball series, Sand Land is ultimately a tale of adventure, camaraderie, and the pursuit of a common good in the face of adversity – all set against the backdrop of the manga artist’s signature imagined world.

I’ve watched episodes 1-7, and the early episodes are truly captivating with its mixture of comedy and action and the delightful rapport among the three main characters. The dynamic CGI animation led by directors Toshihisa Yokoshima and Hiroshi Kojina is quite a sight too. Although the series maintains a family-friendly vibe, creators Akira Toriyama and scriptwriter Hayashi Mori skillfully incorporate mature themes into the storyline. The series doesn't shy away from exploring heavy subjects such as the impact of war, the horrors of genocide alongside corporate greed and the ongoing assault on the environment.

However, those familiar with last year's film adaptation might find the first six episodes somewhat familiar as they are based on the same original source. But the narrative takes a significant turn from episode seven, venturing beyond the original manga and film with stories freshly penned by Toriyama himself, which is worth watching alone.

While Sand Land: The Series might not have been planned as Akira Toriyama's swansong, nor is it likely to have the kind of cultural and commercial success of Dragon Ball, it is his most beautiful legacy left behind for fans. Its storytelling depth and artistic brilliance beautifully is a fitting finale to one of the manga industry’s greatest luminaries.

Sand Land: The Series is available for streaming on Disney+ now.

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