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Review: “Sand Land: The Series”: A Bittersweet Farewell for Toriyama Fans


Sand Land: The Series should have been one of the landmark blockbusters of 2024, but it came and went very under the radar because it got licensed by Hulu, who has been notorious in recent years for their inability to promote the anime they license. That Animayhem branding for their anime and adult cartoons has fizzled out and gone nowhere. Okay, enough ranting about how this series got robbed. Sand Land is an emotional journey for many fans of its creator, the late Akira Toriyama, creator of Dragonball, one of the most iconic manga/anime franchises of all time. The first half of this is an adaptation of his 2000 manga and the second half is an original story outlined by him. Sand Land ended up being the second to last anime he is ever going to be involved with, which should make this series a big deal. So how does this series live up to the hype? Plot spoilers in next paragraph, but if you don’t want spoilers, I’ll just say that it’s a fun show that is worth watching.

Sand Land: The Series is the story of two demons and an old man searching for water in a desert wasteland. The demons in the series are characters who greatly distrust humans, but aren’t of the total monsters humans believe humans to be. The conflict is a simple good versus evil story about fighting an evil king who attempts to make water hard for the common folk to access in order to make himself more rich and powerful.

The old man, Rao, was a member of the king’s army, but felt

extreme guilt about the evil actions done under the evil monarch’s orders. Despite being frail and old, he is one tough old guy who can probably give Master Roshi a good fight. Because of his hatred of killing, he is given a magic stun gun in the second arc. Beelzebub, a twenty five hundred year old demon child is a small character who is able to fight against giant robots and other threats and is the same kind of pint-sized powerhouse Kid Goku was. He loves video games and is very lazy even if he is a great fighter. Thief, an elderly demon, is the weak link as he was mostly a comic relief complainer. Later in the series, Princess Ann shows up as the token female, who also doesn’t make much of an impression. Admittedly, the short length of the series did a lot to hamper potential character development as Dragonball and Dragonball Z got many, many more episodes to develop stories and characters.

The story essentially boils down to being a very Star Wars-esque tale of good and evil, with an evil leader using a Death Star stand-in as a weapon, a princess who is part of a rebellion, and plot elements that are obviously borrowed from a galaxy far, far away. The desert setting does bring Tatooine to mind. The series does have an notable and probably controversial to some inversion of good angels versus evil demons. Toriyama probably did not believe in either entity so the artistic license with how Western religions portray these beings should be noted before one labels this show as “Satanic.” There is nothing revolutionary about the story, but is fun and effective for a thirteen episode mini-series and Rao and Beelzebub are great co-protagonists.

Its action scenes have the same sense of epic bombastic style that made Dragonball Z such an iconic anime. Unlike Dragonball Z, There are lots more vehicular/tank combat scenes that prevent this series from feeling like a complete retread of Toriyama’s magnum opus. Like Dragonball Super: Super Hero before it, this one is done in a mostly CGI style, but it is pretty solid by the standards of anime CGI. Sure, American television CGI series like Arcane and Blue Eye Samurai do look prettier and probably had a much higher production budget, but this is not an Ex:Arm level disaster. The visuals have a video game like charm to them as Toriyama is also known for his video game characters designs for beloved video games like Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger. Maybe the series got drowned out by flashier shows like Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen, but those aforementioned series have elevated action anime to a standard so high that almost no anime can reach it. Sand Land might not reach those titles highs, but it at least is well above average. Character designs are clearly Toriyama and his distinctive style of designing cool and memorable characters, although it does not have the testosterone-soaked stylings associated with Dragonball Z.

With only thirteen episodes, it was never going to live up to the iconic epic of the Dragonball franchise, but it works as a very good action anime mini-series. Dragonball continues to be the blueprint which most modern battle shonen heavily borrow from to this very day, with virtually every modern series in the series stealing a plot, characterization, lore, visual, or other element from the series. It is safe to say that when the Sand Land manga came out in 2000, it didn’t change anime and manga forever like Dragonball did. Even if it wasn’t the genre changer, it probably could compete with titles like Jujutsu Kaisen if it were a fully developed series instead of a thirteen episode mini-series. To Toriyama fans, this was a must watch even if it was under the radar of a great deal of fans because Hulu didn’t hype the second to last Toriyama anime. I am sure that Dragonball Daima will be far more discussed as the true swan song of Toriyama. Sand Land: The Series is still pure Toriyama and pure joy. Toriyama was the greatest battle shonen writer of all time and he will be missed.

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