by Akira Toriyama
(Shonen Jump/Viz, 2003)
Akira Toriyama's Sandland justifies its cover price in a single panel: a giant Devil, clad in biker-style leather clothing, sitting on his enormous throne and reading Faust by the light of the infernal flame.
The literate Devil may be the single most dramatic image in Sandland, but he's not alone. Toriyama fills his desert world with giant horned dragons, floating water demons, grotesque cyborgs and even a glimpse of a very earthly paradise. There's also the Sandland itself, a country of barren hardship, a created desert with little of a natural desert's grandeur. The heroes of this desperate country are a pink young demon named Beelzebub, the actual son of the Devil, his demon follower Thief and a quiet old sheriff carrying humanity's hopes for water and the future. There's also a tank, a delightfully unlikely bubbly contraption of gears and hatches and scowling eyes. Together they set out to find a permanent water source, in defiance of the human leadership they hope to help.
Those who only know Toriyama's name from the Dragonball series may be surprised by the humor and subtlety of Sandland. There are a few fight scenes, with Toriyama's trademark energy blasts and superhuman fighters. But there's also a strong focus on the cost of conflict, and real victories gained by work and communication, not just dramatic combat.
Sandland is an unexpectedly warm manga, and a reminder of why Toriyama is at the top of his profession.