Sand Land is one of Toriyama’s works from the later part of his career. After completing Dragon Ball in the mid-nineties, Toriyama wisely chose to never create such a long series. Sand Land was supposed to be a short work about a man and a tank and the whole thing is only one volume long. Even then you get the feeling it went on longer than Toriyama was expecting. It was published in Japan in 2000 and it was first published in English in issues #1-11 of Shonen Jump. The story is rather simple, in a post-apocalyptic desert land, an old Sheriff and a couple of demons go on a journey to find the mysterious Phantom Lake. Along the way they meet various strange characters and a couple of monsters all the while uncovering the dark secrets of the King’s Army and the war that took place 30 years earlier.
There isn’t an enormous amount of depth but the story is entertaining and it moves at a breakneck pace. Yet, it’s not a quick read it just that so many things happen every chapter. There are demons stealing water from cargo trucks, monster chases through the desert, driving lessons, fights with crooks, tank battles, plenty of hand to hand combat, a couple military conspiracy and that’s only about half of the content of the manga! So there’s not a lot of depth because the focus is to write and draw a fun manga and hope the reader has fun too. That’s exactly what Toriyama achieves.
It’s not all fun in the sun and desert hijinks though. There are some environmental and social-economic concerns in there too for readers who need a bit food for thought with their entertainment. General Zeu’s use of the King vas a puppet leader to create a monopoly on the water of Sand Land is a pretty dark and surprisingly contemporary socio-economic issue. At first I was a bit disappointed that the villainous General Zeu didn’t appear to have any further motivation for his actions than wanting to amass power and money. That’s it for his motivation, actually. It works, though. That’s the driving factor for some of most of the corrupt military and political leaders of modern times. Greed is the driving factor that contributes directly to the suffering of hundreds of millions every year. Sheriff Roa, Thief and Prince Beelzebub are putting their foot down and choosing to end the needless suffering of the people of Sand Land.
Clean water should not be a luxury. It’s a foundational pillar of life and should be shared amongst all living creatures, be they man, animal or demon. It’s interesting that Toriyama makes Zeu a cyborg. He’s equal parts man and machine. By pursuing his greedy aim his body has decayed to the point where he needed to attach cybernetics to maintain his health. His need for water is presumably less important to him individually than it is for the average human. It’s grim that he’s the sole possessor of the Land’s water supply. His continued persecution of the people has nothing to do with his need for water but for his illusionary need for increased wealth.
The art here is some of Toriyama’s best. In his short introduction to this volume he states that he thinks his drawings of the tank are less than satisfactory which is completely inaccurate. It’s very well drawn from its first appearance to its last. He draws the exterior as well as the interior with great attention to detail. He draws several other motorized vehicles, some real and some imaginary. His character work, as always, is great. His villains look like villains and his heroes are tough but fair. Beelzebub and the Sheriff look great. I would really like to see more of their adventures.
Sand Land wasn’t a quick read but it was a light read. The book feels dense even though there isn’t an overabundance of story but there are a lot of plot points, nearly each chapter feels like a story unto itself. It all keeps the story rolling along but it also makes you feel as though it was money well spent. It was to see a storytelling master at work. Sand Land could be dismiss as just another fun adventure manga with demons, tanks and an old secretive Sherriff but to dismiss it as such is to entirely miss the point. The entire point is to have fun but there is a more depth to the work for those who wish to pay attention to it. Sand Land allows for a more engaged reading experience. Viz Media gave the collected volume an “A for All Ages” rating and that’s spot on because Sand Land works well on so many different levels. Truly a manga for the whole family.