Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro’s Toriko is one of the most unique and entertaining franchises to never achieve its full potential, leading many people in the anime community to question why Toriko failed in the later part of its serialisation. During the launch of its 396 chapters it generated a dedicated following, had cross-overs with the top-three best selling manga One Piece and Dragon Ball and generated adaptations in various media forms, most notably an anime adaptation by Toei Animation spanning 147 episodes.
Why Toriko failed in Sales
By no means, then, did Toriko fail in the direct sense of the word, as it has sold approximately 20 million volumes worldwide and is ranked among the top 100 best-selling manga of all time. The top 10 highest sold manga of all time, however, have sold somewhere between 450 to 120 million volumes, which means, that there is a vast difference often at least a factor of ten, between the top ten best-selling manga of all time and Toriko.
Why Toriko failed in overall rankings
But let’s take a closer look at the numbers to get a better view of why Toriko failed in sales and flopped in rankings during the later part of its serialisation. We picked out a few highly successful series for comparison.
We are going to take a look at three key elements: (1) years published, (2) launch date and (3) approximate volume sales . The importance of the first is obvious, the longer a manga is serialised, the more money it will end up making. By looking at the chart, we can clearly see that one of the reasons why Toriko failed was that it is one of the shorter serialisations, when compared to the more popular titles. The so-called “Big Three” — One Piece, Naruto and Bleach — have all been serialised for at least fifteen years. JoJo’s Bizarre adventure and Berserk for more than thirty years! If we look at the top 100 best selling manga in history, many of which I omitted from the table, because I picked out my favourites, the biggest series all boast at least 25 years of ongoing serialisation. So Toriko’s release schedule of eight years can be considered to be short and certainly explains why Toriko failed in its overall ratings, when compared to the most popular titles.
On the other hand, there are manga series that have sold more in less time. The original Dragon Ball manga, for example, lasted only three years more than Toriko, but has managed to clock in ten times the revenue. A similar pattern exists with popular titles like Attack on Titan, that have been in print just a little longer, but have managed to surpass the sales of Toriko significantly. Needless to say, that these series are still continued, either by their original authors or authors that have picked up the franchise to capitalise on its success. In terms of years published, then, we can observe first that Toriko has for certain reasons, always remained in the shadow of the real hit series, with the possible exception of Berserk, that has had a massive cultural impact, but at the same time is known for a very hectic release schedule and for its extended hiatuses. Secondly, that it was in print for a relatively short time and was abandoned prematurely, which may have contributed to its overall low ratings.
Regarding the launch date, it is interesting to note that Toriko began publishing relatively late. If you compare the art and overall thematic content of Toriko to popular titles released in the same era as Toriko, like Attack On Titan, it seems clear that a cultural shift has taken place with most series released at that point, whereas Toriko clearly takes its influences from series released in the eighties or nineties like Fist of the North Star, and Dragon Ball, even manga released nine years earlier like Vagabond seem more inline with the modern style of art and thematic content. So another clue to understanding why Toriko failed in terms of sales, was not that its content was not excellent, but that it was late in terms of the overall trends in the manga industry.
Why Toriko failed in individual volume sales
Now let’s take a look at individual volume sales. We have already looked at the overall volume sales, and remarked that Toriko was successful enough to be in the top 100 best selling manga of all time, a great achievement in itself, but was eclipsed by the bigger franchises. Now let’s also look at the timeline of volume sales for the Toriko manga during its eight year run.
We see that Toriko had a fairly consistent rise in popularity from February, 2008 to April 2012, from which point on, it suffered a steady decline up until it’s premature ending in December 2016. What are the key events that could explain why Toriko failed in terms of sales in the second half of its serialisation?
In April 3rd, 2011 the Toriko Anime was released, and consequently the popularity of the manga skyrocketed. In just about three months the sales had increased by 100k. By looking at the numbers, this was surprising to me, because a very popular view in the anime & manga community as to why Toriko failed, is that the Toriko Anime ruined the franchise and nulled its potential by changing crucial elements of the plot, censoring violence and having a poor quality of animation overall.
Even if these criticisms of the Toriko anime are true, it is clear that the anime had a very positive impact for the sales of the Toriko manga overall., and is definitely not the reason why Toriko ended. And by looking at its 7.4 IMDB rating and the positive reviews at MyAnimeList, you get a sense that the anime was generally a success. The final episode aired March 30, 2014 in Japan, and the fact that the Toriko anime was cancelled probably explains to a large degree, why Toriko failed more and more in terms of volume sales, which had been slowly declining since their peak in 2012.
By looking at the chart, however, we can see that the popularity decline of the Toriko manga began while the anime was still being aired. In other words, there were probably reasons for the low Toriko manga rating in the content of the story itself, and cannot only be explained by the Toriko anime ending. Let’s look at some possible causes.
Why Toriko failed in terms of content
Before we can see if the reasons why Toriko ended are reflected in the content of the manga, we need to discuss the aspects that made it fun in the first place, and then see if these aspects were either unfulfilled or if they declined during the later part of the serialisation. Let’s take a look at the main thematic element that made Toriko Fun, and discuss the why Toriko failed to achieve its potential in the later part of the series.
Toriko is a manga about food, and due to this, is often dismissed as having a “hard to get into” main theme. In truth, however, there are many aspects to Toriko’s story, and gathering ingredients and eating them often serves as the drive for the main characters who end up achieving a number of goals, many of them removed from the simple idea of eating good food. I have read through the entire Toriko manga and must say I throughly enjoyed its colourful cast of characters and engaging storyline. This might apply to me personally, but there were three main aspects that made me a fan of the series and kept me coming back for more: the world building, the creative fights and the power scaling. We will discuss these topics one-by-one.
World building is where the Toriko manga really shines and many chapters are spent fleshing out the different areas of Gourmet World. Toriko and his friends inhabit a giant planet, about five times the size of Earth. This planet is divided into sections. The human world, where our main characters originate from comprises about 30% of the world and the Gourmet World, an extremely hostile and dangerous territory, separated into eight sections ruled by extremely powerful creatures called the Eight Kings.
Learning more about these undiscovered continents and its inhabitants was a great part of the charm of the series. The existence of great ingredients and the intense drive of the Bishyokuya (Gourmet hunters) to capture and complete their main course, gave a compelling call to action for the adventures of the main characters in the series: Toriko, Coco, Sunny and Zebra.
In the world of Toriko, the most powerful individuals in the world are dedicated to capturing and eating rare ingredients, and no one loves eating more than Toriko, the main character. Nick-named “The Glutton”, Toriko is a huge Gourmet Hunter weighing 230kg and in possession of an inhuman appetite. It is stated in the Toriko manga, that a serving of food large enough to feed 500 people would only fill up 1/5 of Toriko’s appetite. This appetite manifests in the form of Gourmet-demons, monstrous entities that are the manifestations of the appetite of their host.
The strongest hunters in the Gourmet world like Midora, Jirou and the Four Heavenly Kings possess different variants of these Gourmet cell demons that grant them different powers and dictate their compatibility with the ingredients in the Gourmet World. According to these compatibilities the Hunters are in search of their “Full Course” consisting of eight compatible ingredients:
- Hors d’Oeuvre (前菜 Zensai)
- Soup (スープ Sūpu)
- Fish Dish (魚料理 Gyo Ryōri)
- Meat Dish (肉料理 Niku Ryōri)
- Main Course (主菜 Shusai, Entrée in the English manga)
- Salad (サラダ Sarada)
- Dessert (デザート Dezāto)
- Drink (ドリンク Dorinku)
when the Hunters consume ingredients, with which they are compatible with, they become more powerful, as their Gourmet Demons regain more of their original abilities. Seeing the Gourmet hunters gather rare ingredients was a rewarding experience, because of the creativity Shimabukurou put into the ingredients and their capture methods. In addition, eating them would level up the main cast of characters and increase their ability to explore more dangerous parts of the Gourmet world, opening up new possibilities in a highly fantastical universe.
One of the high-points of the series for me personally, were the Air and Pair arcs, due to the fun of exploring the regions ruled by the two kings Heracles, and the Monkey King Bambina. The sense of danger and wonder created by these arcs fitted the best themes in the story: the themes of exploration and discovery. In Toriko, the nature is a harsh environment, where the strongest and smartest survive and thrive, and human beings are very far from dominating or controlling the earth. Instead, much more sinister forces, like the Blue Nitro, appetite demons and the Eight Kings hold the power in the world and use very often use it arbitrarily, serving their own selfish ends. The monkey King Bambina, for example, is obsessed with finding someone who is strong enough to play with him, but ends up killing everyone who tries, due to the insurmountable difference in strength between him and everyone else.
Horse King Heracles, on the other hand, is selflessly concerned with the growing offspring in his belly and wishes primarily to carry on his progeny to the next generation. Learning the details and lore behind the different areas was a treat and Shimabukurou really excelled at creating unique locations like the Blue Grill, and expanding on them in great detail. Sadly during the final arcs in the series, it became clear, that many promised areas that the readers were waiting to explore were going to be skipped. This was certainly reason why Toriko failed to fulfil the expectations of its readers in the later arcs of the series. Similarly to the end of Naruto, major focus was placed on a final war to quickly wrap up loose ends, and many highly anticipated events were skipped. The capture of center, and many other parts of Acacia’s full course, for example, were off-screened, like Aimaru taking care of area Zero and obtaining center as a sidelined event in the GOD arc.
Perhaps the greatest reason why Toriko failed in terms of world building, was that Toriko for the longest time seemed to be a manga that was increasingly constrained by the limits of its main setting, the Gourmet Planet. Many creatures in the verse were already boasting abilities related to space. For example, the Monkey King Bambina was taking naps by jumping into space, and the Snake King was catching prey by stretching its long body out onto other planets. Furthermore, the Gourmet cell demons, that the main characters of the story possess were revealed to be very ancient cosmic entities, that have travelled from planet to planet, and in the case of Don Slime, and Toriko’s Red Demon, even dominated the galaxy in some time in the past. Thus there was a hope of Toriko becoming an interplanetary adventure, which sadly can never come into fruition since Toriko is over.
In general, then, a big part of why Toriko failed in terms of world building, wast that the later part of Toriko seemed to be focused on closing the narrative, which was never the best part of Toriko (it was about the journey itself) and skipped large parts of the world-building that were hyped up in earlier parts of the story.
As with all Shonen, fights are a big part of the story of Toriko. In my opinion there were some really good ones. Midorya vs Ichiryu, Toriko vs Starjun, The Four heavenly kings vs Bambina just to name a few. The fights were creative, brutal and definitely one of the highlights of the series.
The special abilities of characters were, as a whole, well thought through and technically sound. Skills do not appear randomly, but act under the umbrella of a common logic. The back channels, for example, are used in different creative ways; Starjun, for example, creates layers of them and combines it with his Gourmet cell demon foresight and moves extremely fast, or even a little in advance of everyone else ad Acacia can create back channels of extreme length and uses Neo to intimidate and attempt to bring out the flavour of despair from his victims.
Even some wild beasts without a Gourmet cell demon can take advantage of it. One of my favourite attacks from Toriko, is the Deer King’s version of the back channel, where the victim is trapped inside a hyper-speed back channel and is aged thousands of years in a matter of seconds. Without plot armor, this attack should be sufficient to erase almost any creature in the Toriko universe. But as if that was not enough, creatures close in power level to the deer king himself will emerge from his horns and attack the victim of the attack whilst being unaffected by the back channel themselves.
One of the best showcases of creativity in Toriko, were the Gourmet cell demons, who boasted a wide variety of different skills and were well fleshed out. Ichiryu’s Gourmet cell demon, Don slime, for example, could manipulate his cells into any object or living being and could even create stars close to the end of their lifespan, and consequently create supernovas. Another appetite demon, Neo, had the ability to swallow and consume everything, including attacks, poison without harming Neo, because the swallowed up things end up in another dimension entirely. The fights in Toriko were fun and engaging, because the abilities were creative, and kept you guessing which overpowered technique would end up winning the fight.
The thematic content of cooking and natural ingredients were also incorporated into fights in badass ways. Although a large number of cooks in the series are not fighters themselves, many of them, like the Blue Nitro, were competent fighters and could use their cooking skills to their advantage. For example, the Blue Nitro had the ability to seal powerful opponents away permanently by their special techniques and cooking utensils.
Toriko was also the only manga I can think of, that treated wild animals on par with human characters in the series. The numerous wild beasts throughout the Gourmet world were not just mindless beasts, but important characters to the story and possessed a wide variety of skills; especially the eight kings, who’s powers and fights were one of the definite highlights in the story. Watching the Horse King Heracles completely inhale the air in area eight and the Sandoriko plants being so dangerous, that even Blue Nitro did not dare to approach them really illustrated the view that the characters of Toriko are battling against forces of nature much more powerful than themselves.
The fights, I would say remained the most constantly awesome up until the end of the series, from these three categories I wanted to talk about. My primary reason as to why Toriko failed in terms of fights, if it failed at all, would be that many interesting fights were sadly off screened and some interesting characters did not showcase their abilities in fights at all, due to the rushed pace in the later part of the series.
[..] the world of manga is marked by inflation, with the arrival of ever more incredible enemies accompanied by ever more powerful weapons. This is a common situation in Shonen mangas, who do not have time to control this inflation. It quickly becomes galloping up to exceed a heading from which, except stroke of luck, it is no longer possible to stop it – Kentaro Miura, Le Figaro Interview, 2019.
The power scaling of Toriko started out well at the beginning of the series. Most Shonen manga have a cast of characters that start out in a world where they are weak in comparison to the overall strength of the universe, but gradually climb up the ranks and become the strongest. This is a satisfying formula, but not always easy to pull off. What the Toriko manga did really well at the beginning of the series, was demonstrating the strength of the overall world with respect to our main cast, thus generating enormous amounts of hype for future power ups. During the PAIR arc, for example, Zebra grabs onto the monkey king Bambina and senses his overwhelming strength.
This strength was creatively tied into the lore of the Toriko world. For example, a natural phenomenon known as “skipping stone mountains”, huge mountain boulders crossing the circumference of the earth, are created by the monkey king playing his version of skipping stones. So in the Pair arc we get a satisfying buildup by witnessing the power of one of the eight kings first hand, and after the food treasure Pair is obtained, we see our characters level up by obtaining the ability to use back channels. A similar satisfying pattern exists, after our heroes complete the challenges in the Air arc, and obtain the food treasure. Toriko, after tasting Air is able to see straight into space, and Coco describes how natural breath gains, for one who eats Pair, the ability to naturally heal even broken bones and deep cuts to the body. Another cool ability one gained from eating Air was needing less air in general, one who eats Pair can survive without breathing for hours.
Carefully expanding its world, and slow, satisfying power scaling was a staple of the Toriko manga up until the later arcs where the storytelling became rushed overall, and in many areas, like that of the much anticipated, area one, ruled over by the dragon king Derous, were skipped entirely. This was the primary reason why Toriko failed in terms of power scaling. Characters that were built up slowly during hundreds of chapters were either quickly levelled up so they could have the necessary prowess to take part in the final war, or neglected entirely, making their character progress throughout the earlier part of the series pointless. This was extremely apparent with the powers of the three remaining Heavenly Kings, beside Toriko, who were basically sidelined and defeated in an off-screen fight in the final war. Sunny, Coco, and Zebra were fan favourites, and heavily focused on in the earlier part of the series, but painfully neglected in the later arcs of the series. A failure to incorporate these popular characters into the main story was probably an important reason why Toriko failed in terms of power scaling in the later arcs and why Toriko ended prematurely, even though the content otherwise remained excellent.
in terms of hasty power-ups, by the end of the series, Toriko, for example was fed the cells of Red Nitro by Chi Chi, the food treasure Another, and God in a short succession, giving him three insane power ups in the course of a few chapters. Whereas it was certainly interesting to see, what Toriko could do with the newfound power, the enjoyment would have been much greater with a gradual sensical progression, rather than one big ass pull.
Power ups like this also shed a bad light to the power scaling of the entire Toriko universe at the same time, because characters that have been hyped throughout the entire series, like the Eight Kings, suddenly lose their splendour in one unfortunate chapter and downscale to scrub level, compared to the main character and the main villain. Sadly, many of these characters like Dragon King Derous did not even have their own proper time to shine before they were downscaled, which clearly illustrated why Toriko failed in terms of power scaling. The nerfs were especially apparent with Whale King Moon, who was hyped up to be the strongest of the eight kings. By the end of the series, the whale Kings only achievements were attempting to suck in a few characters into its belly, and getting throttled by a powered up Acacia. It is clear that a big reason why Toriko failed by the end of the series, was that the rushed tempo at the end of the series skipped fascinating details and messed up the overall power balance in the world, making many characters story arcs either meaningless or unimportant with respect to the main events in the manga.
Additional reasons why Toriko failed
So far, I’ve tried to explain why Toriko failed in a systematic way. Now I am simply going to enumerate various points that are worth mentioning, as possible explanations as to why Toriko ended prematurely.
To start out, there were many visually awkward, “acid trip” moments like very big naked muscled men eating each other, Toriko eating the demon snake meat emanating from his own father’s body, and large amounts of tears and mucous falling from the eyes of characters in many emotional scenes. Whereas, I personally enjoyed the visual style, and found it hilarious, it may have been off putting for some readers.
The primary villain of the later part of the series, Neo lacked variety. He was scary and overpowered, but compared to the cool imaginative challenges presented by overcoming or becoming allies with the eight kings in the earlier arcs, he fell short. Neo was a bland “one-trick pony” villain, that simply devoured every opponent and tanked every attack, until its secret was uncovered in the final chapters.
Character motivations in the story, unless they were very generic and simple like hunting for powerful ingredients, were often hard to believe and uninteresting. The entire motivation behind Acacia’s behaviour, for example, does not bear much logical scrutiny, if one really thinks about it. Did it really make any sense to not reveal, that the secret to defeating Neo is the emotion of anger, as opposed to fear? Did it make sense to start systematically killing off the most powerful people on earth, in an effort to create genuine anger, while these powerful people stood the best chance at actually stopping him? Perhaps there was a better way than killing innocent people, including his stepson Jirou?
In other cases, character motivations were not explained at all, and we got no deeper insight into the minds of important characters like the Heavenly Kings, Teppei, Rin, and other fan favourites. A lot of focus is put into the rather unhealthy obsession Midorya has with Froeze, his adoptive mother, but it is at the same time such a stark contrast with his behaviour in all other instances, so it ends up looking out of place.
The last arc was moving in a very fast pace and wrapped up a lot of loose ends, but it also left many things undiscovered. We never saw, for example any of the Gourmet Cell Demons of the Four Heavenly Kings go all out, or showcase the full extent of their abilities, regardless of the great war in the end of the series. As soon as Toriko’s white demon showed itself, the fight was pretty much over. The biggest reason why Toriko failed in terms of skipping important stuff, in my opinion, was skipping the powers of the Heavenly Kings, who were at some point almost as important as Toriko for the story.
The problem was amplified by the fact that the cast of characters in Toriko was very large. Shimabukuro crafted an intricate world filled with various characters and that was highly enjoyable for me as a reader. At times, though, it seemed like the cast was getting unmanageable, and perhaps a reason why Toriko failed in ratings, was that a number of confused readers dropped the manga once it kept on introducing characters, and under developing old ones.
Toriko was serialized in Shonen Jump, a magazine known for its high competitiveness and propensity of intrusive editing of manga that are lagging behind popularity. This was the case with Bleach, for example. Whereas pressure to succeed and create good content can sometimes be good, it very clearly decreased the quality of the Toriko manga, no doubt alienating even more fans by an unnatural increase in pace and skipping of many logical parts in the story that the regular readers were looking forward to.
the content of Toriko was very much targeted towards a male audience. As a shounen, this would seem to be the target market, but in fact a large proportion of popular Shonen manga readers are female. The core audience of Shonen manga comprises of young adult men and adolescents, but many of the most successful serializations also contain elements that hook a wider audience. This was not the case with Toriko. There were no “kawaii” main characters and the interpersonal relationships between characters were a mostly sidelined issue throughout most of the story, as was the case with the relationship between Toriko and Rin.
Relating to this issue, it seemed, that Shimabukurou had a problem with drawing convincing female characters, in general and may have avoided doing so consciously. This also means an absence of fan service, which for better or worse has a great effect on the success of a manga. “Fan service”, means various soft nudity or erotic elements present in a high number of serialized manga, wether it suits the theme or not. The reasons for this occurrence are clear, to gain the attention of a largely adolescent/young adult male audience. For better or worse, almost all of top rated manga have some elements of fan service. Toriko, however, was a notable exception, indeed the manga had few female characters, and all the prominent one’s were neither placed into “fan service” situations, nor were they drawn in a very attractive manner.
Another aspect of the characters of Toriko was, that they were very mature looking, or often older than fifty years of age. For a young audience, a main cast that consists of characters closer to their age group, or in any case more relatable, might result in better ratings.
In summary, Toriko was a great manga and regardless of its ups and downs during its eight years of serialisation, it managed to deliver world class entertainment on numerous occasions. The biggest reason why Toriko failed in terms of sales in its later arcs, seem to have been created by the rushed tempo and underdeveloped characters. There were also many aspects present in the manga, that were not related to a rushed pace and might have contributed to Toriko’s low ratings, but overall the manga is a highly fun read and I definitely recommend checking it out, if you haven’t done so already.