From the back cover:
In the far future, war has destroyed the entire Earth, leaving only a barren wasteland where the supply of water is controlled by the greedy king. In search of a long-lost lake, sheriff Rao asked the king of the demons for help… and got the king’s son, Beelzebub, and his assistant, Thief. Together, the unlikely trio sets off across the desert, facing dragons, bandits, and the deadliest foe of all… the King’s Army itself! It’s travel adventure and tank action in this new story from Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball Z!
After enjoying Toriyama’s COWA! so much last October, I decided to read more of his works. Sand Land, one of the first batch of titles to be serialized in the American Shonen Jump magazine, is another single-volume series about humans and demons working together on a quest, though this time it’s water they’re after and not medicine.
The follies of man and natural disasters have combined to reduce the habitable part of the world to one particular desert, with a further blow falling when the single river flowing through the land suddenly stopped. Some water is available—sold by the king for an exorbitant price—but many can’t afford it. One day, a war veteran named Sheriff Rao turns up at the village of the demons with a request. He has deduced, from the presence of a certain kind of bird, that there must be a lake to the south somewhere, but to cross the dangerous desert he’ll need demonic protection. The demon king (who appears for all of one page and is totally awesome) grants his assent and sends along his son, Beelzebub, who picks an older, knowledgable demon named Thief for the third member of their party.
The trio sets out in Rao’s car, but quickly encounters obstacles. When the car is rendered undrivable, Rao manages to steal a tank using nothing more than a can of hairspray, and they proceed on their way. The tank belongs to the king’s army and when they get wind of the theft, a chase ensues, during which Rao’s real identity is revealed, the chief general launches a smear campaign against him in the media, Rao retaliates with some unsavory secrets, and, ultimately, an extremely satisfying conclusion is reached.
Throughout all of this, Rao realizes that the demons have been sorely underestimated by humans and, in fact, are far more innocent of wrongdoing than humans are, themselves. Even though the basic plot is fun and extremely well paced, it really is this fledgling trust between races that is the best part of the story. Although it moves briskly and there’s not a lot of time for character development, there’s still enough for the story to resonate emotionally when it should.
Toriyama’s skill in paneling is extremely impressive; I always love it when reading manga feels like watching a movie. I did notice one disappointing and odd thing, though: one panel depicting an evil general is very obviously reused in a later chapter. Maybe there’s a good reason for it—could it have been VIZ’s doing?—but Toriyama did gripe at the outside about how hard the series (and especially the tank, which looks great) was to draw, so it seems possible this could’ve been a very random shortcut.
In any case, I really liked Sand Land a lot. It shares a lot of common elements with COWA!, but since I liked those elements, I really can’t complain about an overabundance of similarity.
Sand Land was published in English by VIZ and is complete in one volume.