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Shunsuke Kikuchi, legendary ‘Dragon Ball Z’ composer, has died at 89

Shunsuke Kikuchi, whose music will forever leave a mark on the world of anime through his contributions to Doraemon, Kamen Rider, and Dragon Ball Z, has died at 89.

Shunsuke Kikuchi, beloved composer of Dragon Ball Z amongst numerous other anime productions, movies, and TV shows, has passed away at the age of 89.

According to Japanese news publisher Oricon, the musician died from aspiration pneumonia on April 24 at a medical facility in Tokyo. He is reported to have been undergoing medical treatment at the time, with his close family members gathering to remember him at a private funeral.

shunsuke kikuchi
Image: Shunsuke Kikuchi / Kanzenshuu

Kikuchi was born in Aomori Prefecture in 1931, and dived into the world of anime soundtrack composition when he was 30. His music has featured prominently in Japanese media since the 60s, when he made his professional debut as a movie composer in 1961.

He composed music for various iconic shows, creating the themes for Kamen Rider and Doraemon. His work composing Doraemon no Uta (Doraemon’s Song) will go down in history as one of the most famous anime themes of all time.

Shunsuke Kikuchi also scored songs for shows such as Tiger MaskDr. Slump and, most notably, the Dragon Ball franchise. He composed 23 packages of music across the original Dragon Ball series, as well as Dragon Ball Z, resulting in over 400 pieces of original music being created for the franchise between 1986 to 1995.

The prolific composer received numerous honours for his work throughout his life, including a nomination for the Japan Academy Prize for his work on The Gate of Youth and To Trap a Kidnapper in 1983, and an Award of Merit at the 2013 Tokyo Anime Awards.

Kikuchi’s many years of composing legendary scores were recognised by the industry in 2015, when he received his most prestigious honour. The musician became a recipient of the lifetime achievement award at the 57th Japan Record Awards, solidifying his place in the history of Japanese music and film.

Shortly after, in 2017, Kikuchi stepped away from the industry and went into retirement, saying he was taking a break to deal with a chronic illness.

The spirit of Shunsuke Kikuchi’s music will inevitably live on through anime fans, who have been reminded of just how many iconic contributions this legend made to the industry across five decades. While anime themes may come and go as shows evolve over time and take on new collaborators, the heart of the original music is never forgotten.

May he rest in peace.