Anime, or animation originating from Japan, has been around in one form or another since the early 20th century but it still took until the 1980’s to gain any sort of recognition in the West, and even then, in all that time there has still been a very small number of examples that have become successful outside of Japan. Younger fans seemed to be entranced by the likes of Pokemon, Dragonball Z, and Yu-Gi-Oh! while shows like Naruto, Cowboy Bebop, and Full Metal Alchemist have also proved very popular. Some movies too, such as Akira (which arguably kick-started the West’s interest in anime to start with) and more recently the stunning efforts from Studio Ghibli have become well known, with the latter even winning Oscars, but one of the most popular and enduring of all anime stars in Japan is pretty much unknown outside of the Far East.
Doraemon is a robotic cat who has travelled back in time from the 22nd century to help out schoolboy, Nobita Nobi. Who created him isn’t clear but he was sent back by Nobita’s great-great-grandson, for it seems that for one reason or another, Nobita’s life was fraught with misery and misfortune causing his descendants no end of problems. With that in mind, you might think it’d be easier to send back a sports almanac (chortle), or perhaps even some winning lottery numbers, but a robotic cat? It would have to be one ultra-special robotic cat or I’d be a bit peeved, personally! Luckily, Doraemon is not only special but magic too! He is equipped with the kind of common sense and moral values that Nobita apparently lacks and he uses his many and varied abilities to try and teach these qualities to him, although
Nobita is not only lacking in those but is also lazy and mischievous too, so it’s not always easy for Doraemon! Much of the help he provides comes from the magical 4th dimensional pocket in his chest from which he can pull all manner of objects and gadgets from the 22nd century, including the Bamboo Dragonfly (a head-mounted propeller that allows flight), the Anywhere Door (takes the user anywhere they wish), and the Time Machine itself. I sometimes wonder why Doraemon bothers though as Nobita generally ends up misusing his various gadgets and getting himself in even more trouble!
In fact, he soon wises up to Nobita’s mischievous ways but usually succumbs to his constant pleading and goading to use his magical pocket. A common target for Nobita’s gadget-laden attentions is his ‘friend’, neighbourhood bully, Gian (who predictably often tries to steal Doraemon’s gadgets to misuse himself). Other characters in the series include rich, spoilt kid, Suneo, who joins Gian in tormenting Nobita at every opportunity, Shizuka, the main female character in the show and eventual romantic interest for Nobita, and also appearing occasionally is Dorami, Doraemon’s yellow younger sister (who still has her ears).
Nobita’s parents also appear frequently and are often the victims of Nobita and Doraemon’s antics. Doraemon himself is a curious fellow. He originally appeared from Nobita’s desk drawer one day and it is from there that their adventures together begun. He is smart and friendly but easily panicked, especially if any mice are around since he’s had a lifelong phobia of them since his ears were eaten by one. He also has a weakness for snack foods, notably dorayaki, which has gotten him in trouble from time to time!
In Japan Doraemon is a phenomenon, being easily as well-known and popular as Mickey Mouse is in the US and Europe. Like most anime characters, he started out life in the pages of a manga series (comic books) which date back as far as 1969, but before long he had his own TV show too which now has over 2000 episodes and counting (they’re mostly pretty short though). He’s also starred in a number of films, and all of this has helped to cement his presence in most walks of life. Predictably his likeness can be found on practically anything from infinite different toys, bags, plushes, clocks, and even trains! Perhaps as a result of the educational issues and moral lessons his antics teach, he has also been the recipient of many awards in Japan and was even made the country’s first ‘Cultural Ambassador’ by Japan’s Foreign Ministry. Beat that, Mickey!
It’s true that his show and films don’t have the super-high production values of some animes but it shouldn’t be forgotten how old many of them are and they’re still great fun to watch today. It’s also true that they’re a tad on the childish side, but hey – so are a huge number of cartoons we used to watch and still love now, and Doraemon’s a good deal more imaginative than most of them! If you’ve never seen his show before, give it a try. You never know, he might just end up being your new favourite cartoon cat!
Here’s an early episode (70’s):