As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hey everyone! This is Mokugyo, the manga-and-anime-loving writer from MANGA.TOKYO! It is now April, and Spring 2017 has already started!
In Japan, it has become an annual event for a new Doraemon movie to be released every March, just when the season kicks in! The one released this year, 2017, is Doraemon’s 37th movie! The title is Doraemon the Movie 2017: Great Adventure in the Antarctic Kachi Kochi (Doraemon: Nobita no Nankyoku Kachi-Kochi Daiboiken)! Every year, the Doraemon movies have become great hits and have recorded high box-office revenues. The majority of Japanese people know about Doraemon and its titular character. The popularity of the Doraemon series has continued for decades.
But why do Japanese people love Doraemon so much? Today, I would like to tell you more about this lovable robot and the secrets to his popularity.
Doraemon began as a manga series written by Fujiko F. Fujio. The manga has a long history, with its serial publication beginning in 1969. It has serialized in many manga magazines for small children, and it continued until the author passed away in 1996. The anime series’ broadcast continues to this day, even after the death of its author. A new Doraemon movie has also been released each year since 1979. It is no exaggeration to say that for many Japanese children, Doraemon is the first anime series that they watch.
The protagonist of this manga is Nobita Nobi, a boy who is bad at both studying and playing sports. He just loves to sleep. One day, a descendant of Nobita’s named Sewashi comes from the future world to see Nobita, and he brings a robot named Doraemon with him. Sewashi explains to Nobita that lazy grown-up Nobita will fail in business and be saddled with enormous debt. Because of this debt, even his descendants (including Sewashi) will go through hard times to make a living. In order to change this future, Sewashi brings Doraemon to be Nobita’s helper who will protect and guide him. Doraemon is a robotic cat who was invented in the future. Whenever Nobita needs help, Doraemon uses his various futuristic secret gadgets to solve the problem.
Doraemon has a roly-poly figure; this cute appearance is one of the reasons why he is loved by fans. His figure design was inspired by a cat and an okiagari-koboshi, a Japanese doll for children.
‘Doraemon’ also happens to be a unique name. Where does his name come from? First, ‘Dora’ comes from dora-neko. Dora-neko are mischievous cats who snatch food from other cats. In Japanese, there is also the word dora-musuko, which refers to a lazy son who does not work and only plays around. It is believed that ‘dora’ is a shortened form of douraku (hobby). The word usually has a negative connotation. Doraemon’s name perfectly matches his clumsy character.
The ‘-emon’ in his name was a very common part of boys’ names long ago in Japan. In Lupin the Third, a popular anime which has been broadcast in many other countries besides Japan, there is a character named Goemon Ishikawa XIII. The character is illustrated as a descendant of Goemon Ishikawa I, a famous thief in Japanese history. It is said that Goemon Ishikawa I really existed during the late 1500s. As you can see, it was very common for a boy’s name to include ‘-emon’ in the olden days in Japan. Nowadays, it is very rare to meet a man who has ‘-emon’ in his name, even if he is very old. It is very comical for Doraemon, a robot from the 22nd century, to have such an old-fashioned Japanese name.
Fujiko F. Fujio also wrote a manga titled 21Emon. This story takes place in future Tokyo where people live and communicate with aliens. It is a comedy manga which illustrates the daily life of a boy named 21-emon (Nijuuichi-emon), with the nickname ‘Emon’, who works at Tsudzure, a hotel which has been in business since the Edo period. Emon meets many unique aliens who come as guests, and he goes through many troubles looking after them. The hotel was established by Ichi-emon, and was passed on to the second-generation Ni-emon, third-generation San-emon… and continues to the twenty-first generation 21-emon. (Note: ‘Ichi’, ‘Ni’, ‘San’ means ‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’ in Japanese.) Fujiko F. Fujio created a humorous aspect by setting the story in the future but giving the characters traditional Japanese names.
The protagonist of Doraemon is Nobita, a lazy boy. He is a clumsy idler who gets poor grades in school and is bad at sports. He loves taking naps any time of day. In short, he is a complete loser who hardly has any redeemable points. This is an important aspect of the story.
Japanese people are generally very well-disciplined. They are expected to always be on time and they believe that it is best to work diligently. Once they graduate school and start working, it is normal for them to sacrifice their personal lives for their workplace. Many Japanese people work long overtime hours, and some even work on holidays. They sometimes even work so hard that the Japanese term ‘karoshi (death from overwork)’ has become well-known even overseas. In recent years, the government has finally started to see it as a serious problem, and the working style in Japan has started to change for the better. Nevertheless, it is also true that Japanese workers tend to take very few paid vacations.
To those hardworking Japanese citizens, Nobita’s lazy character is a symbol of their ‘true feelings’. Of course, the Japanese people want to be lazy and live a comfortable life like Nobita! That is why they empathize with Nobita, who is always getting scolded by his mother for being clumsy and slothful. The viewers identify their weak points in Nobita.
Every episode of Doraemon usually follows the same pattern. First, Nobita gets into some kind of trouble and asks Doraemon for help. Next, Doraemon takes out a secret gadget from his Four-Dimensional Pocket. Then, Nobita uses the gadget and solves his problem. Once he solves his problem, he gets carried away and starts using the device in a greedy way. Finally, Nobita causes another trouble and, as always, makes a fool of himself. Most Doraemon episodes, which are written as standalone stories, follow these simple steps.
Let’s take the episode ‘Copying Toast’ (Anki Pan) as an example. Nobita starts to panic because he has not studied at all for the test coming up the next day. Nobita desperately asks for help, but Doraemon tells him that it is his own fault for not being prepared. However, Nobita keeps on begging and crying, so Doraemon unwillingly takes out one of his secret gadgets, ‘Copying Toast’, from his aforementioned pocket. This gadget looks just like sliced bread, and it automatically copies the content of a notebook once you place the bread on top of the pages. The user can memorize the copied content by eating the bread. Nobita uses this gadget and memorizes everything written in his notebook. However, Nobita starts to enjoy showing off his memory powers to other people, and he eats too much bread. The next day, he wakes up with a stomachache and suffers from diarrhea. Because he flushes everything down the toilet, he forgets everything he memorized for the test. The story ends with the scene where Nobita tries to memorize all of the notebook pages once again by eating Copying Toast.
Nobita always tries to solve his problems the easy way but gets carried away and ends up suffering from a new problem. The readers of Doraemon laugh at Nobita and think ‘I will never be like him.’ The story teaches the audience the lesson, ‘There will always be some kind of payback if you depend too much on useful devices’, in an entertaining way. This is one of the charms of Doraemon. The stories are something that parents can show their small children without worrying about the content. This is because the readers can learn from its valuable lessons.
Every spring, a new Doraemon movie, or the so-called ‘Doraemon Long Story’, is released. The movies are all sci-fi adventure stories and that is what makes them so entertaining. The movies, which in the early years were written by Fujiko F. Fujio himself, are especially highly-rated and still loved by fans today.
One of the most popular movies from the early years is the second film, Doraemon: The Records of Nobita, Spaceblazer. The story is a mixture of science-fiction and western. One day, a spaceship owned by a boy named Lopplc who lives on Koya Koya Planet gets caught up in a lightning accident. Unexpectedly, this causes the spaceship’s storehouse and the tatami in Nobita’s room to get connected. Nobita meets Lopplc, and they become good friends. Because the gravity on Koya Koya Planet is weaker than gravity on Earth, Nobita is treated like a strong superhero on this new planet. Before long, Nobita finds out about the Galtite Mining Industry, the enemy miners who are troubling the people on Koya Koya Planet, and Nobita decides to fight against them.
It is interesting how the floor of Nobita’s room gets connected with a faraway planet. Tatami is a traditional Japanese straw mat used in many Japanese houses and is something quite unique to Japan. Also, it is very funny how Nobita, who is always clumsy and causes a lot of trouble, can become a hero on a planet with weak gravity.
Fujiko F. Fujio is well known for creating stories that tie together daily life and science fiction. ‘Science Fiction’ is often abbreviated to ‘SF’ in Japan. This abbreviation can also be said to stand for ‘science fantasy’, but Fujiko mentioned that for his movies it actually stands for ‘sukoshi fushigi (a little mysterious)’. He has created many stories with this ‘a little mysterious’ aspect, which has fascinated his fans to this day.
Fujiko watched many movies and read many books in his lifetime, giving him a wide range of knowledge. He had the amazing talent to use his ‘SF’ knowledge and create entertaining stories which small children would easily understand. That is why the Doraemon movie series was able to gain so much popularity. In recent years, remakes of old Doraemon movies have been released alternately with new films. The remakes have been highly rated, but the new stories have not gained quite as much popularity as the old ones. It must be very difficult to produce a new adventure story for Doraemon while including the important ‘SF’ aspects.
Doraemon has been broadcast overseas, so there are many Doraemon fans living outside of Japan. However, I believe there are also people who wonder why the anime is such a long-running hit. I hope you now know why Doraemon is loved by so many people in Japan. Let’s hope that Doraemon will continue to be loved by people throughout the world!