Doraemon established himself as a cultural icon by conquering every genre
From comedy to horror and everything in between, the charming blue time-traveling robot cat has done it all
Motoo Abiko, a mangaka of over 70 years and one half of the comic book-writing partnership known collectively as Fujiko Fujio, the creator(s) of Doraemon, died suddenly on April 7. The titular robot cat, who goes from the future to aid a 10-year-old boy utilizing a variety of sci-fi devices, has become a Japanese pop culture phenomenon in the 52 years since its conception. The character was also declared a “anime ambassador” by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Eiichiro Oda acknowledged the comic as inspiration for Devil Fruits in One Piece.
But there’s another aspect to Doraemon’s impact that is rarely discussed. Since the first Doraemon tale was published in December 1969, the series has produced movies and TV episodes in practically every genre imaginable, and it has always annihilated it. Here are a few examples of Doraemon’s cross-genre versatility:
Doraemon is essentially the ideal synthesis of popular types of Japanese comedy such as manzai, a Japanese double-act stand-up comedy that typically incorporates a sad “funny man” as a symbolic punching bag. From how the story’s second main character — the good-hearted but lazy/sneaky 10-year-old Nobita Nobi — is continuously the butt of every joke all the way to the franchise’s premise, it’s not the friendliest type of humor and often relies on meanness.
Doraemon is sent to the past by Nobita’s grandson to save him from wasting his life by falling into poverty and, presumably equally crucial, marrying an obese female. Yes, she wasn’t Nobita’s real love or anything, but the narrative depicts a person risking eliminating themselves from existence because their grandmother didn’t meet traditional beauty standards.
Farts are coming next. Fart humor has been around for about 1,000 years in Japan, with art pieces known as He-gassen or “fart competitions” (which show, well, their titles) dating back to the 12th century. Farts play an important role in the popular Japanese children’s character Butt Detective, who uses flatulence to incapacitate his foes. Doraemon, however, did not shy away from booty-tooty stories, like as “Melody Gas,” in which Nobita consumes Doraemon’s special potatoes, which allow you to physically talk (and also sing) out of your ass. Only Nobita eats too many of them and blasts/farts out of his friend’s house like the world’s most disgusting rocket. I’m sure there’s a “Apoollo 13” joke in there somewhere. And, while we’re on the subject, puns.
Entire library wings may be dedicated to literature on the significance of puns in Japanese comedy. Many of them would have to mention Doraemon’s Pun Gun, which can transform any item into whatever wordplay you yell at it, such as when one character transforms a vampire statue into a vampire cucumber with the pun “Dracucumber!” Wait, does that imply Doraemon created the prototype for Rick and Morty’s Pickle Rick? In any event, while not every joke in Doraemon will be suitable for you, the manga and anime are essential collections of Japanese humour.
FICTION IN SCIENCE
“How odd to term this planet ‘Earth,’ when it is obviously ‘Ocean,” stated Arthur C. Clarke. “Any sufficiently sophisticated technology is indistinguishable from magic,” as Arthur C. Clarke famously and correctly stated. Doraemon took that premise and went with it so far and fast that it shattered the spatial barrier, landing in its own strange little universe of fantasy that no other comic or show could ever touch.
Doraemon’s futuristic, essentially magical devices are the series’ calling card, and although many of them are very basic (such as a propeller helmet that really allows you to fly or a door that can transport you anywhere), others are wonderfully imaginative. (One, the What-If Phone Booth, is essentially a realistic version of Futurama’s What-If Machine, which was only developed a few decades before.) So you have things like Abekonbe, which reverses an object’s function or feature. If you used it on an eraser, for example, the eraser would instantly turn black. Cigarettes would grow longer as you smoked them. If the device had an effect on the entire planet, the term “Earth” would become much more suitable, and so on.
Then there’s Memory Bread, which looks like a slice of regular wheat bread that you press against anything, like a book. You then consume the toast and absorb all of the wisdom that it has absorbed from a source of information, which will stay with you until you… expel the bread. Or how about the Anything-Controller, a steering wheel that you can install on anything and use science to transform it into a vehicle? They utilize an old sofa in the program, but there is so much more you can do with it.Suffice it to say, in the wrong (or “right,” depending on how much you want to see the world burn) hands, the word “muscle vehicle” may take on a whole new meaning/invent a whole new category of psychological trauma. And while we’re on the issue…
On April 13, a diver in Enoura (Kanagawa Prefecture) uncovered a submerged Doraemon statue at the bottom of Sagami Bay, which, if touched or whatever, would definitely materialize the terrible Drowned King.
This dead-eyed nightmare fuel serves as a reminder that, despite its playful tone, Doraemon has the capacity to be frightening. And, on occasion, it has lived up to that expectation. There’s a plotline in the 2007 film Doraemon: Nobita’s New Great Adventure into the Underworld about a woman who finds her child is terminally sick, which is such a dramatic shift in tone from farting yourself off the ground that it’s enough to give you emotional whiplash. In order to rescue her kid, the lady summons a strong demon and sells her soul to him in return for a cure, transforming herself into a demon in the process.
Throughout the film, the demoness, who has forgotten all memory of her human existence, comes dangerously near to killing her child several times until the kid’s screams temporarily bring her back, eventually liberating her from her demon form. Then, as her soul prepares to soar, her daughter attempts but fails to hug the parent she thought she’d never see again because who says you can’t have beautiful things? Certainly not Doraemon.
The narrative isn’t really frightening, unlike the Dictator Switch, a device that first appeared in a 1979 episode of the anime that has the potential to… delete a person from existence, including other people’s memories of them. Simply pushing it will extinguish the cosmic flame within the victim, casting them into oblivion in an instant and leaving nothing behind. And keep in mind that a 10-year-old boy has access to it. That’s excellent scary material.
Nobita journeys back in time to meet his late grandmother again in the 2000 short film Doraemon: A Grandmother’s Recollections, and… that’s it. There is no menace or villain to defeat, and there is no twist ending in which Nobita warns Grandma not to ignore the “loose tiger” warning in a few weeks so that she does not perish. It’s just a story of a youngster who missed his grandma so much that he noogied the rules of physics till he had a few more seconds with her, and that was more than enough.
Grandmother’s Recollections crams a lot of philosophy into its half-hour running time. The film finally explores how life has value only because it ends. Yes, we miss out on a lot of things when we die, yet the finality of life is why we create, make deep friendships, and love with all of our hearts. Because it is how we leave traces of ourselves in the world after our bodies have died. Unless someone flips the Dictator Switch on you.
While Doraemon is primarily geared towards children, it may and does provide something for adults on occasion. Another fantastic example is the 2020 film Doraemon: Nobita’s New Dinosaur, in which Nobita takes care of two dinosaur hatchlings. It would have been so simple to follow in the footsteps of E.T. and make the film about a little boy attempting to hide his alien companions from his parents. Instead, we got a narrative of Nobita becoming a dad to the dinosaurs, doing what’s best for his “kids,” fretting when they were sick, sacrificing for their happiness, and experiencing their anguish when they failed. It’s a beautifully detailed, emotional narrative about what it means to be a parent.There aren’t many franchises that can communicate mature sentiments while still showing a little child nearly attaining escape velocity by butt-burping.
Doraemon: A Grandmother’s Recollections was adapted twice, with the plot being repeated in the 2020 film Stand by Me Doraemon 2, in which the adult Nobita has changed his future and is set to marry the love of his life, Shizuka. Let’s go over her a bit more. She is a one-of-a-kind cartoon love interest because she has a personality. Because they are not real people, the love interests in most animated shows geared at children are generally blander than dried chicken on cardboard. They’re a goal or a reward for the main character, with no agency or personality other than “has pulse; maybe likes the protagonist.”
Shizuka, on the other hand. She’s diligent, bold, and helpful to people in need, but she’s also a child prone to jealously, outbursts of fury, and the like. Young Nobita, on the other hand, has an idealized vision of her, which is understandable given his age. But as an adult, that would be unacceptable. Nobita’s adult relationship with Shizuka should be… more. That is exactly what Stand by Me Doraemon 2 is about. Young Nobita travels back in time to meet his grandmother, but the adult Nobita gets cold feet on the day of his wedding to Shizuka and flees.Why? Because, after decades of elevating her, he gets a moment when he wonders, “Am I good enough for her?” Is Shizuka marrying him out of sympathy? In short, he regards her as a person rather than a reward.
The film’s end message isn’t innovative, but it’s also not superficial. The film addresses how you might know someone your entire life and yet be unsure of their core essence since that’s how people function. It also highlights the value of shared experiences and how they may serve as the basis for a long-term connection. The mastery of… is the cornerstone for the Doraemon franchise’s success.
ADVENTURE AND ACTION
Even if the Doraemon franchise had the craziest humor, the most sci-fi innovations, the deadest demon parents, or the most heartbreaking reunions between grandmas and grandchildren, it probably wouldn’t be enough to make the Doraemon films the big pop-culture spectacles they are today in Japan.
So, what keeps fans of the Doraemon flicks coming back for more? The action, since it is always changing, yet always vast in size and innovative.Doraemon: Nobita’s Little Star Wars 2021, the latest episode in the series, featuring gigantic space wars and a worldwide uprising on a distant planet. Doraemon: Nobita’s Treasure Island, released in 2018, was a pirate-themed adventure. Doraemon the Movie 2017: Great Adventure in the Antarctic came before it. The story of Kachi Kochi begins with the discovery of a forgotten ancient city at the South Pole and does not finish there. Whatever type of action-adventure you enjoy, Doraemon probably has a movie about it. Giant robot battles? Nobita and the Steel Troops from Doraemon. A train-based suspense-mystery? In outer space? Done. Nobita and the Galaxy Super-express is a Doraemon animated film.Do you want dinosaur knights? Then you should watch Doraemon: Nobita and the Knights of Dinosaurs, which has a really uninspired title.
The best aspect is that none of these films rely primarily on their themes, instead building intriguing character tales around them. Little Star Wars, for example, depicts a youngster attempting to give their life in order to protect life and freedom, but Treasure Island is about a person driven insane by grief after losing a loved one. Children may not notice or care about such nuances, but they are critical to make the action in Doraemon films more than just a gimmick.
Perhaps that is the legacy of Fujiko Fujio and Doraemon: constantly going the extra mile until your brain forgets that these brilliantly constructed stories spanning every genre revolve around a goofy, earless robot cat from the 22nd century. And when a series can make you suspend your disbelief so completely, you know you’ve got something timeless on your fingerless ball hands.
Stand by Me Doraemon and Stand by Me Doraemon 2 may be found on Netflix. Many episodes of the show are available on YouTube.