Doraemon might just be the most famous-yet-non-famous manga/character out there. Unlike, say, Pikachu or Hello Kitty, Doraemon (both the series and the titular character) still maintains a degree of anonymity abroad, recognizable to only the Japan pop-culture connoisseurs. And yet, in his native Japan, the robotic blue cat is arguably more famous than the electric mouse and the death-staring kitten combined.
Yep, a robotic cat. The story goes that this mechanical blue feline appears in the sock drawer of this kid called Nobita. The cat, called Doraemon, is from the 22nd century, and was built by and sent back in time Nobita’s great grandson. Apparently, Nobita’s descendant was so peeved off at his great grandfather for being such a loser (so much of a loser, in fact, that he has cast a dark shadow of uber-loserness over his yet-to-be family) that he built a time-traveling robocat and sent it back to the present day to be his life coach. Yeah. I don’t get it either. Think of it as Doctor Who meets The Terminator.
So what, exactly, can a robot cat do for a kid? Quite a lot, in fact, and this is where the comparisons with Doctor Who get even stronger: see that ‘pouch’ Doraemon has on his tummy? That leads into the Fourth Dimension, where can do a Mary Poppins/TARDIS on you and pull out an all manner of funky, futuristic gadgets to help Nobita be less of a wimp/idiot/cry-baby/AKB48 fan. It includes things like invisibility potions, shrink-rays and – yep – a “Dokodemo” door (literally an “Everywhere Door”) which can…well, need I tell you? Of course, when Nobita comes home whining about his latest problem and Doraemon tries to give him some sage advice, Nobita leapfrogs straight over the advice and goes straight for the “Give me awesomeness Elixir, NOW!” Which is fair enough. I mean, if you went to see a psychiatrist, would you listen to him talk if you knew he could pull literally ANYTHING out of his pockets? And have a propeller in his head?
As you’d expect, this ‘easy, quick fix’ option seems too good to be true, and it is, and usually backfires, resulting in another moral lesson learned. It’s a pretty functional but utterly charming franchise, and yes, it is aimed at kids, so don’t expect any revolutionary plot twists. But adults in Japan love Doraemon too. Why? Because the series dates right back to 1969, starting life as a humble manga, then after a brief stint as an anime that didn’t get off the ground, regrouped, relaunched in 1975 and only went on to have NEARLY TWO THOUSAND EPISODES and counting. True, these eps only 10 minutes a piece, but that is still pretty impressive, and you now have this dynamic where a whole family can sit down and enjoy Doraemon, both for kids wanting some fun and laughs and some parents looking for some nostalgia.
So not only can this earless blue cat be found everywhere in Japan, he is genuinely loved nationwide, and that is fine with me. Because, although it may not seem a big deal now, I bet Doraemon as a character was a pretty bold guy back in late 60s. Bear in mind that Japan is a very conservative society, and has an aversion to openly displaying feelings and being rowdy. Such an aesthetic ideal is represented in Hello Kitty, who has no mouth and only the tiniest eyes to give mere hints of expression. Doraemon, on the other hand, is loud, brash, full of life and doesn’t hold back on showing his feelings. Do an image search for Doreamon in your spare time and you will see the blue cat pulling an endless variety of elastic faces. The very cover of the first issue (see above) is pretty kooky in its own right. For me, the fact that Japan would not only accept such a character but fully embrace and treasure it for a half-century is quite heart-warming and encouraging. Long may it continue!