Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Doraemon vs. Mobile Suit Gundam?
The latest Doraemon movie will hit cinema screens across Japan in early March, when I'm fairly certain it'll surge straight to the top in box office receipts in the very first weekend it plays.
That process is actually like clockwork every year in this country.
But despite the fact he isn’t at all well known in the Western world, this isn’t some recent-hit sensation – and the title has a history to die for (or at the very least to swoon over in gob-smacked new ways) in terms of anime.
For starters in 2002 Time Magazine dubbed Doraemon the cuddliest hero in Asia, and in 2008 the Japanese Foreign Ministry appointed him their first anime cultural ambassador.
Doraemon started out in manga form in the 1960s, fashioned by Fujiko F. Fujio – a smoke screen coined by its real creator Hiroshi Fujimoto.
It did the big switch to TV in 1973, promptly fizzled, and then was revamped by TV Asahi six years later.
Doraemon hasn’t surrendered his grip on Japanese TVs over the three decades since, or the Japanese everyman’s psyche; I swear that every person in this place can draw his happy face.
And yet while you might be forgiven for thinking this show must set some sort of TV animation record (The Simpsons is a decade younger), it in fact comes in second to another Japanese series, Sazae-san (40 years on air).
Then there are over two-dozen theatrical movies, including the latest, which is titled 映画ドラえもん 新・のび太と鉄人兵団 ～はばたけ 天使たち～, or just plain Doraemon: Nobita and the New Steel Troops: ~Angel Wings~.
Regular readers here, if you indeed do exist, have probably picked up that I’m not a fan of these squiggly “~” things that Japanese animation companies just love to use when they translate their titles from Japanese to English. I know I whine about it often enough.
But grammatical aesthetics aside, the film looks to be a wonderful piece of robot-army-invading-Earth-mayhem, and in the Doraemon universe this promises to be a hoot rather than anything bone-chilling like Michael Bay‘s disgraceful work on Transformers.
So what’s the franchise fuss all about, anyhow?
Doraemon, it turns out, is a blue, dysfunctional mechanical cat from the future (of course) who has no ears but boasts a magical, four-dimensional pouch the envy of any self-prepossessing marsupial.
He’s been sent back in time to sort out Nobita, the good-for-nothing school kid ancestor of the people who built him – but usually instead of accomplishing his task, complete madness breaks out that includes subtle, often ingenious anime references to domestic culture (Mobile Suit Gundam is cheekily alluded to in the new movie) as well as Hollywood classics like West Side Story.
The saga also has some serious psychological eccentricities: for starters, aside from regular panic attacks, our motorized feline suffers from an ongoing musophobia that stems back to the future – to a time in the 22nd century when his ears were consumed by a robotic mouse.
While the TV show focus on Nobita’s bizarre everyday family life and neighbours, the movies go for a more exotic, adventurous edge, but they’ve been a bit rear-visionist in recent years: Nobita’s Great Adventure into the Underworld (2007) may have been the 27th feature released by distributor TOHO (of Godzilla notoriety, who do on average one Doraemon flick per year), but it was in fact a rebake of the sixth – released way back in 1984.
Besides, exotic locations are nowhere near as appealing as Doraemon and Nobita themselves, their time traveling exploits and outrageous futuristic devices, their essentially whacked-out neighbourhood buddies, and an insane overriding story arc.
These have made Doraemon a smash also in China and South Korea, yet he remains a largely unknown entity in the English-speaking world – a happenstance that I truly believe to be bordering on unforgivable ignorance.
Just look at the evidence – our fave feline was voted “cool” by 19 votes to 10 (three people opted out ‘cos they didn’t know who Doraemon was) in a two-month poll at the highly esteemed Doraemon Is Cool website.
By the way, I am kidding you. Really. It’s not quite as esteemed as all that.
At least The Orb got it right. As much as I rarely champion their music, they did a very cool video clip to their track ‘From a Distance’ (on the Bicycles & Tricycles album, 2004) that tracks the printing up of a Doraemon manga – then embarks in some trippy cut-ups of characters and images from the series.
Doraemon © FUJIKO PRO