Doraemon is one of Japan’s most internationally recognised and loved manga and anime character creations. First published in 1969 by the Japanese publisher Shogakukan, the comedic science fiction adventures of Doraemon, a blue and white earless cat-shaped nuclear-powered robot from the 22nd Century, and the 10-year old boy, Nobita and his friends, were created by manga artists Hiroshi Fujimoto (1933–1996) and Motō Abiko, publishing under the pseudonym of Fujiko Fujio. Travelling from the future, Doraemon has been sent by Nobita’s frustrated great-great-grandson to alter Nobita’s life choices by supporting his abilities to outgrow his laziness and incompetence. As a fixture of the Japanese manga market even after Fujiko Fujio ceased creating new stories in 1996, Doraemon has since the early 1970s and 1980s also been licensed through anime television series as well as animated feature films. The export market of the Doraemon franchise involving translations and ever expanding lines of character merchandise has been growing alongside Doraemon’s transformation for Japanese audiences into an inter-generational, nostalgic product. Storywise, there are differences between the spoilt child-like Nobita who habitually misuses Doraemon’s gadgets in the episodic manga and TV anime series, and the more mature Nobita in the animated feature films.
The immense popularity of manga translations of Doraemon in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore as well as of the anime series in India, France, Italy, Spain, Russia and the Middle East has led the Japanese Foreign Ministry in 2008 to appoint Doraemon Japan’s first “anime ambassador” as well as “special ambassador” as part Japan’s bid for the 2020 Olympics. For the Japanese government, manga and anime, along with Japan’s creative industries exports including pop music, film and television series, have been part of Japan’s diplomatic strategies to shape international relations through cultural influence as a form of “soft power.” Nowhere is this more recently apparent than with the May 2015 release in China of the Japanese 3D-animated feature film Stand By Me Doraemon (2014). It was the first Japanese film to be given nationwide release by the Chinese government since 2012, when diplomatic tensions arose between China and Japan over ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Shown across more than 5000 cinema screens, the film smashed Chinese box-office records in its first week of release. With Disney providing North American audiences cable access to Doraemon anime in 2014, decades after South East Asian market successes, both the development of manga and animated versions of Doraemon involved more levels of localization, or Americanisation, of content beyond just the dubbing of accented voices than any other targeted market.
As one of the most globally popular children’s franchise, English-language scholarship on Doraemon has expanded on the academic reception of manga and anime to develop insights into its popular appeal through audience reception studies, especially with regard to children’s media, and character merchandising. With Doraemon and Nobita interlocked through psychological dependency and guardianship, the ways the franchise represents wish fulfilment and optimistic thinking to children have been studied. Likewise, the technological fantasy provided by Doraemon’s futuristic solutions to Nobita’s daily problems embody beliefs about technological optimism. And the nostalgic identification of Doraemon as a national icon presents complex issues over collective relationships with invented, commercialised pasts.
— Mio Bryce and Jason Davis