Even though the beloved robot cat Doraemon won't be born until 100 years from today, he has been delighting audiences in Japan and around the world for more than four decades.
True fans of the Doraemon manga know that Sept. 3, 2112, is the day the futuristic cat is given birth at a robot factory.
Even a century ahead of his time, Doraemon, originally created by Fujiko F. Fujio, has achieved international popularity.
A key figure behind the cartoon and anime series’ success is the protagonist Nobita Nobi, affectionally called "Nobita" by children of all ages.
Unlike other protagonists in cartoons for boys, Nobi is a weak-minded, weeping boy who always relies on Doraemon to solve his daily problems that range from bullying from classmates, unsolvable homework and his relationship with his parents.
The series debuted on Shogaku Yonen-sei (The Fourth Grader), a now-discontinued monthly magazine for elementary school fourth-graders, published by Shogakukan Inc., in January 1970. It soon won the hearts of elementary students, which led to 45 volumes of Doraemon comics being published in the years that followed.
Several versions of the comic books have sold 170 million copies across the world. A TV anime series was first broadcast by TV Asahi in 1979 and continues to date. It has been aired in 18 countries and regions across Asia, Europe and South America.
Although popular around the world, Doraemon failed to gain a foothold in the United States, one of the biggest importers of Japanese anime.
Industry experts say they believe that Nobita’s dependence on Doraemon could be seen as ethically wrong and not a desirable trait by Americans, who consider self-reliance to be a supreme virtue.
But in Japan and many other nations, the boy's weakness is the very reason the series is so widely accepted.
“The idleness and the weakness that he represents is one true aspect of human nature,” said Takahiro Inagaki, the 44-year-old author of “Doraemon wa monogataru” (What Doraemon wants to tell), a book that analyzes the series’ messages.
“By seeing (Nobita’s) weakness being warmly accepted and justified by Doraemon, readers must feel some ease and compassion.”
But each episode typical ends by comically depicting Nobita’s reliance or laziness eventually taking a heavy toll on him. He also abuses “secret tools” from the future, brought by Doraemon, which invites disastrous consequences. Nobita’s failures are good lessons for children of all generations.
But Nobita still tries to achieve certain goals and perseveres without help from Doraemon, and these episodes are particularly memorable to readers.
In an episode titled “Sayonara Doraemon” (farewell to Doraemon), Nobita confronts and fights his archenemy, “Gian,” who habitually bullies him in almost every episode. Nobita tries to reassure Doraemon, who is returning back to the future, that he will be OK without his protection, and he perseveres through the fight until Gian gives up.
Led by Doraemon, Nobita and his companions travel back and forth between the past, present and future. Through this process, “Nobita grows up slowly but steadily through going back and forth between the times,” Inagaki said. It is a metaphor that progress can be achieved only through trial and error.
“We sense a positive and encouraging message here that a person can make progress if he or she does not give up,” Inagaki added.
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