He’s blue and has no ears, but enough about Andrew Osmond
In Japan, Doraemon is a cartoon colossus on a level with Totoro, Hello Kitty, Snoopy or Mickey Mouse. He’s the manga that pretty much everyone in Japan under forty grew up reading, and the anime they grew up watching in TV and cinemas. Over in Britain, most anime fans know what Doraemon looks like and the basics of who he is; a friendly blue robot cat from the future, who comes back in time to help a lazy grade-school boy, Nobita, develop a stronger backbone.
But Doraemon’s no stuffy teacher. Rather, he’s a child’s ideal playmate/best friend/ally versus the bullies, with a stream of wondrous gadgets that’d make Batman hang up his utility belt in shame. When you can fly in the sky or time-travel at the tip of a hat, the potential for mischief and chaos is endless. Small wonder that Doraemon, Nobita and their friends haven’t run out of stories in the 43 years since their first manga appearance in 1969. Doraemon has starred in over two thousand anime TV episodes (still going strong) and over thirty cinema feature films (probably more than any other cartoon character).
The Doraemon gang change little in cartoon form, although one of the most bizarre new spinoffs from the franchise has taken them into live-action. This is a series of TV commercials for Toyota, in which the Doraemon characters are played by adults. Doraemon himself is drolly portrayed by the blue-suited French star Jean Reno, best-known for his hardboiled roles in Leon: The Professional and Ronin, though he also voiced Miyazaki’s nonchalant pig pilot Porco Rosso in the French dub of the film. The latest commercial is especially ingenious. The characters are watching the London Olympics, only for Doraemon to take them back to 1964 when Tokyo hosted the games (the city has a bid in for 2020). World champion gymnast Kohei Uchimura cameos at the end, with the characters recognising him as Nobita’s overachieving pal, Dekisugi.
Doraemon has been translated and screened in many countries, and the cartoon cat was even appointed “anime ambassador” by Japan’s foreign ministry in 2008. However, he’s never really crossed over to Britain or America, which is sad but understandable. Doraemon may be one of Japan’s biggest cartoon icons, but for foreign marketers, there’s no obvious way to market the antics of a grade-school boy and a cheery robot cat to Anglophone fans of Pokemon, Naruto or Akira. Like other Japanese children’s heroes (Anpanman, Crayon Shin-Chan), Doraemon may be a foundation stone of Japan’s cartoon pop-culture that’s forever unturned in Britain.
However, if you visit Tokyo and want to learn more about the feline wonder, a museum opened last year, making an admirable effort to reach out to English-speaking fans. The building is dedicated to Doraemon’s creator, the late Hiroshi Fujimoto, who died in 1996. Fujimoto had the pen name of “Fujiko F. Fujio,” although he created other works under the shared pen name of “Fujiko Fujio” (no initial) with his schoolmate Motoo Akibo. As the Anime Encyclopedianotes, Doraemon is often seen as a joint effort between the two artists, but it was actually Fujimoto’s sole creation.
The museum won’t give you a rounded history of the Doraemon phenomenon, but it will give a sense of how fondly it’s seen by the Japanese public. Doraemon-coloured blue buses ferry you from the local train station to the museum, much like the Totoro-themed buses servicing Tokyo’s Ghibli museum. The museum itself is an unremarkable brick building, until you see dozens of pairs of cartoony Doraemon eyes embedded in the brickwork. In the first room on the tour, the most delightful exhibit is a series of glass cases, each of which holds a blank page, where an animated-on-glass Doraemon and Nobita try making their own manga from scratch. (Mind that inkpot, Nobita!).
The lovely surprise for Anglophone visitors is that the audio-guide you’re given has an English-language option. The guide helps you through the designated route, which starts with Fujimoto’s soft watercolours of Doraemon and other characters, then continues through artefacts from his career. These include an early Fujimoto passport (“OCCUPATION – Caricaturist”); a snazzy postcard from the manga god Osamu Tezuka (the spiralling message starts in English, “I look sometimes your name in Manga Shyonen” (sic)); and even pics from an amateur live-action film that Fujimoto made, which was apparently a spoof western.
One of the most dramatic parts of the exhibition is a mock-up of Fujimoto’s study, with books and miscellaneous possessions piled up high on steep shelving, so that it’s like looking up a chimney. The possessions include dinosaur models and fossils, a cel from Disney’s Pinocchio (the “I got no strings” scene), alaserdisc of the Western classic High Noon, a replica John Wayne gun,and Star Wars construction kits. All in all, it’s a good range of references for the adventures of a robot cat who goes anywhere and anywhen. A later exhibit on Nobita’s Dinosaur, one of Doraemon’s best-known adventures in manga and anime (it was filmed twice), informs us that the story wasn’t just inspired by Fujimoto’s interest in paleontology, but also by the Hollywood film, Born Free.
As well as Doraemon, the museum also represents other “Fujio” characters, such as the friendly ghost Obake no Q-Taro (who only wears a sheet, the audio commentary tells us – no-one knows what he looks like);the team superhero strip Perman (aka Pa-man);and the paranormally-powered heroine Esper Mami. All of these characters were also adapted in anime form. Inevitably, foreigners who have no previous acquaintance with either the anime or the manga are at a big disadvantage, though there’s an interesting side-by-side section that highlights Doraemon’s special debt to an early Fujio strip, Tebukuro tet-chan. That was about children with the luck to possess magic gloves; the gloves got the moppets into much the same crazy scrapes as Doraemon’s gadgets did for Nobita.
There’s also a glimpse of a manga version of Ben Hur (drawn in the ‘50s before the Heston movie blockbuster). It was good enough to disconcert the manga god Osamu Tezuka himself on the day when Fujimoto and Akibo – who were Tezuka fans, naturally - dropped in on his house for a visit. One of several video screens dotted through the museum tour shows Tezuka paying gracious tribute to the two artists, acknowledging how these upstarts threatened to surpass him. Indeed, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Fujio’s characters loom larger over Japan now than Tezuka’s. Walk around everyday Tokyo and you’ll spot many more Doraemons than you will Astro Boys or Black Jacks.
Towards the end of the museum, there are touching tributes and fond memories from Fujimoto’s daughters and widow, including a letter from her to him after his death. The home movie footage is more touching than a minimally-animated mini-movie at the conclusion, in which Fujiko Fujio’s characters caper through the museum together. But despite this rather lame ending, the Doraemon museum makes for a thoroughly charming visit, enlightening even to the uninitiated, and leaving you in no doubt as to the lasting legacy of a dreaming artist and his blue robot cat.
The Fujiko F. Fujio Museum can be accessed via Doraemon shuttle bus from Noborito station in Tokyo, on the Odakyu Odawara line from Shinjuku station. Admission is 1,000 yen for adults; 700 yen for high school students; 500 yen for children; and free for 3 year-olds and under. Tickets must be reserved through the Lawson store, with entrance at the following time-slots: 10 a.m., 12 noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Please note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays and that there are no parking facilities.
Ichigo vs Aizen: let the showdown for the sake of the two worlds begin!
Humans and Soul Reapers realize their powerlessness against the astonishing might Aizen obtained through the Hogyoku.
They once again owe their salvation to Ichigo, back from his training between worlds. More mature and more power ful, has the young man really reached a new stage of his evolution? Will he finally match for the relentless Captain Aizen?
Tom Smith on Aqua Timez, the band from the Bleach 6.2 soundtrack.
Many of the artists who perform the many themes of Bleach can attribute their entry to mainstream success to the famous anime series. And if not to Bleach, then to anime in general. That was until the five-strong pop squad Aqua Timez entered the scene.
Tom Smith reports on YUI, the all-caps rock chick.
It’s been suggested that Japan’s singer, song-writing guitar chick YUI is her country’s answer to Avril Lavigne. Amid an industry manufactured and micro-managed to levels that make England’s best pop efforts seem amateur in comparison, she stands out as beacon of musical delight. For teenage girls, she’s proof that you don’t need to buy into the squeaky clean, plastic smiles of sickeningly sweet J-pop to be a successful female musician; for guys she’s the girl next door, and for anime fans she’s composed and performed themes in some of the most prominent series of recent years, including Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.
Tom Smith on the band behind Bleach’s 14th Opening Theme
"The song is based on the singer’s own experiences of forming a band and the hardships endured while keeping the faith for a brighter future, with lyrics just vague enough that they could easily represent the struggles of Ichigo and pals, too."
It’s gratifying to see a generation of people so interested in hygiene – that must be why you’re lining up to buy a series called ‘Bleach’, right? If some orange haired janitor with a fancy mop (mop, magical talking death sword – whatever) excites you, hold on for these other heroes of the Japanese cupboard space!
“Try ‘n boogie, guns n’ tattoo” – there’s no greater embodiment of Kenichi Asai’s work than that opening line. As the words are dragged across the bluesy, rock n’ roll riff of Mad Surfer – the Japanese rebel’s song used as the 20th closing of Bleach – it’s difficult not to imagine smoke filled bars, motorcycles or leather jacketed misfits sporting hairdos your mother wouldn’t approve of.
Tom Smith on the band behind Bleach’s 21st Ending Theme
SunSet Swish held their first-ever live performance on Valentine’s Day 2004, at a small venue in Osaka Prefecture’s Hirakata city. A fitting introduction to the music world for a band whose claim to fame is having quite possibly the soppiest theme in Bleach history: ‘Sakurabito’.
Monkey Majik first shot to fame in Japan in 2006 when their second major-label single Around The World became the opening theme to TV drama Saiyuuki, an updated version of the famous Chinese tale Journey to the West. A fitting introduction for the band, considering the story is widely known as Monkey in English. Magic.
Evangelion's director on Gerry Anderson, fandom and his latest project
This is not the Anno you may have read about, the one portrayed as an awkward, gangly, neurotic geek. Maybe Anno was like that once, but the cream-suited director we meet is sleek and authoritative, composed and confident, quite at ease talking to foreign hacks like us. He doesn’t adjust his glasses intimidatingly, but it still feels like the onetime Shinji has quietly metamorphed into his father Gendo.
Bleach series 13 continues the clash between Soul Society’s Shinigami and Sousuke Aizen’s Arrancar army. It also brings with it a new talent in Japanese pop-rock: miwa. This fresh-faced female, armed with a guitar and an arsenal of upbeat pop-rock songs, provides the series’ twelfth opening theme, ‘chAngE’.
Tom Smith on the return of one of anime's most popular rock bands
So where do the guys go from here? On their biggest domestic tour, that’s where! At least that was the plan, but halfway through the mostly soldout schedule, vocalist IKE suddenly takes to Twitter to make an announcement that would shock everyone, including his bandmates. The message simply stated; “I will leave SPYAIR”.
"The action scenes remain superlative, designed and executed in a way Western live-action directors would do well to study. The way character moments are woven within elevates them above mere technical exercises. The Prague shoot-out and Tokyo car chase are the sort of gems that prove that anime can still trump live-action in the same creative arenas when it wants to."
Helen McCarthy reviews Mami Sunada’s Ghibli documentary
Show, don't tell: the mantra of every writer and film-maker, and a particular challenge in documentary film. Every work has its own agenda, hidden or not: for director-writer-cinematographer-editor Mami Sunada, the challenge was immense. And she rises to it with unobtrusive magnificence.