LOST PLANET ANIME
May 28, 2013 posted by Charles Brubaker

The Strange Case of the 1973 “Doraemon” Series

doreamon550-1

I talked about Japanese cartooning team Fujiko Fujio in my previous post, so I won’t dwell too much about them here. But I figure now would be a good time to write about their biggest hit: Doraemon.

Doraemon is a robot cat from the 22nd century that was sent back in time to help out a loser boy named Nobita, in order to ensure that his future descendents will have a better future. Nobita is constantly struggling in school, is constantly bullied by Gian (similar to “Giant”), and suffers a variety of misfortune. Doraemon has a pocket on his chest that stores infinite number of futuristic devices. A common story element is that Nobita abuses a particular device for his own selfish use, only to backfire in the end. Sometimes Gian and Suneo steal a device for their own use, only to mess up on their end.

dora_1The comic strip debuted in 1969 in numerous children’s magazines published by Shogakukan. It ended up being Fujiko Fujio’s longest-running series, lasting until 1996, when one of the creators, Hiroshi Fujimoto (regarded as the true creator of “Doraemon”), passed away. 45 book collections were put out altogether.

Doraemon is arguably the most marketed cartoon in Japan, with numerous toys, spinoffs, and other merchandise made with the character. Doraemon is to Japan as Mickey Mouse is to America. Three anime series were made, most notably the 1979-2005 series that ran for 1,787 episodes. It was revamped in 2005 with new voice cast and updated animation style, which is still airing today. In addition, a Doraemon feature film is released theatrically every year: the 33th film was released on March 9th this year.

However, I want to focus on the short-lived 1973 series.

A bit of background: The first Doraemon anime aired on Nippon Television (NTV) from April 1 to September 30, 1973 for 26 episodes, each split into two 11-minute segments for a total of 52 shorts. It was produced by a forgotten animation studio called Nippon TV Doga (no relation to NTV network other than that they aired their shows), which went through several names in the mere eight years the company existed; Doraemon ended up being the last show they ever made before the studio went under.

dora-2This is the first Fujiko Fujio anime to be produced by a studio other than Tokyo Movie or Studio Zero. It is very rarely seen for two reasons, one of them being that the Fujiko Fujio duo hated the show. The biggest reason, though, is that most of the episodes are lost; a fire destroyed most of the film prints. Of the 52 segments made, only 21 are known to survive (two of which have no audio).

Because of the show’s rarity, very little is known today. Most of the information available came from surviving staff members, people who actually watched the show when it was airing, and also from those who viewed the surviving episodes. The animation is regarded as weak, even by 1970s anime standards. The show was made by a mediocre animation studio that didn’t even last a decade, and having viewed samples from other shows they made, I can verify that they were not one of the best companies around.

Early in the comics run, there was an additional character named Gachakko, an annoying female robot duck that constantly pestered Doraemon and Nobita. The Fujiko Fujio duo evidently didn’t like her because she was removed from the comics after a short time, and none of the stories with the character were ever reprinted in the book collections. However, she was included in the 1973 series, the only time she was ever animated.

dora_3Another big difference is that Gian’s mother is dead, instead living with a shorter father that is bullied by his own son. In the comics and later anime, his mother is alive and well, and the aspect a son bullying his own parent was never used in the property again.

Interestingly, some of the voice actors worked on both the 1973 series and the 1979-2005 show. Most notably Kaneta Kimotsuki. In the 1973 series he voiced Gian, but in 1979 he was cast as the voice of Suneo, a role he held until 2005.

Even with all that, I’m still curious about this show. Doraemon is arguably the biggest cartoon property in Japan. The fact that it had one TV show that ended in failure is interesting on its own, even moreso because the creators are known to detest it. It’d be great if the surviving episodes are released on DVD just to satisfy my curiosity, and probably others as well. It should be easy to market; just say that it collects the missing Doraemon episodes that hardly anyone remembers and it should gain some attention from the mainstream.

For now, here’s a sample of the 1973 series via it’s opening theme song:

30 Comments

  • I read somewhere that “Doraemon” is so popular in Thailand that Thai children call Japanese tourists “Doraemons”. I remember visiting Tokyo in the early 1980s, and having little children stare at me goggle-eyed and say, “Gaijin! Gaijin!” which their embarrassed mothers were always extremely apologetic about.

    • I recall in Hong Kong, the character was named “Ding Dong” and amazingly an illegit Doraemon film was made in Taiwan by Cuckoo’s Nest Studios.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOrvqoKgY2k

  • Perhaps Discotek Media & Shout! Factory might do something to put the “Doraemon” TV shows & Movies on dvd & blu-ray.

  • After “Pokémon” became such a big hit on American TV around 1997, Streamline Pictures had lots of TV producers coming around to ask us to get them the American licenses for “the next big hit in Japanese children’s TV anime”. Many of them knew about the longevity of the 1979 “Doraemon” TV series and asked us to get them that. We would always explain why “Doraemon” would not be popular in America; it was too ethnically Japanese, with too many episodes about Doraemon taking Nobita back in time to meet Japanese historical figures who American kids would not know about, and so on. One episode was about a magic toy six-shooter with five bad-luck bullets and one good-luck bullet. Nobita was supposed to play Russian roulette with it, but he kept trying to cheat so he would be sure to get the good-luck bullet. There was no way that any American TV producer wanted to touch any TV episode that could be seen as encouraging little children to play Russian roulette!

    • Oh that’s a shame to having to discourage potential buyers of this, though at the same time, I suppose we were saved from any alterations(or “Americanizations”) that might befallen our ear-less robo-cat of the future.

    • And another issue, all those “Doraemon” episodes that feature Shizuka bathing would have to be dropped or at least heavily censored.

    • You worked for Streamline Pictures?

    • Matt – Fred did work for Streamline. As did I as a co-founder of the company.

  • I always found it odd that Doraemon was never really properly introduced to American TV viewers. Given how popular the franchise is in Japan and surrounding Asian countries, and that the series is family friendly fare, you would have thought Doraemon would have aired here during the 80s.

    • Don’t forget some parts of Europe and Latin America! At least they had a shot with the property. I see Wiki had some statement that WTBS was close to airing 50 episodes of the show in the mid 80′s, too bad that didn’t happen since cable TV was such a young, brash beast then.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_non-Japanese_Doraemon_versions

  • For those of us still learning about Doreamon (pronounced “Dor-eye-mo” by several Japanese friends), how did he lose his ears? Was it robot mice that chewed them off? Please tell us, Charles. It’s pretty sobering that animated shows produced as recently as 1973 were not preserved and are now lost. And I thought that silent animated cartoons were rare!

    • Hey Mark!

      Yeah, a robot mouse did chew off Doraemon’s ears. Since then, he’s been deathly afraid of mice.

    • It was a rat in in the future that chewed them off Mark. He also use to be yellow but turned blue after his ears were bit off. I see there was a movie about that too!
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2112:_The_Birth_of_Doraemon

    • Though this is a most a year after the fact, people still bother to show up here, so here’s a link to a Vimeo video of that movie I told of. The subtitles are not perfect (found myself rewriting this in my head while watching) but it’s something and only last a half hour.
      http://vimeo.com/20211079

  • I would love to at least see the comic released in English along with some of the feature films.

  • pardon my ignorance, but i’ve always wondered why doraemon doesn’t have ears.

    mr. brubaker, i am very much enjoying your posts, and i am hoping you will make a post about ken the wolf boy, a series that i have never seen and have been unable to hunt down.

    • Ken the Wolf Boy is an interesting one alright. It was the first TV anime that Toei Doga ever produced (the studio focused mainly on theatrical productions beforehand). A young Isao Takahada also co-directed quite a few of the episodes, before he went on to bigger projects. For those curious, an excellent article about Ken can be read here: http://helenmccarthy.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/wolf-boy-ken-and-the-year-that-changed-anime/

    • I almost had a chance to get an episode of Ken The Wolf Boy on 16mm myself, dubbed in English with Daws Butler doing the voices (which sounds like an extreme perk for those fans of his work out there), but sadly someone else gobbled that up on eBay years back.

    • Hayao Miyazaki worked on “Ken” as an assistant animator as well. It was his first job in animation.

    • Oh, here’s something Charles!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPXH7XGTKKg

      Love it if the rest could be found, I think Australia got to watch this one.

  • People always ask me “if Doraemon’s the Mickey Mouse of Japan, what about Astro Boy?” I don’t really know how to respond. I mean Astro Boy’s just as famous, but he’s not everywhere like Doraemon is.
    I still can’t believe that to this day, Doraemon hasn’t been dubbed in English anywhere in the world, let alone in America. This show airs throughout Asia and even on some European Cartoon Network channels.
    If it hasn’t been dubbed now, I doubt it ever will be.

    • I say Astro Boy is the Popeye of Japan. Anyone wants to argue with me over it, I’m welcome to your opinions!

      “If it hasn’t been dubbed now, I doubt it ever will be.”

      Welcome to the world of anime fandom!

  • Just thought about something not discussed here, we haven’t talked about the constant scenes of Shizuka bathing during the longer series! That’s one thing that would never make it to our shores, though I’ve heard the more recent series starting in 2005 drops a lot of that fanservicey stuff!

  • Viz had the american rights a few years back (not sure if they still do) and from what i heard did dub one of the movies in english with plans of airing it on cn or even a big-screen release as a try-out.

    They then got cold feet and never released it. I still don’t get why the remake series is not on american tv. It can’t be the japan stuff. They aired tokyo pig on tv and it got a dvd release and it had far more japan things in it.

    With stuff like gumball and adventure time on cn doraemon would fit right in.

    • “Viz had the american rights a few years back (not sure if they still do) and from what i heard did dub one of the movies in english with plans of airing it on cn or even a big-screen release as a try-out.”

      It was a little too easy given their parent company is Shogakukan after all!

      “They then got cold feet and never released it. I still don’t get why the remake series is not on american tv. It can’t be the japan stuff. They aired Tokyo Pig on tv and it got a dvd release and it had far more japan things in it.”

      It is really odd sometimes. I recall a rumor years back of an English Doraemon movie being dubbed with Tom “Spongebob” Kenny doing the titular robot cat’s voice.

      “With stuff like gumball and adventure time on cn doraemon would fit right in.”

      It would. I was amused to see clips of Doraemon in some countries that aired on their version of Disney Channel!

  • Doraemon and Shin-Chan is so much popular in India and Bangladesh.

  • I made a playlist including a lot of clips
    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLOkNqDUgKaC2g2wZHV5_l_XfjRz_jwn7S

  • I love u Doremon the great cartoon in the world.
    It is Famous in Pakistan and India.

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