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.
The 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.
This 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.
Another 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: