Where to start? Doraemon apparently first appeared in 1969 or 1970
(it ran as a manga series starting about 1974), with the infamous
something-wonderful-pops-out-of-the-desk-drawer story. Since then, it
has gone on to become one of Japan's most popular and well-loved manga
series, and Doraemon is now perhaps one of the most recognized faces
in all of Japan. The comedy series is still continuing, though it
suffers from the defection of one of the two original writers. From
my own point of view, Books 1 through 30 are probably the classic
Doraemon, and the stories seem to solidify and improve at around book
6 (before that, the drawing style is a little old-fashioned, and the
plots are a little thin).
The first story explains the premise of the entire series. Nobi
Nobita (Nobita being the first name), is a fourth-grade boy who wears
glasses and lives in a subsection of Tokyo. One day, a strange being
pops up in his desk drawer --- a round, blue cat-style robot (minus
ears), who fails to introduce himself and instead eats Nobita's
afternoon snack and then goes back into the drawer. The matter is
eventually straightened out and explained. Nobita's
great-great-grandson (or something like that) lives in the 22nd
Century --- except, thanks to Nobita's mistakes, the entire family is
living in poverty. To rectify this, Nobita's descendent is sending
his robot Doraemon (not a very high-quality robot) back to the past,
to help prevent Nobita from making mistakes. Of course, this is a
difficult task, since Nobita is the weakest and least intelligent
child in his class. And initially, Doraemon isn't the smartest of
robots, either. He does, however, have a 4-dimensional pocket on his
front, which contains all manner of cool gadgets from the 22nd
Century, and it is with these toys that Doraemon will try to save
Nobita from a future of poverty and failure.
With this premise, Doraemon and Nobita go on to become (as I've said),
one of Japan's most famous duos. Nobita, as class weakling and dunce,
needs lots of rescuing, and Doraemon is obliged to give him the right
gadget to fix his situation. Unfortunately, Nobita also has the bad
habit of misusing the gadgets and landing himself in yet more trouble
--- unless some of his school friends get their hands on the gadgets
and get themselves into even worse trouble. This is usually the
source of the series' comedic humor. However, Doraemon has
another, more serious side; starting around Book 8, the volumes begin
to close with a story that is longer and more serious than the others.
Often touched with a bit of educational science, moral teaching and a
hint of conservationism, these stories usually involve Nobita and
Doraemon and friends working together to solve a larger problem.
(As a warning to sensitive American readers, Doraemon, even
though a children's manga, does include things like nudity and streaks
of traditional Japanese sexism! For example, poor Shizuka, the main
heroine, starts off as the brightest of the children --- yet as the
series progresses, becomes more of a bath-addict (facilitating
numerous bathtub scenes) and becomes number two in intelligence to the
brilliant boy Dekisugi ("Dekisugi" is a pun on the word "overbuilt" or
For all his flaws (laziness, stupidity, and cowardice (and occasional
attacks of megalomania and selfishness)), Nobita is one of the
neighborhood's nicest and most sensitive children, and it is his
desire to see justice done that drives the best Doraemon
stories. And it is probably why Doraemon himself does not fling up
his hands in defeat --- though surely it must be tempting, after so
many hundreds of stories starting off with Nobita running home in
tears, crying "Doraemon! Do something!"
Among some of Doraemon's most commonly produced gadgets are: the
Wherever Door (you can walk through it to wherever you want to go),
the air gun (a tube you slip over your finger; it produces a pulse of
air to knock out your enemies), the What If phone box (allows user to
enter a world in which some condition is changed "What If mirrors
didn't exist?" (the name is a Japanese pun)), the personal copter (a
little beanie that you stick on your head, which lets you fly), and
the Gulliver Tunnel (lets you shrink). Another often used device is
the time machine, which is, of course, located in Nobita's desk
drawer. But aside from these frequently used devices, Doraemon always
seems to have something new in his pocket. He has produced miniature
spy satellites, car simulators, water-warding rope, portable holes,
cardboard games that you step into to play, super food seasoning, a
fashion "bug" (virus), time mirrors, ice construction sets, real-item
encyclopedias, and everything else that could possibly make life a
little more interesting. (Speaking of which, it's interesting to note
that many Doraemon devices would be civil liberty and personal rights
nightmares in the U.S.).
Of course, the gadget doesn't necessarily make the story. As far as
plots go, Nobita is the protagonist, and usually makes the right
decisions in really important matters.
In one story, Nobita's efforts to save a stray dog and cat eventually
lead him try to save a whole group of stray animals (his mother is NOT
pleased). In desperation, he and Doraemon are forced to send the
animals back in time --- after increasing their intelligence and
giving the animals a hamburger-making machine. Back in the present
day, Nobita's friends find a newspaper article about a lost
civilization that left behind miniature buildings --- large enough for
maybe a dog or cat --- and even a statue of a godlike, winged creature
whose face just happens to look like Nobita's.
In another story, Nobita and Doraemon decide to help a group of
hunters who are tracking down a wolf family in the wilds. Nobita,
disguised as a wolf, finds the wolves --- who, welcoming him as a
friend, tell him about the pain of surviving in a world rapidly being
taken over by humans. When his disguise wears off, the wolves try to
attack Nobita --- but Doraemon rescues him. When Doraemon suggests
turning the wolves in, however, Nobita refuses. Together, they
somehow persuade the hunters that the area has no wolves.
Of course, there are utterly silly stories, too.
In one silly story, Nobita uses an illness-transferring device to help
his sick father (who needs to go to a business meeting), and then runs
around trying to find someone to give his new cold to. Unfortunately,
the school bully is unexpectedly sympathetic ("Wanna come to my place?
I've got medicine that'll help you"), and Nobita can't bring himself
to infect him. Luckily, he and Doraemon happen to run into a man who
wants his cold --- because he happens to have a crush on a local
nurse. And so, in the end, everyone is happy ... strangely enough.
In another silly story, Nobita is deeply touched by his teacher's
morale-raising lecture, but can't seem to convey the "touching" part
of it to anyone else. Doraemon then produces for him a
microphone/speaker that makes anything he says deeply inspiring.
Nobita of course runs off to show it off to his friends; they are all
busy watching the local videotaping of a popular idol. Nobita is
determined to inspire and move them more than the celebrity can;
unfortunately, he has gotten his microphone switched with a baby's
toy, and has to recover it. Finally, with the microphone in his back
pocket, he rushes over to his friends to impress them --- but
accidently farts while trying to pull the microphone out of his
pocket. There is a moment of stunned silence. The last panel shows
Nobita fleeing in sheer embarrassment from a mob of pursuing people
who are shouting, "What a deeply moving fart that was!"
Doraemon manages to slip in the moral teachings with a good amount of
For example, Nobita once manages to pick up a cloning device, with
which he makes clones of his "friends," the cunning Suneo and brutish
Gian. The clones arrive at 4th-grade age but with the minds of
babies. Nobita raises them in a trans-dimensional room, thinking of
raising the clones into his well-behaved, friendly, (submissive)
friends/"children." However, the clones' minds mature rapidly, and
they begin to figure out that Nobita is weaker and not as bright as
they are. Since they watch TV, they realize there is a world outside
their room which Nobita is not showing them. So they revolt.
Doraemon finds out what has happened, but explains to Nobita that
since the clones are living people, they can't be arbitrarily
destroyed. ("Maybe we can convince them to live on another planet,"
Doraemon suggests). However, the clones discover the cloning
apparatus by accident, and hit the equivalent of the "Undo" button,
thus un-creating themselves and saving everyone a lot of headache.
Other fun stories:
Nobita's father wants to get a driver's license, even though the
mother makes the side comment that since he isn't cut out for driving,
it would be safer for the world if he didn't. Nobita and Doraemon set
up a miniature roadway for the father to practice with, using the
Gulliver Tunnel to shrink him. (Of course Doraemon and Nobita have to
test-drive the roads first). Nobita's father, deeply touched, starts
using the roadway. Becoming bold, he takes his miniature car out to
the real roads ("Where of course I can't hurt anyone!") and promptly
has a major accident with a little boy's toy truck, demolishing the
miniature car. "Maybe he really isn't cut out for driving,"
Nobita and Doraemon mutter.
Nobita finds an egg that Doraemon has left lying around, and adopts
it. Doraemon takes too long to remember what egg it was --- a wind
storm egg --- and it hatches. (Yes, future science has created a
sentient wind storm). The cute little whirlpool of air, lovingly
raised by Nobita and fed with hot air from candles, gradually becomes
a minor menace. Nobita's parents demand that the little whirlpool
leave. But that night, a major typhoon arrives off the Japanese coast
and threatens the Nobi house. The little whirlpool leaps out into the
howling winds and battles the far larger typhoon, subduing it and
saving the house. In the morning, both storms are gone, having
dissipated in the battle....
One day, Doraemon has to leave on business. Unfortunately, Nobita's
parents have already left town on other business, thinking Doraemon
would be around to take care of Nobita. This now leaves Nobita alone.
Desperately, Nobita begs Doraemon to stay. To help him, Doraemon
leaves a robot rope that can take up the shape and function of just
about anything. At first Nobita doesn't like the odd-looking thing,
but after it kicks out an intruder, helps him with baseball, cooks
dinner, and acts as a horse, he's converted. Meanwhile, Doraemon is
so worried about Nobita that he cuts short his business and returns
home --- only to find Nobita engrossed in a game with the rope, and
practically oblivious to Doraemon's return.
In another story, Nobita has to read a book for a class assignment.
Since he hates reading books (as opposed to comic books), Doraemon
produces a book-helmet that causes the wearer to recite the contents
of a book. The brilliant boy Dekisugi is convinced to recite a book
for Nobita (he's shown around the future as a pre-payment). He does
so, and Nobita is drawn into the adventure story. Finally, late at
night, Dekisugi is too tired to continue, and is allowed to go home.
Nobita wants to find out what happens in the story so much that he
sits down and starts reading the book himself. His parents come in
and tell him not to stay up all night reading, but Doraemon holds them
back. "Don't make him stop --- he's finally discovered the joy of
Doraemon co-creator Fujimoto Hiroshi (Fujiko F. Fujio) died on Sept.
23, 1996, of liver failure at age 62; he is survived by his wife
Masako and three daughters. Co-author Motoo Abiko (Fujiko Fujio A),
who split off in 1987, said "We separated because we would go our own
ways. But we both wanted to create the same comics." (From CNN and
the Japan Times)
Apparently, Mr. Fujimoto initially came up with Doraemon in 1969 (or
1970) after tripping on his young daughter's toy, hearing a
neighborhood cat fight, and wishing he had a machine to generate a new
manga concept. Between the toy's shape, the cats' yowling, and the
longing for a machine to solve his problems, he came up with a robot
cat with a pocket containing all sorts of problem-solving gadgets.
(From a supplement to a children's manga magazine many years ago).
The maintainer would like to thank both creators of Doraemon for
writing a manga that helped the maintainer to understand and come to
terms with Japanese culture. Many times as a child, the maintainer
found the family life within Doraemon to be a mirror of the
maintainer's own home life, a home life not reflected in the American
TV sitcom shows. For a young nisei in America, the mirror and
the dreams within it were a priceless gift. Domou arigatou