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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Doraemon on Disney: All the Way from The Future World

(Note: I use the localized versions of the characters' name when applicable. Naturally, Doraemon stays the same in English!)

If you've been wondering about the English dubbed edition of Doraemon currently airing on Disney XD, the one with episodes culled from the 2005 Japanese Doraemon series, then stop. I have watched the first week of episodes and I can say, with one hundred percent certainty, the answer is yes. Without hesitation, yes!

I've been wanting to watch Doraemon in any form since I first read about it, probably in one of the anime reference guides I checked out from the library twenty times over in the early 2000's. Watching the Disney XD cut of Doraemon (2005) has been a fun, whimsical trip through a show I've been waiting to see for over a decade, and it's been worth it.

The thing to remember is that Doraemon is a children's anime, first and foremost. It skews to the sensibilities of kids, both in humor and in writing. Our main character Noby (the localized version of Nobita) has come into residence with a cat-shaped robot from the future who can pull out a number of amazing machines from his multi-dimensional pocket, titular character Doraemon. He can pretty much get anything he wants from Doraemon.

So what kind of stuff does Noby ask for? Stuff kids want - memory bread to help pass his exams, a magician's costume and ability to get back stuff his friends had stolen from him, a fishing pond that retrieves lost things.

Even when he has access to something like a time machine, Noby uses it to go back in time and stop himself from blowing money on ten cups of special noodles. Of course, this being a comedy, most of what Noby attempts doesn't go as planned, making the majority of conflict for these episodes. But his dreams are never above what an average kids' dreams would be, and his innocent heart keeps him from using Doraemon's powers for nefarious reasons.

And in this respect, Doraemon is a refreshing break from the anime Americans have been watching on their TV screens lately. No one is stuck in a video game fighting for their lives, or a sword-swinging son of Satan, or training to be a great ninja and stop a war from destroying the world. Doraemon is about Noby, his friends, Doraemon's machines, and how all their adventures turn into pitfall-filled hijinks.

And no one has any problem whatsoever about Doraemon hanging around town, or the fact that this cat robot can speak Japanese or pull these magical items out of his body pocket, or that he's friends with a wimpy ditz like Noby of all people (imagine if Doraemon had popped out of Sneech's desk drawer instead!). Why? Because why bother getting hung up on such a tiny detail, the show says, when you can have fun turning drawings into life and using magic and traveling through time?

So far, Disney XD has aired five episodes of Doraemon, and each one has been great fun to watch. It never tries to be any great piece of writing - a few episodes do end on a rather deus ex machina note - but all of that can be forgiven. It helps that the English dub of Doraemon has a very strong voice acting team behind it, especially with Mona Marshall as Doraemon and Johnny Yong Bosch as Noby. Marshall really does a great job of conveying Doraemon's exasperation as Noby ignores the cat's advice flails around in his daily adventures, and Bosch shines as usual as the oddball youth who is constantly dealing with Doraemon's inventions and the attention of his friends.

I know that the news of English dubbed Doraemon on Disney of all channels caused some serious internal consternation among otaku. They were worried, as one does, that they would turn Doraemon into toddler fare (never mind that Doraemon is a children's program alread) and would further the stereotype that all anime is for kids only (which is a silly claim easily debunked but never mind that now).

What we do have however is Doraemon for the U.S., a show that both children and their parents can enjoy. It's rather lighthearted fantasy that appeals to a child's heart, and the absurd scenarios and constant stream of future gadgets and sight gags keeps everyone entertained. From a series that has originally been around since the late sixties and has elevated its cat character to the status of a cultural icon, that's not a terrible thing to be.