Ask anyone who grew up in Asia what their favorite comic was when they were a kid, and you’re likely to hear the answer “Doraemon.” Created in 1969 by the team of Fujiko Fujio (Hiroshi Fujimoto and Motoo Abiko), the manga and anime tell the story of a robot cat from the future sent by a boy to help out his grandfather, Nobita (who is a boy in the present time). Confusing? It can’t be too bad, because the original manga lasted for 45 volumes, which is pretty respectable, and it’s one of the best selling manga ever, with over 100 million copies sold.
Despite this, Doraemon has not been available in English until very recently, and at the moment, the manga is still only available digitally; you can buy it on Kindle for $2.99 for the first three volumes and $3.99 for the others. Why has it taken so long? Here’s the 411 from an article in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun:
“It has been pointed out that Nobita’s passive attitude–he always relies on Doraemon–would not appeal to the U.S. readers,” said Ryutaro Mihara, former industry ministry official who has studied Japan’s pop culture in the United States.
Interestingly, that same article claims that the reason the publishers changed their tune is that Doraemon is hugely popular in Spanish, and the Hispanic population in the U.S. is increasing.
Well, now there’s another reason: Disney has licensed the anime, and they will be playing it five times a week, starting this summer, on the Disney XD satellite channel. The target audience will be grade-schoolers, who will, of course, be on vacation. Sadly, Disney seems to be localizing it quite heavily, replacing chopsticks with forks and baked sweet potatoes with popcorn. There are also some name changes—Nobita becomes Noby, the bully Gian becomes Big G—which are consistent with the manga.
From Naruto to Attack on Titan, manga have often gotten a sales boost when the anime is released. Will that happen with Doraemon? I’ll hazard a guess that Disney XD is a bigger platform than the anime site Crunchyroll (which carries Attack on Titan), so if Doraemon catches on, it could become a hot property. The original manga was published by Shogakukan, which is one of the parent companies of Viz Media and its children’s imprint, Perfect Square, so if the manga makes it to print, that’s the most likely North American publisher—but, I hasten to add, that is pure speculation, as no one is talking about an English-language print edition yet. Doraemon is a relatively old property, but it seems to have a universal appeal, so it will be interesting to see if it makes an impression on American children.