So I’ve been wondering why such a cultural icon like Doraemon has so little reputation in the West, and there were two things crossed my head: or this series is too old for the 21st century kids, or it’s cultural appropriation. Let’s take a look at both hypotheses.
In my very first proposal, I mentioned that there’s one possibility that seemed to convince me: Doraemon is really old, and since Japan started to export anime, there is basically no space for a 60s kid franchise in such a market (Sailor Moon is an exception). Comparing to Asian kid entertainment market, which was quite poor, and especially Vietnam, a country in the beginning of recovering from war, the American market was already competitive. Besides, with the drastic growth of American entertainment, it becomes harder and harder for an old school Asian series. But Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece have made it for a long while, so what was holding Doraemon back?
Cultural appropriation is what I’ve been considering. However, the type of character like Nobita is definitely quite popular in American films, plus, the future gadgets are even cooler than Phineas and Ferb’s inventions.
Since I haven’t updated for a while, I didn’t know that Doraemon has been aired on Disney XD… for two seasons. So I decided to take a glance on the American version instead of sticking to the original one.
Watching the American Doraemon gives me a very… American feeling. I can relate this feeling to the feeling when I watch Western cartoon and animation, such as Ben 10 or The Powerpuff Girls. For it to survive through two seasons, I guess it must get good reactions. And there comes my epiphany: still cultural appropriation, but it’s not character or context but the pace making it less appealing to American audiences.
Doraemon in my memory is a cute, a lot of times childish but mature and rational at the same time. His image gives me the sense of peace, friendliness (partly because he’s blue) and the feeling of home. Part of the reason why it is such a big hit in Asia is because it has a little bit of everything: comedy, adventure, science fiction, action, friendship, and family bonding to be found among its hundreds of episodes. It can be seen in any Doraemon episode, take the newest movie Stand by me Doraemon for instance:
However, American marketing only focuses on the action part and has turned Doraemon into an action star. In the Doraemon season 2 commercial on Disney XD, the word ‘action” is repeated for 4 times in only 20 seconds, combining with action and explosion scenes in fast pace, it make an audience like me feel hard to recognise the figure I’m used to know. To be correct, I have to say, they have turned him into an ACTION! ACTION! ACTION! ACTION! star.
Next, I watch the first (two) episode of Doraemon US: All the way from the future world and The Mecha Maker. With The Mecha Maker, I am totally overwhelmed by the fast pace and the strong rhythm of the film. Also, Doraemon is demonstrated as a grumpy robot that is brutal, violence and obsessed with revenge, which is opposite to the mild-tempered cat I know. In this episode, his hot temper not only scares Nobita, who is supposed to be the hot-tempered one, but, I believe, will also scare the kids if it is broadcasted in Asia. I guess it is the American style to always have actions and a bit of violent elements. It reminds me of when I was young, my dad always forbid me watching Western animations and films because he was worried of bad effect of violent elements on me.
It would be interesting to see Japanese reactions if that action-oriented approach is applied to the Stand by me Doraemon trailer.