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English Speakers Can Finally Enjoy Classic Japanese Cartoon ‘Doraemon’

Photo by Flickr user Héctor García. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo by Flickr user Héctor García. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Japan’s most beloved pop culture icon has been Disney-fied, prompting an online conversation among devoted Japanese anime fans.

Doraemon, a robotic cat from the 22nd century, first appeared in print in Japan in 1969 and quickly became a smash hit. Having sold over 100 million copies, the Doraemon series is one of the best-selling manga in the world, while the animated series has been broadcast in 35 other countries and regions, mainly in Southeast Asia.

However, for 45 years no official English translation of either the manga or the anime existed. Then, in May 2014, 12,000-plus pages of the manga series were translated and published. You can read an online sample here.

The same month, Disney announced it had acquired the English-language rights to Doraemon and would immediately start broadcasting five times a week, on the Disney XD satellite channel.

The “Disneyfication” of Doraemon immediately stimulated plenty of online conversations among die-hard Japanese Doraemon fans.

Almost any person in Japan will have read about Doraemon the robotic cat's adventures with Nobita, a comically dim-witted boy and his gang of friends: Gian (a bit of a bully), Suneo (Gian's sneaky sidekick) and Shizuka-chan (a sweet-natured neighborhood girl).

Image credit: Fujiko Pro Co. and Shogakukan Inc.

Says one commenter on 2chan (Japan's often raucous and profane equivalent of Reddit) about there finally being an English-language version of Doraemon:

アメリカ遅れすぎ

It's about time!

On other forums, many were wondering about how Doraemon's distinctive voice would be handled:

ドラえもんの声はいいね。
日本の声と似てると思う。

I quite like Doraemon's English voice, and I think it sounds like Japanese Doraemon.

Another commenter agrees:

ドラえもんの英語版の声は合ってるね。
日本版の声と比べても違和感がまったくない。
成功するといいな。

They really nailed Doraemon's voice, and it doesn't seem weird at all. Hopefully the English-language version will be a success.

In the same forum, sharp-eyed observers have noticed that, to suit American cultural tastes, there are some differences between the Disney's English-language version of Doraemon, and the Japanese original:

のび太はノビー ジャイアンはビッグ・ジー ついにドラえもんも全米デビューだって〜 まじびっくり‼︎‼︎‼︎

Nobita and Gian have been given nicknames!!!

Others noticed that Doraemon seems to have conformed to certain Western sensibilities:

「健康的な食生活を推進すること」が放送基準の一つとして挙げられている米国の基準に合わせ、ドラえもんがたくさんのどら焼きをほおばるシーンを短縮したり、のび太のおやつをフルーツに変更するなどの修正が加えられる。

Since American broadcasters are supposed to promote healthy eating, Doraemon can't ever be shown pigging out on sweets, but instead must eat healthy things like fruit.

A Twitter user notices:

Chopsticks have been replaced with forks at the dinner table.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is how Shizuka-chan's character is portrayed in the new English-language version of Doraemon. For one thing, her name has been changed to simpler, plainer “Sue.”

As well, in the original manga and anime series, Nobita is often given the opportunity to covertly observe Shizuka-chan taking a bath. This has been completely excised from the new English-language series:

これも国民性の違いか
事前にアメリカの子どもたちに日本版を視聴させた結果「しずかちゃんの性格を変えた方がいい」という意見が多かったため、入浴が趣味のおしとやかな『しずかちゃん』がボーイッシュな『スー』に生まれ変わるようだ。

Is this yet another difference in culture?

In order to show Doraemon to children in the United States, there was a big push to change Shizuka-chan's character in the translated version. Now she's just called “Sue” and you never see her taking a bath. It's like she's a totally different character now!

Still, for much of the rest of the non-English speaking world, Doraemon, while beloved television staple, is nothing particularly new:

ずいぶん前にマレーシアで放送してたのを見たけど
アメリカではまだだったのか

We've been able to watch Doraemon in Malaysia for ages. What took the English-speaking world so long?

While English-language audiences may be getting their first glimpse of Doraemon in 2014, for other countries and cultures around the world Doraemon is almost as famous as Mickey Mouse. There are Hindi Doraemon translations, Bangla Doraemon translations, and Vietnamese Doraemon translations, for example.

 If Doraemon has been translated into your favorite language, please let us know in the comments!

Fujiko Pro Co. and Shogakukan Inc.

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