Manga Review: Doraemon, Vol. 1 by Fujiko F. Fujio
It’s not often that someone is so big of a loser that his descendant feels the need to travel through time to fix it. But Nobita Nobi has managed it. Nobita’s a wimp, as well as not very bright and so lazy that he doesn’t even get the low grades he could if he put in an effort. His classmate Gian frequently bullies him, and Shizuka, the girl Nobita likes, has placed him firmly in the friendzone.
Nobita’s grandson’s grandson uses time travel to come back to his ancestor’s elementary school days. He reveals that Nobita will eventually marry Gian’s ugly little sister Jaiko, fail miserably in business and saddle the family with so much debt they’re still paying it off in the late 22nd Century. But the descendant has a plan. Get Nobita a wise and powerful guardian robot that will protect and guide the boy towards a better future! (The rules of time travel are such that the descendant will still be born in some form, but hopefully with a better life.) Unfortunately, with his miserable future allowance, all the boy could afford is the defective and damaged cat robot Doraemon.
Doraemon means well, but he is also kind of lazy and can be distracted by sweet dorayaki treats. So he often doesn’t think through the consequences of giving Nobita access to the many futuristic gadgets Doraemon carries in his pouch. And when he does consider the consequences, he can be bribed or tricked into letting Nobita use them anyway. And that sets the primary pattern for the series stories. Nobita or one of the other characters has a problem, one of Doraemon’s gadgets comes into play to fix it, the gadget is abused, and Nobita winds up in a heap of trouble.
The original manga ran from 1969-1996, a total of 45 volumes created by Fujiko F. Fujio (pen name of Hiroshi Fujimoto (1933-96) who was half of the Fujiko Fujio combo.) It has spawned spinoff manga, several TV series, and a long-running series of animated movies. Doraemon is considered one of the cultural icons of Japan.
This is the Kindle edition, and the word “volume” is an exaggeration. There are three stories for a total of about 30 pages, and they are selected rather than printed in the order of publication. (I suspect the latter is to avoid any of the stories with nudity, which is a problem for American children’s media.) Some of the names are changed; Gian and Jaiko become “Big G” and “Little G” respectively. This version has been colored, but as the original was in black and white, it looks fine if your Kindle can’t do color.
“All the Way from the Future” is the first chapter of the series and sets up the premise. Doraemon arrives on New Year’s Day to change Nobita’s life. Nobita is doubtful at first, but various incidents occur as the robot cat predicted. At the end, the first of Doraemon’s many futuristic gadgets is introduced, miniature propellers that you stick on your head (or other body part) to fly. It doesn’t work out so well for Nobita.
Some readers may find the part where Nobita marrying a woman who isn’t conventionally attractive is a Bad Future annoying. The good news is that in a much later story, we see the Slightly Better Future where Nobita hooks up with Shizuka–and Jaiko has become a successful artist, much happier than if she was stuck as Nobita’s baby factory.
“Return to Un-sender” has Nobita’s mother worried because a friend hasn’t replied to a letter she sent. Turns out Nobita’s father never actually mailed it. To help Dad out, Doraemon pulls the “Pre-mailer” out of his pouch. This item looks like a miniature postal collection box; you put your letter in (must be properly addressed and stamped) and you will instantly get the response you would have gotten had you actually sent the letter. However, you must then actually send the letter if you want the recepient to react that way in real life. Dad posts Mom’s letter, gets the response and gives it to Mom, who is happy, while Nobita and Doraemon go out to actually mail the letter and complete the time loop.
The kids play around with the Pre-mailer a bit, including Suneo, the spoiled rich kid who is generally Gian’s sidekick. (He writes a letter to the bully expressing his true opinion; the response chills his blood, and Suneo opts not to actually send it.) Nobita decides to write a love letter to Shizuka, but while he’s out getting a stamp, Mom mails the letter for real. A hastily-written duplicate reveals that Shizuka will not be pleased at all by the love letter, so now Nobita and Doraemon must camp out on her doorstep in hopes of intercepting it.
“Noby’s City of Dreams” starts with the kids discovering that the only vacant lot in the neighborhood has been taken over by a construction company. Their parents don’t want them playing rough inside, and it’s too dangerous to play in the street, so what’s a kid to do? This time Doraemon has a two-gadget solution. The first is a camera that creates miniature duplicates of non-living objects, like houses and stores. The second is the Gulliver Tunnel, go through it one way to become tiny, the other way to return to normal. This allows Doraemon and Nobita to create a miniature town in the back yard for all the kids to play in. Until Mom clears all the “toys” away because she wants a storage shed built there.
This is very much a children’s series, and it’s a classic for a reason. But some parents may feel that Nobita’s many flaws make him a poor choice as a protagonist (he is very kind and brave when he needs to be, but none of these stories show that.) There’s bullying, and in stories in other volumes, parents using physical discipline.
If your kids like the “Doraemon” TV show, this is worth a look.