For the Japanese there is perhaps no anime character more beloved or iconic than Doraemon, the blue robot-cat with a million gadgets. Created by Hiroshi Fujimoto (who co-created many other cherished children's characters with fellow manga artist Abiko Motoo, under the joint pseudonym of Fujiko-Fujio), Doraemon made his manga debut in 1969. The stories revolve around hapless, under-achieving fourth-grader Nobita Nobi. In the Twenty-Second Century Nobita's ancestors are so burdened by his unpaid debts his great-great grandson sends Doraemon back to the past in the hope the robot cat can teach him to straighten up, study hard and learn the value of responsibility. To that end Doraemon tries to impart important life lessons to Nobita and his neighbourhood friends with the aid of an endless array of crazy contraptions that, more often than not, wind up causing even more chaos. The Doraemon anime first appeared in 1979. Since then there has been a new Doraemon feature film released almost every year each of which regularly crack the box office top ten.
By far the most popular Doraemon film: Nobita's South Sea Adventure finds Nobita (voiced by Noriko Ohara) typically less interested in helping friends with a school project about the sea and more intrigued by the existence of sunken pirate treasure. After the usual fruitless attempts to dissuade Nobita from quick-fix solutions to his problems, Doraemon (Nobuyo Oyama) obligingly uses his hi-tech transportation device the 'Anywhere Door' to bring his master, cute girl-next-door Shizuka (Michiko Nomura), hot-tempered husky boy Jaian (Kazuya Tatekabe) and sneaky Suneo (Kaneta Kimotsuki) to the south seas. Unfortunately a mysterious rift in the space-time continuum strands the kids in the Seventeenth Century whereupon a storm sweeps poor Nobita out to sea. While Doraemon and the other kids are rescued by Captain Kidd (Toru Emori) and his friendly pirate crew including a feisty, flame-haired little pirate girl named Betty (Yu Hayami), Nobita finds himself stuck on a mysterious island with her missing kid brother Jack (Mach Fumiake). Both parties join the search for Jack's dad, the pirate Captain Colt (Osamu Saka) only to uncover the sinister secret behind the island that threatens all of space and time.
It is little wonder Nobita's South Sea Adventure became the highest-grossing Doraemon movie to date. This story has everything: adventure with pirates on the high seas, time travel, a mad scientist conducting evil gene-splicing experiments, a secret organization bent on world domination, giant rampaging kaiju, even a super-intelligent pink dolphin with mysterious telepathic powers! Drawing from Robert Louise Stevenson, Jules Verne (especially Mysterious Island) and Daniel Dafoe with a heady dose of sci-fi manga weirdness the plot also evokes one of the finest Japanese monster movies: Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966). Crucially the filmmakers capture that special combination of light and dark that distinguishes great family entertainment. The story plunges a cast of lovably goofy characters into a high-stakes adventure where the danger feels very real. Over the course of events the child heroes tangle with pirates, giant monsters, carnivorous plants and time criminals from the future. True to the series' overarching theme more often than not these obstacles stem from Nobita's lackadaisical attitude. He is always on the look-out for the quick fix, the easy solution that involves the minimal amount of work, a character flaw that resonates with the traditionally hard-working Japanese. Here, paired with the younger though more capable Jack, Nobita takes some notable steps towards becoming more self-reliant and responsible. Remarkably throughout close to thirty Doraemon films this formula never grows stale.
A rare dual language anime film Nobita's South Sea Adventure unusually has the Japanese-voiced but clearly western pirate characters speak slightly stilted English for a good deal of its running time until Doraemon breaks out his handy translator. Among the other charming gadgets featured alongside series staples the Anywhere Door and 'helicopter hats' are a storm-in-a-bottle, changing clothes camera (one click and you're in swimwear) and a shape-changing hula hoop that turns Nobita into a fish-tailed mer-boy so he can wow his friends with instant swimming skills. Remember what I said about his love of quick-fix solutions? Doraemon also deploys a 'Legendary Exist Machine' that conjures lifelike holographic images of mermaids, sea serpents and the huge sea god Triton that serve no real function in the movie beyond the animators clear desire to draw this stuff. On a technical level the animation ranks among the most fluid and inventive in the long-running series. Meanwhile the plot interweaves a strong anti-war/pro-environment message very common in Nineties anime as Doraemon delivers a stern rebuke to a scientist dabbling in gene-splicing experiments. It is worth watching just for the scene where battling kaiju are undone by the deadly power of karaoke.