BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - It took two years of work, but Eric Sherman and his employees at Bang Zoom! Entertainment have brought Japan’s beloved blue robotic cat Doraemon to TV screens across the United States.
With a 20-minute pilot and 26 episodes lined up, America was treated to its first taste of the show Monday afternoon when the cartoon debuted on cable channel Disney XD. It airs at 12:30 p.m. every weekday throughout the summer.
The anime, based on manga drawn by Fujiko F. Fujio, has aired in 35 nations worldwide, mainly in Asia and Europe, but those broadcasts used the Japanese version of the show dubbed or subtitled in the local language.
This is the first time Doraemon has been reinvented for a specific audience. Changes include the names of characters, food and objects. There are also new cultural references, and the music and sound effects have been scored to appeal to a specifically U.S. audience.
Sherman, president and CEO of audio post-production company Bang Zoom in Burbank, California, said localizing the show was challenging because “the rights holders are extremely protective of their beloved character and show, as they should be.”
He said Bang Zoom was a good fit because “we always approach every project from a place of respect and admiration for the creators.”
“We need to know lots of details and we need to get deep into the show, to what the bones are,” he said. “Then we can put the flesh back on and color it for a new audience — the U.S. audience — maintaining the original intent of the creators, while making it amazing for the new audience.”
Viewers responded positively to the first screening on Twitter.
Anime fan @KevDGrussing wrote, “This #Doraemon is . . . actually good. Unbelievable, I dare say SUPPORT THIS DUB.”
@EponymousKid wrote, “Doraemon is pretty good and I’m digging it. I’m on the hook for more, I gotta say.”
But some were quick to note the changes, including the substitution of “yummy buns” for dorayaki pancake sandwiches, Doraemon’s favorite snack.
“They’re insisting on Yummy Buns despite the disclosing of the actual name in the first episode. Damn #Doraemon,” wrote @DigiRanger1994.
Sherman said much thought had gone into the details such as the dorayaki substitute. As part of Disney’s effort to promote healthy eating, a number of healthier names were suggested, and producers decided on “yummy buns.”
Mio Moroe, 27, an assistant producer at Bang Zoom and manager of the Doraemon project, said she understands the concern some Japanese and fans of the show may have about localizing an anime so beloved that it has maintained a strong following over decades.
But she also said the potential to expand Doraemon’s reach by introducing the anime to other large markets, especially the United States, was an opportunity to be embraced.
“One thing that I want to let our Japanese audience know is that I don’t want them to be scared of localization,” she said. “I don’t want them to be afraid of exporting the material, the amazing property, that we have.”
“Japanese titles need another market; they can’t only stay in Japan. I think that’s a total waste,” she said. “They’ve got so much potential, there’s so much talent involved, they should be watched all over the world.”
Moroe, who grew up in Tokyo, but moved to the United States to attend film school in 2008, notes that many Japanese anime, like Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z, arrived in the United States in the 1990s and were successful.
Kaeko Sakamoto, co-founder and vice president of Bang Zoom, is also one of the company’s casting directors and casted the voice actors for the main characters in Doraemon. Mami Okada, 35, also casting director and head of operations at Bang Zoom, said casting for the Doraemon characters went smoothly. She grew up in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture watching the anime and so “had a clear picture of what the English version should sound like.”
“We know the characters, so right away we knew specifically what kinds of voices we were looking for and the performance level we were looking for,” she added.
Bang Zoom held a small audition for the pilot episodes and wanted to retain the voices it chose then when the show received a commission, but Okada said it took about four weeks to consider all options in the casting process for the series.
Of the voices in the pilot episodes, only Big G’s was changed for the series, although Okada said casting for Doraemon was challenging because Disney had a different vision for the robotic cat’s own voice.
About 60 actors auditioned for the role of Doraemon. “We ended up auditioning many different actors,” she said, “but in the end, we came back to the actor that we originally liked (Mona Marshall).”
Sherman said many things came together to bring the show to the United States, and that as a fan of the show since living in Japan in the 1980s, he is excited to be a part of it.
“There was so much love brought to the production,” he said. “The producers, writers, voice director, animators in the U.S. who made the necessary changes to the animation itself, the U.S.-based composer and the whole production team at Bang Zoom put themselves wholeheartedly into doing Doraemon justice.”