News Column

American studio talks making Doraemon for a Western audience

July 7, 2014

Marcie Kagawa

It took brainstorming and compromise, mixed with a lot of trust, love and respect, but after two years of effort, Eric Sherman and his employees at Bang Zoom! Entertainment have finally brought Japan's beloved blue robotic cat Doraemon to U.S. television screens.

With a 20-minute pilot and 26 episodes lined up, America was treated to its first taste of the show Monday afternoon when the U.S. version debuted on cable channel Disney XD. It will be broadcast in the channel's 12:30 p.m. time slot every weekday throughout the summer.

The anime, based on manga written by Fujiko F Fujio, has aired in 35 countries and regions mainly in Asia and Europe, but those broadcasts used the Japanese version of the show, adding only subtitles or voice dubbing in local languages.

This is the first time Doraemon has been localized for a specific audience. Changes include character names, food and item names, other cultural references, and music and sound effects to appeal to a U.S. audience.

Sherman, president and CEO of Burbank, California-based audio post and creative production company Bang Zoom, said localizing the show was challenging because "the rights holders are extremely protective of their beloved character and show, as they should be," but added that he thought 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."

On Twitter, the show received a number of positive reviews and viewers appeared to enjoy the show.

Kevin Grussing (@KevDGrussing), an anime fan, wrote, "This #Doraemon is...actually good. Unbelievable, I dare say SUPPORT THIS DUB...."

Rex Kidd (@EponymousKid) also wrote "Doraemon is pretty good and I'm digging it. I'm on the hook for more, I gotta say."

Some, though, were quick to note the name change for dorayaki, Doraemon's favorite snack, to "Yummy Buns."

"They're insisting on Yummy Buns despite the disclosing of the actual name in the first episode. Damn #Doraemon," wrote Scott Sandler (@DigiRanger1994).

Sherman said much thought went into the details, like what to call dorayaki. 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 and character so beloved that it has maintained a strong following over decades.

But she also said the potential of expanding Doraemon's reach by introducing the anime in other large markets, especially the United States, was an opportunity to be embraced and celebrated.

"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 added. "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, were brought to the United States in the 1990s and were very successful.

Mami Okada, 35, casting director and head of operations at Bang Zoom, said casting for the Doraemon characters went smoothly because she grew up in Japan'sGunma 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 keep those voices when the show was picked up, 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, though Okada said casting for Doraemon was challenging because Disney had a different vision for the robotic cat's 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 whole-heartedly into doing Doraemon justice."

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Source: Japan Economic Newswire

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