I'd been hoping to see this title for years. While it's an older title its an indelible anime memory, and merchandising opportunity, for many an Asian once-child. And thanks to the growth in Asian region DVD's, despite their often less than exact translations, I got my wish.
Note the number of episodes i've seen is fuzzy for two reasons. The first being that the DVD's not only had no number or title but indeed chopped off all but the first and last opening and closing scene. As such knowing where you are in the series was impossible. In addition there's a huge amount of Doraemon material. The Anime Encyclopedia listing one season of 26 episodes, a run of 617 10 minute episodes (probably what I saw) and then a continuing run of 900+ 25 minute episodes...and then there's lots of movies as well. Just the thought of all this material is making me dizzy.
To my great sadness the anime I got did not include the `start' of the whole story. Either this was removed, lost or was only in the manga. In any case it seems that a family in the 22nd century is rather unhappy with their lot in life. In a bizarre twist they decide that the core problem is the laziness and limitations of a single ancestor living in our time. And you can sort of see it, Nobito-kun is not the most impressive child imaginable. Their solution is ingenious, buy a 22'nd century robotic ninja cat to go back in time and straighten him out. Unfortunately, because they're not that well off themselves, they can only afford a cheap (and slightly eccentric?) model.
Thus the individual stories consider episodes in Nobito's life, the successes, the failures, and the interference from a robot ninja cat from the future. A cat that has a definite personality and the ability to pull a never-ending variety of weird high-tech items out of its pouch. Together Doreamon (the cat) and Nobito can face any challenge, even the local bully, although the devices often end up causing more comedy and chaos than assistance. Especially when Nobito lets his enthusiasm get a bit out of hand while armed with some surprisingly powerful (but always weird) device from the far future.
And, even more pleasantly, its still quite fun to watch. The stories are mostly `gag' episodes, with not a huge amount of dramatic depth, but the sheer craziness of some of the situations is wonderful. And the characters are interesting and interact rather well. I must also mention that it really reminded me of some of the `weird science' episodes from Urusei Yatsura. The ones where an invention, brought in for a moderately good reason, ends up causing chaos amongst the cast. There's also some interesting character correlations between the two shows.
So why is such an old show still fun? Well, the character work is the first port of call. Nobitos strengths and weaknesses are a perfect model of a certain elements of children. Lazy when it comes to schoolwork but energetic when his imagination is engaged. Often weak, prone to being picked on or bursting into tears when things get too much. But occasionally strong and resolute, although this is generally when he's about to mis-use one of Doreamon's items. Doreamon himself is even more fun. While Nobito's guardian and guide he's often distraught at his weaknesses, although Doreamon also has his own, notably laziness, not thinking things through and being easily bribed with Dorayaki (a Japanese cake). Generally they're good friends, sometimes allies against a common foe and occasionally in conflict. It's good fun to watch. I don't doubt that many a child wished they had a friend like Doraemon.
The story extends outwards to include Nobito's home and school life. His Dad and Mom have quite sizable, although not always flattering, parts to play. As would be expected in the life of a young boy. They're also often caught up when one of Doreamon's plans go a little wild. In addition there are some other children to round out the cast. The sole female is Shizuka, Nobito's good friend and perhaps one day romantic interest, and she's a very interesting archetype. Meanwhile the huge Gian is sometimes a friend and sometimes the bully, while the sneaky Sunao is sometimes a friend and sometimes Gian's trusted follower. It's a surprisingly interesting and twisty set of social interactions. And I would not be surprised if many people, children and adults, find echoes of their own lives in the show.
On the other hand few of us have the opportunities, and risks, associated with Doraemon's rather potent toys. He's got a time machine built into the desktop drawer, can call upon the resources of the 22nd century and has an almost limitless array of strange relics in his pouch. No matter the situation Doraemon has some weird object which will solve the problem, even if it creates others on the way. One elegant example is when Nobito has been targeted for a beating by Gian (a relatively common occurrence) since Nobito made him look stupid. Doraemon's answer are N and S patches that work like the poles of a magnet. Sticking an N on both he and Gian means that Gian can never get close to him. This works fine until Nobito decides that putting an S on Shizuka sounds like a very interesting possibility, at which point...well, the comedy starts. A lot of them also have some degree of meaning, such as swapping parents or going back in time to watch his parents marriage proposal or visit his deceased grandmother, but the comedy is generally the focus.
Is it a must-see? well, probably not. The short episodes (less than 10 minutes long) and core formula mean there is a limit to the depth and meaning of the show. At heart it is fun and funny show for kids to watch and enjoy, although it is clever enough that it is eminently watchable by all. It's impressive that it is still enjoyable, it should be respected for the huge influence it has enjoyed, but it was never intended to be a deep and profound experience.
For an older title the animation is worth mentioning. And to my great surprise its perfectly adequate. Comedy (and shoujo) tend to have strong visual styles and don't demand awesome or epic scenes. And as a result they don't date nearly as fast. The main adjustment required is to the character style, which is much closer to an animated manga than the modern anime style is. A lot of detail is abstracted and the characters show their `drawn' nature clearly. Though this style does mean that the character and motion animation is really rather good. The voices are good, the opening song is inanely catchy and I didn't notice huge amounts of background music.
None of my regular sources have a review for this title.