LOS ANGELES- Doraemon the robotic cat made his debut in the United States on Monday.
With translation and promotion efforts supported by the Japanese government, the US version of the anime "DORAEMON" show has been changed in many ways, such as characters' names and environment, in line with practices and traditions in the United States.
The move to send the extremely popular anime character to the United States comes against a backdrop of a government-perceived crisis, as foreign sales of Japanese animations have halved from their peak 2006 figure due to a lack of recent hits and an increasing number of illegal distribution sites. The government hopes for renewed success through cooperation with the private sector.
The Walt Disney Co. plans to broadcast 26 episodes of Doraemon on Disney XD, a channel that reaches about 78 million households in the United States.
Names of main characters other than Doraemon himself have been changed-Nobita to Noby, bully Gian to Big G, for example. They eat with forks, instead of chopsticks, and use dollars instead of yen.
As the US broadcasting standards request promotion of healthy eating habits, scenes showing Doraemon eating many dorayaki, his favourite bean-jam pancake, have been shortened.
While those changes have been made to better suit US culture, some aspects remain unchanged to maintain the anime's original feel. Big G, for example, continues to say his favourite phrase in the US version: "What's mine is mine. What's yours is mine."
Doraemon has been broadcast in 35 countries and regions in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, but the Japanese version was used with the dialogue dubbed in local languages.
"We want to promote broadcasting and product commercialization in more countries, using the US as a base," said a spokesperson of TV Asahi, which holds the rights to the anime.
The government supported the anime's translation and promotion campaigns, using part of a fund worth about ¥15.5 billion established in March 2013 to subsidize export of broadcast programs. The Japan External Trade Organisation also called on Japan-affiliated firms in the United States for cooperation in promotion campaigns.
The value of foreign sales by animation companies in 2012 was ¥14.4 billion, nearly half the 2006 value of ¥31.2 billion. This is not only because illegal distribution sites affect DVD sales, but also because "no notable hits have been seen overseas since Pocket Monsters," an industry source said.
"Many hits in the past surprised us. Doraemon is the first anime that the Japanese government and the private sector have jointly marketed in a strategic way," said Hideo Kawabuchi, JETRO's Los Angeles office deputy director.
The government also has provided financial support to translate and make changes in animations such as "Chibi Maruko-chan" (Little Maruko) and "Detective Conan."
Amid a growing sense of alarm over the leveling off of the domestic market due to a low birthrate, anime-related firms are focusing on the changing the animation to suit various countries to boost exports.
When the Indian version of the famous baseball manga "Kyojin no Hoshi" (Star of the Giants) was created, baseball was replaced by cricket-a sport popular in that country. For the Nigerian version of "Tetsuwan Atom" (Astro Boy), the main character Atom became younger than he looks in the original to appeal to child audiences in Nigeria.