In animated version or in BD (manga), this is a national product with diplomatic potential
Naomi Nishiguchi is 43 years old and is one of the producers of Shin-Ei Animation, the company that designs the Doraemon, a character invented in 1969 by Fujiko Fujio, the name of a pair of manga creators. “I grew up watching Doraemon on TV, I and all the Japanese children of the last 40 or 50. And the parents see it too, if anyone does not know Doraemon, then it’s because he’s not a Japanese,” says Nishiguchi laughing. Also laughing is Atsushi Saito, director of Shin-Ei, who has just entered the boardroom loaded with drawings.
You get to the Shin-Ei Animation studios after an hour’s drive from downtown Tokyo. Around here there is no sign of skyscrapers, at most some buildings that would not impress by the time in Lisbon. And whoever expected an ultra-sophisticated company – Toyota or Sony – to produce the animations of the Doraemon would be disillusioned. It is a small business, perhaps a hundred or so workers, with no luxuries and crowded with papers. And that, yes, is a surprise: Doraemon is not only a computer product but a lot of manual work.
“We need six thousand drawings for one episode,” Saito explains as he spreads papers on the table. I recognize Nobita, Doraemon’s boy friend, the cosmic cat coming from the future. And I ask what small drawings are those on the leaves. “It’s Nobita’s mouth. To make him talk we make these movements and only then add to the face of the doll,” explains the animé studio director.
Everything is always born with a meeting to discuss ideas. Then there is a script for each new episode of Doraemon. Drawing by hand is essential not only to the characters but also to the scenery. “Here’s Nobita’s room,” Saito says, pulling a sheet. It is only at a later stage that computers come into play.
From the boardroom we go out to another where several designers work. The work desks are personalized, with family photos being less common than the anime and manga dolls. Of course, Doraemon is king, even though the studio has also created Shin-chan, a 5-year-old kid whose adventures also pass on Portuguese television. In another room you already work with computers. Even with visits, no one stops. Productivity is a must in an industry where competition is fierce within Japan itself, as Nishiguchi notes.
About the recipes, half a secret. No figures revealed, but Saito admits that in the case of Doraemon merchandising yields more than the programs and that there must be great vigilance against pirate products, from stuffed toys to clothes.
On anime (and his partner in BD, the manga) serve to promote Japan, Saito and Nishiguchi agree. “It is not only to make the country known as a cultural producer, it is also to give the country a taste of culture. Anyone who sees Doraemon knows Nobita’s family and friends and understands Japanese values,” Nishiguchi said.