You can hardly imagine how big Doraemon is. The original manga ran for nearly thirty years, but furthermore would have monthly strips in up to six different children's magazines concurrently. None of these would be reprints. Yes, we really are talking about original material by the same creators, a duo who worked under the pen name of Fujiko Fujio. As for the anime, a couple of years ago it passed the 2000-episode mark.
Seriously, it's everywhere. You cannot live in Japan and escape Doraemon. If I had to pick one omnipresent manga/anime franchise, I'd pick this one.
As for the show itself, it's about a boy called Nobita and his blue robot cat from the 22nd century. Nobita's descendants sent Doraemon back in time to try to stop their progenitor from being such a loser. This makes a certain amount of sense, since Nobita is a nice kid but tends to look for the quick and easy answers to his problems and is liable to worsen them in doing so. Naturally each episode will end with a victory for righteousness and a moral being illustrated. It's a likeable show. That's a solid framework, but what spices it up though is Doraemon's gadgets, which make Urusei Yatsura
look staid and can be pulled at will from his (four-dimensional) pocket. Best estimates are that so far he's come up with 4,500 of them, including the bamboo-copter (put it on your head and you can fly), the "Anywhere Door" (which can take you anywhere you like) and of course a time machine. Sweet heavens, the mischief you could wreak! Doraemon's widgets could drive you mad.
This particular story is a mini-movie, only the length of a regular anime episode. It's also startlingly good, like a children's version of Father's Day but without anyone having to die to save the integrity of the timelines. I cried a little, but in a good way. The story begins with Nobita screwing up a baseball game by being a bit useless, which I presume is just character establishment because it has nothing to do with the rest of the film. However on returning home, Nobita goes apeshit on finding that his mother has thrown away a scruffy old teddy bear. It really is a wreck, but he loves it. His grandmother once fixed it for him and she's dead now. Anyway, Nobita rescues the bear from the rubbish bin, storms upstairs with it and soon comes up with the idea of time-travelling back to see her. Doraemon advises against it, but Nobita insists and so off they go.
You can probably work out the rest for yourself. Nobita meets younger versions of all the regular cast, some of whom come up with some sweet and unexpected character moments. The bear faces serious peril. That is one endangered bear. There's a silly scene where Nobita single-handedly fights off a pack of dangerous dogs, which inexplicably fails to end with our hero bleeding to death, but I suppose you have to give them credit for not solving the problem with another Doraemon gadget.
That's all good, but there are two things here I adore. The first is Nobita himself, or rather his younger version. Five-year-old Nobita is a brat! He's a right little monster, deserving a clip around the ear, and it tortures the older Nobita to see his younger self being so obnoxious to their beloved granny. If anything at all doesn't go exactly as he wants, little Nobita will tell grandmother that he hates her and never wants to see her again. This is of course normal behaviour among tiny children, as is acknowledged by both Doraemon and the ever-forgiving grandmother, but I was still startled (in a good way) to see the story criticising such behaviour by attacking its own protagonist. That's strong stuff.
The other wonderful thing is grandmother herself. She's amazing, she really is. The scene of her with older Nobita was the bit that made me cry, although ironically I think it loses it a bit when the characters themselves cry too.
At the end of the day, it's still obviously a children's anime. The pace can be a little faster than you'd choose, although not so fast as to damage the story, and it's got that dog scene. However this is a lovely episode and I can't believe that it isn't one of the highlights of the franchise. That was one hell of an introduction to Doraemon. If you've ever wanted to be moved by the fate of a teddy bear, this is your chance.