The Japanese government commissioned a report on the history of Japanese robot animation. Yes, the government. My government's robot studies are undoubtedly focused on stuff like killer Predator and Reaper drones. Japan's? Astro Boy, Tranzor Z, and Voltron. More power to 'em, I say. (Pun intended.) "Japan" and "robots" go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It's fair to say that no other country has become so intimately associated with robots both real and fictional.
But until now, precious few have explored the history of the robot shows that are a virtual synonym for Cool Japan. Ryusuke Hikawa wrote the majority of the report. He's been on the front lines of otaku culture since day one, chairing the fan club that played a big role in getting the Space Cruiser Yamato movies made back in 1977. Today he's one of Japan's top anime critics and I can't think of anyone better suited to have authored the report along with Sunrise's Koichi Inoue and writer Daisuke Sawaki.
AltJapan was hired via the Mori Corporation to translate the 90-page beast into English. And now it's available for free download on the Agency for Cultural Affair's Media Arts Content site. (Scroll down for the English link.)
The English-language ebook editions of Fujiko F. Fujio's classic manga "Doraemon" have started coming out. AltJapan translated it for Voyager Japan in association with Fujiko Productions - some 12,000-plus pages over the course of last year, easily the biggest manga localization with which we have ever been involved. It's finally being released in 3-episode chunks: volumes one through ten have come out via the Kindle Store as of this posting. (Apologies if you can't see them - they're only available for download in North America at present.)
This release is a really big deal. Doraemon is Japan's single most popular character, yet the comic has never been officially released in English. There have been a handful of bilingual editions created for students of English, but never a truly localized edition intended purely for enterainment's sake.
If you've never read Doraemon, you can't truly call yourself a connosieur of manga. I challenge anyone to find a middle-aged or younger Japanese person, otaku or not, who hasn't read at least a few pages (and probably a lot more than that.) It is the first sci-fi most Japanese read. It's part of the fabric of Japanese life in the same way that classic Disney films or Peanuts are in the West. The cast of characters are archetypes: Nobita the nerd, Sneech the rich kid, Big G the bully, Shizuka the neighborhood idol. They are given homage in countless other works, parodied in nationwide advertising campaigns for car companies. People casually drop references to them in daily conversations in the same way an American might refer to Homer Simpson's love of donuts or Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown.
So why hasn't it ever come out in English before? It's hard to say. Perhaps because manga and anime are often associated with dark, edgy imagery in America, and that's the last word anyone would ever apply to Doraemon. It is kids' entertainment par excellence, but quintessentially Japanese kids' entertainment, meaning it's filled to the brim with subtle cultural references, occasional nudity, and inevitable toilet humor of the sort that sends certain types of parents into a tizzy. And simply due to the age of the series - it debuted in 1969 - modern-day analogues of many of Doraemon's "22nd century" gadgets are available to anyone with a credit card. The Asahi Shimbun quotes a "former industry ministry official" theorizing that Americans can't sympathize with a passive loser like Nobita, but that can't be right - Charlie Brown is an even gloomier protagonist, minus any hope of salvation from a pal like Doraemon.
Whatever prevented Doraemon from getting an English release didn't stop it from being translated into many European and Asian languages, where it retains a huge following (particularly in SE Asia.) The English-speaking world is simply behind the curve on this one, and it's been our loss - until now. Doraemon is a cornerstone of Japanese pop culture, and it has been an honor to be part of the team that is bringing it out in English for the very first time.