At Tonghuamen station in the Chinese city of Xi’an, a man is dressed as Doraemon, the big, fluffy blue cat, hero of many a manga series, and known in China as Ding-Dang, the Time Travelling Cat.
“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” he yells at me through the mouth of his costume.
“Indeed I do,” I say, not stopping. He starts to scurry after me, his big clown-cat-feet flopping on the dusty pavement.
“SAY MY NAME, THEN! WHAT’S MY NAME?”
“Ding-Dang, the Time Travelling Cat.” I resist the urge to add that the Chinese media have recently outed Ding-Dang as an agent of Japanese oppression, with an insidious soft-power message designed to distract them from the ongoing dispute over the Senkaku Islands. Mainly because I don’t know the Chinese for soft power (it is ruan shili, for next time).
“NOT BAD! AND LET ME TELL YOU, LARGE FOREIGN FRIEND, YOU’LL WISH YOU HAD A TIME MACHINE IF YOU DON’T SIGN UP RIGHT NOW FOR ONE OF THE UNITS ON OFFER AT THE RENWEI TOWERS CITY DEVELOPMENT, COMING SOON RIGHT NEAR HERE.”
He has to shout because he is wearing an all-over velour suit designed to make him look like a giant blue cat. The thermometer is climbing towards 30 degrees today, so I think the heat might have driven him a little bit loopy.
“I’m not interested,” I say.
“TIME MACHINES AREN’T REALLY REAL, YOU KNOW. YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY GO BACK IN TIME AND SIGN UP FOR THIS OFFER LATER ON.”
“In which case, how did you get here, Ding-Dang?”
There is a pause, while Ding-Dang the Time Travelling Cat thinks about this.
“TO TELL THE TRUTH, I AM STUDYING FOR A DEGREE IN MARKETING. I AM REALLY HUMAN.”
“And if were you, Ding-Dang,” I add, “I’d be more worried about if you were legal.”
“OF COURSE I’M LEGAL—!”
“Because a Chinese court has just ruled that Robot Cat [Jiqimao], a trademark registered by a Fujian sportswear firm, is a blatant copy of Doraemon, so their right to use the image has been revoked, four years after they tried to register it.”
“Wow,” says Ding-Dang, his voice suddenly low and muffled. “They really did that…?”
“Yeah. Like nobody would notice!”
“Well, apparently nobody noticed for four years,” he observes.
“You got that right, Ding-Dang. I bet they wish they had a time machine now!”
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #177, 2018.