Anime adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio

Updated 19 May 2019

Anime adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio


CANNES: Anime, or Japanese animation, has been a favorite with young Saudis for decades and now the Kingdom is about to star in a feature-length production of its own.

Manga Productions, a subsidiary of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, will collaborate with Tokyo-based Toei Animation to produce a feature film, “The Journey,” which will be partially set in the Kingdom 1,500 years ago. 

Toei, the studio behind animation franchises such as “Dragon Ball Z,” “One Piece” and “Sailor Moon,” will bring top Japanese talent to the project, including character designer Tetsuro Iwamoto (“Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney”) and composer Kaoru Wada (“Inuyasha”).

Manga is keeping many plot and location details secret, but has released a teaser trailer and poster revealing the name of the film’s hero — Aws.

A poster for the upcoming film. (Supplied) 

“The film is talking about old civilizations in the Arabian peninsula — a people who are trying to protect their city from a strong enemy,” Manga CEO Bukhary Essam told Arab News. “The hero has a backstory that no one knows and which will affect the destiny of the city.”

Animation work on “The Journey” will be done in both Riyadh and Tokyo, with 12 Saudis involved in story development, character design, preproduction, storyboards and coloring.  The film will take two years to complete and will employ a production team of over 330 people.

The joint production will help develop Saudi talent so that an industry can be built in the Kingdom, Essam said.

Manga CEO Bukhary Essam. (Supplied)

“Our ultimate goal is to transfer the technology and know-how to Saudi talents so that by 2030 Manga Productions will have the capability to produce animation by itself,” he said.

“Most young Saudis loved Japanese animation when we were kids. We believe it’s time to export our characters and our heroes to Japan and the world. We don’t want to only export oil and petrochemicals, we want to export arts, animation, video gaming and manga to a global audience.”

Essam’s love of anime and Saudis’ passion for the art form helped convince Toei Animation to take on the project.

“It’s not just a movie — it’s about cultural exchange and forming a connection between countries, Shinji Shimizu, Toei’s managing director, said. “Japan is at the top level worldwide, so we can help Saudi Arabia develop its animation industry.

“We Japanese don’t know much about the Middle East or Saudi Arabia, but we know that Saudi people love to watch Japanese animation.”

Manga is employing historical advisers to ensure the film captures Saudi Arabia’s authentic past, while a Japanese team has returned to the Kingdom to scout locations for the production.
According to Shimizu, the Japanese team sometimes gets carried away making designs look “cool.”

“The Saudi team will say, ‘no, it should be real.’ We give honest opinions to each other. Everything is being made with the suggestions and opinions of the Saudi team,” says Shimizu. “Japanese people are not familiar with Middle East culture, but as they make animation together, they learn from the Saudi team about their culture, language and traditions.

“It’s really fun for them, too. We have differences, but I realized from making this animation together that we’re all just human — we are all the same.”

The film will be released in both Japanese and Arabic, with an English version possibly to follow.

Manga and Toei’s first joint production was “The Woodcutter’s Treasure,” a 20-minute animation based on Saudi Arabian folklore. The team is also producing a 13-episode animated TV series. 

“We have a number of IPs in the pipeline that might be franchises. It’s just a kickoff. A number of those IP are original and a number are true stories, and inspired by Saudi and Arab folktales,” said Essam.

Rocket men: Star Steve Carrell and creator Greg Daniels talk ‘Space Force’

Steve Carrell (front) plays General Mark Naird in 'Space Force.' (Netflix)
Updated 31 May 2020

Rocket men: Star Steve Carrell and creator Greg Daniels talk ‘Space Force’

  • Daniels and Carrell reunite for the first time since the success of ‘The Office’ in new comedy about the US military’s latest division
DUBAI: Things are very different from the time that Greg Daniels and Steve Carrell first got together. In 2005, Carrell was auditioning in front of Daniels to see whether he could fill the shoes of Ricky Gervais for an American remake of Gervais’ UK hit “The Office.” Daniels had already written for, or created, classic series such as “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill,” but Carrell was still a respected supporting player, unproven as a leading man. Fifteen years later, Carrell is one of the most venerated leads of his generation in film and television — due in no small part to the magic that the two created on the small screen. What would bring them back together? As it turns out, all it took was two words — “Space Force.” When US President Donald Trump announced his intention to establish a new division of the American military in 2018, Carrell couldn’t get the name out of his head. He called up his old collaborator Daniels to talk about it. “There was no show. There was no idea. It was really based on nothing except a name that made everybody laugh,” says Carrell. The two met up at Carrell’s house to brainstorm whether those two words would be enough for a TV show. What interested them most was imagining the man who would have to lead it. They came up with General Mark Naird — a career Air Force man who was hardened and serious about everything that he did, nothing like Michael Scott in “The Office.” “We definitely did not want to repeat Michael Scott at all. It’s been at least 12 years since Steve played Michael Scott, and he just physically doesn't look the same. The haircut's different, the mannerisms are different. Michael Scott is an iconic character, but I actually think General Mark Naird has got more Hank Hill from “King of the Hill” in him than Michael Scott,” says Daniels. “Mark’s definitely a stronger character, more used to command, more capable than Michael Scott ever was. His issues are different. Michael would do anything to please others, he would (bend) in the wind in any direction. Mark is very inflexible and it’s hard to change his mind about anything. They're very different people.” “Space Force,” which launched on Netflix May 29, is a deliberate departure from “The Office” in many ways. It’s not a mockumentary — a style that served Daniels so well in both “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” It’s not about mostly incompetent people who don’t care about their jobs — in fact, it’s the opposite. But like “The Office,” it relies on a strong supporting cast — headlined by Academy Award-nominee John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz and Lisa Kudrow — and is ultimately about what those people create together, rather than just one man’s goals. The comedy, then, comes in watching fiercely smart and talented people try to do something that no one has ever done before: move the military into space. “Like many people in the world — and (this is) something I think most people can relate to on even a day-to-day basis, even people who are very successful in their field — you just may not be qualified to do what's being asked of you. There is a lot of comedy in that, because there's also a lot of pain in that. Pain and comedy tend to go hand in hand, or at least hand in glove,” says Malkovich, who plays Dr. Adrian Mallory. In fact, “Space Force” — perhaps contrary to expectations — is a show that affirms the creation of this new military division much more than it discourages it. While it finds much to satirize, it takes the nobility of its characters and what they are trying to achieve seriously, despite the silliness of its premise, ultimately justifying — almost romanticizing — the division’s goals. “(Naird) makes really good decisions because he understands people and he's a good leader, but he also sometimes steps in it because he oversimplifies things and he doesn't fully understand what's going on around him. He has to try and figure out who's giving him good advice and who isn't. But we gave him a good value system at his center. We wanted to make sure that we were being accurate and more than respectful — I would say complimentary — of the military virtues that Mark Naird holds,” says Daniels.