DUBAI: For many people who have grown up in the Arab world, watching dubbed Japanese anime series in Arabic was an essential part of their childhood. Some of the region’s most-loved titles include “Adnan wa Lina,” “Captain Majed,” “Al Mohakek Konan” and, of course, “Pokemon.”
A YouGov survey conducted by Arab News confirms the region’s celebration of the Japanese comic book genre, as 75 percent of respondents across all age groups ranked the long-running Japanese manga series, “Captain Tsubasa,” known as “Captain Majid” in the Arab world, as their favorite anime of all time.
Another popular series, “UFO Robot Grendizer,” was also voted a favorite among 56 percent of respondents aged 40 and older.
While anime dates back to the early 20th century, it has become a symbol of Japan’s culture.
The Arab world’s fascination with the genre was celebrated when 13 episodes of a Saudi- produced anime, called “The Woodcutter’s Treasure,” aired on Japanese television for the first time in 2018, in both Arabic and Japanese.
According to Maaz Sheikh, CEO and founder of STARZPLAY, anime’s strong presence in the Arab world goes beyond its story lines. “Anime relates to Arab viewers on a whole different level,” he told Arab News.
“It blends the individuality of established comic book series and animations with the unmatched style originally derived from manga comics in Japan, creating a unique world that allows any fan to escape into that world.”
Sheikh said feedback from STARZPLAY subscribers since 2018 indicated a large following in the region and a demand for its current top-ranked series.
“Based on the feedback we received, the ‘escapism’ element of anime seems to be the biggest social aspect of what makes them so appealing,” he said.
“Anime allows viewers to live vicariously through the outlandish characters in a way that would otherwise be impossible to view with a live-action Hollywood series.”
Fans have also voiced a strong interest in theatrical releases of blockbuster anime movies in the MENA region, which Sheikh says only confirms that there is a tremendous appetite for the comic-book genre in cinemas, and on a larger scale.
Among the younger generation aged between 16-24, anime series such as “Dragon Ball” proved to be commonly watched by 59 percent of respondents, with less appeal to older age groups.
The survey also showed that 42 percent of young people stated their interest in manga and cosplay, considering it a top attraction in Japan.
Arafaat Ali Khan, owner of Domain Entertainment and co-founder of Middle East Film and Comic Con, said the trend among younger anime followers was mainly a result of the genre targeting not only a mature age group but also a younger audience through books, comics and movies.
“While you can get addicted to anything, if consumed in acceptable quantities, I do believe anime can inspire young minds as much as traditional art forms,” he said.
For Fatin Samir Al-Khuja, 24, a young Saudi graphic designer and illustrator based in Jeddah, her earliest memories of watching anime date back to elementary school. “I first began to watch ‘Card Capture Sakura’ and that gave me an affection for anime,” she said.
“My love for Japan grew and that made me want to learn more about their culture and understand their language.”
Al-Khuja was first motivated to sketch out anime drawings in middle school but it was only in college that she learned how to draw digitally, realizing that she wanted to explore the world of illustrations.
“Anime influenced me in a positive way and it made me want to learn how to draw traditionally and digitally. It also influenced my way of thinking and I gained more knowledge, because unlike cartoons some anime series teach important life lessons,” she said.
Al-Khuja, along with 62 percent of people her age, associate anime with Japan and 86 percent share the desire to visit one day.
“I have visited Japan three times, and during my travel I discovered that just like Arabs, the Japanese people have maintained their customs and traditions,” she said.