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Animating Arab Culture: Saudi Arabia's Global Outreach through Anime

In recent years, the Arab world, notably Saudi Arabia, has emerged as a significant consumer of Japanese anime and manga. However, there has been a notable shift, with local talent now contributing to the creation of animated content, marking a transition from mere consumption to production. Essam Bukhary, the CEO of Manga Productions, a subsidiary of the Misk Foundation, highlighted this transformation in an interview with CNN Arabic Business. He emphasized how the region's young Arab talent has propelled Saudi Arabia to become a global exporter of anime.

One of Manga Productions' notable contributions was the production of the "Future’s Folktales" series in 2019, followed by the groundbreaking release of "The Journey," the first-ever Japanese-Saudi anime film in collaboration with Toei Animation. In addition, the company launched three new video game titles in November, including "UFO Robot Grendizer: The Feast of the Wolves," "The Smurfs 2: The Prisoner of the Green Stone," and "Flashback 2," as part of its endeavor to compete in the anime and video game markets on a worldwide scale.

CEO of Manga Productions Essam Bukhary

Bukhary highlighted the significant growth in anime viewership, with Saudi Arabia alone boasting around 13 million viewers in 2022, which increased to approximately 60 million across the Arab world. This burgeoning market has spurred the need to establish a competitive edge both domestically and internationally.

Despite the success of their content, challenges remain. Bukhary noted the historical lack of opportunities for Arab and Saudi talents in anime projects and the misrepresentation of Arab culture in existing works. Manga Productions aims to address these challenges through collaborations, such as their partnership with Toei Animation, which involves training Saudi talents by Japanese experts and integrating them into project production.

Moreover, Manga Productions initiated a training program in collaboration with the Saudi Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission, attracting over 1,700 trainees who learned manga techniques through virtual workshops. Seventy-five participants qualified for an intensive training program, resulting in the creation of 75 comic stories. Fourteen trainees further honed their skills in Japan.

The commission, in conjunction with Manga Productions, organized two competition events focusing on transforming Arabic poems into manga, with a total of 200 applications. Their collective goal is to foster the creative content industry in the Kingdom.

Bukhary projected substantial growth for the Saudi anime and video game industry, expecting it to surpass $6.5 billion by 2030, compared to the current valuation of around $1 billion. Internationally, "Future’s Folktales" garnered over 100 million views on 40 platforms, while "The Journey" has been translated into six languages and distributed on 52 platforms worldwide, underscoring the global appeal and reach of Saudi-produced anime.

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