Headed by CEO Essam Bukhary, Manga Productions, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s MiSK Foundation, collaborated with Japan’s TOEI Animation to produce the first-ever Arabic anime feature film, The Journey, which was released for the UAE audiences on 17 June 2021.
The Journey is inspired by Arabian folktales and set 1500 years ago in Mecca. It centers around Aws, a potter with a dark past, who, along with fellow Meccans, is forced to take up arms and stop Mecca from being enslaved by a ruthless conqueror Abraha. Abraha, the main antagonist, has sworn to destroy Mecca and the religious sentiment it holds. It is up to Aws and Mecca’s small army to fight Abraha’s superior force. The creators also add a personal touch to the many tales of the Islamic prophets that are portrayed in the film as stories to remember during one’s hardships.
Bukhary, who is also The Journey’s executive producer, reveals what inspired him to create Arabic content in a Japanese-dominated market. “In our childhood, we mostly spent time watching Japanese anime. I was inspired by such shows. For a long time we have been consuming the content, now it is our time to export the content. We are now not only exporting oil and gas, but also our creativity to Japan and the world.”
Ahead of the film’s official release, the team behind The Journey was present at the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai where a panel discussion was held. Among the panelists were Essam Bukhary, along with Farah Arif, associate art director, Nassar Alnassar, the voice of Aws, the hero character in The Journey, and Vox Cinemas CCO Toni El Massih. With the release of The Journey, the Saudi industry is ready to make an impact in anime.
“Three months ago, we released the trailer for The Journey, and the likeability was 99 per cent,” Bukhary said, adding that it appealed to the global audience. “It’s only the beginning and it is part of the Saudi 2030 vision.”
“At Manga Productions, we are not producing comics, video games, or animations. We are investing in the next generation. We exist to inspire the heroes of tomorrow. The Journey is a unique journey, not only in having it as a co-production between Saudi and Japan, not only in terms of quality but also in terms of regional and global distribution,” Bukharay told City Times.
Well, creating the first-ever Arabic anime was not easy for the team. They had to face quite a few challenges, including brainstorming the process of creating the Arab anime characters. The Journey associate art director Farah Arif said, “In anime, there is a specific way of drawing characters. Of course, our characters are Arabian, so we had to bring in the character designer to Saudi Arabia. We wanted our characters to look more Arabian (the skin colour, the hair, and the face) so it was a challenge to draw the Arabian characters. The most challenging part was drawing the Arabian clothes, and, of course, the setting of Mecca, but we got through it and it was a very good experience.”
The Journey is the first Saudi animation movie ever made in collaboration between Saudi Manga Productions and TOEI Animation in Japan and the first Saudi made animation movie that will have promotional merchandise in what is a unique step for the Saudi and Arab film industry. In collaboration with Japan’s TOEI Animation, over 330 individuals, including the aforementioned team, the Saudi writers, artists, production and post-production crews came together to create this milestone project.
Directed by the amazing animation director Shizuno Kobun (Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle), the film is currently playing in UAE cinemas and can be watched in Arabic with English subtitles.