YouGov poll: Japanese anime continues to draw Arab fans

Updated 28 October 2019

YouGov poll: Japanese anime continues to draw Arab fans

  • As many as 75 percent of respondents ranked “Captain Majid” as their favorite anime of all time
  • "The Woodcutter’s Treasure" aired on Japanese TV in both Arabic and Japanese in 2018

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.


  • Captain Majid Revolves around an 11-year-old student with a deep passion for football. Known as “Tsubasa Oozora” in Japan, Captain Majid follows his dreams to one day winning the FIFA World Cup in Japan and takes viewers on a journey of rivalry, friendship and talent.
  • Pokémon Follows the adventures of aspiring Pokémon master Ash Ketchum who is given an electric mouse named Pikachu on his 10th birthday. The two set off on a life-long journey and work up the ranks of the world’s many Pokémon leagues.
  • Grendizer A Super Robot equipped with only a flying saucer “Spaizer” flees the Vegan empire and enters our solar system, landing in Japan on the slopes of Mount Fuji to fight against the forces of evil and protect planet Earth.

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.

Johnny Depp walks the red carpet at ‘Jeanne Du Barry’ Red Sea Film Fest premiere 

Updated 01 December 2023

Johnny Depp walks the red carpet at ‘Jeanne Du Barry’ Red Sea Film Fest premiere 

JEDDAH : Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp on Friday walked the red carpet at the Red Sea International Film Festival for the regional premiere of his film “Jeanne Du Barry.”

The actor wore a black suit as he posed for pictures on the red carpet. 

French director Maïwenn’s period drama features the director as the titular 18th Century courtesan Madame du Barry opposite Depp, who plays King Louis XV. The director also hit the carpet at the Red Sea Mall.

Mohammed Al-Turki and Johnny Depp. (Huda Bashatah)

RSIFF provided post-production support for the period drama, marking the first time the foundation co-produced a French movie. The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May. 

On Thursday, Depp attended the opening night of the festival alongside US star Will Smith, US actress Michelle Williams, German actress Diane Kruger, Lebanese songstress Maya Diab, Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio, Saudi singer Aseel Omran — among many more — it was an affair to remember.

The glittering event kicked off with a gala screening of Dubai-based Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri’s “HWJN,” which is based on a YA novel by Saudi writer Ibraheem Abbas. Set in modern-day Jeddah, “HWJN” follows the story of a kind-hearted jinn — an invisible entity in Islamic tradition — as he discovers the truth about his royal lineage.

French director Maïwenn’s period drama features the director as the titular 18th Century courtesan Madame du Barry opposite Depp, who plays King Louis XV. (Huda Bashatah)

This year’s celebrity-studded festival jury is presided over by director Baz Luhrmann, joined by Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman (“Suicide Squad”); Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”); Egyptian actor Amina Khalil (“Grand Hotel”) and Spain’s Paz Vega (“Sex and Lucía,” “The OA”). 

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films: Special Screenings; Red Sea: Competition; Red Sea: Shorts Competition; Festival Favorites; Arab Spectacular; International Spectacular; New Saudi/ New Cinema: Shorts; Red Sea: New Vision; Red Sea: Families and Children; Red Sea: Series and Red Sea: Treasures. 

The theme of year’s festival is “Your Story, Your Festival.”

Visitors to compose their own symphony of lights at Noor Riyadh 2023

Updated 01 December 2023

Visitors to compose their own symphony of lights at Noor Riyadh 2023

RIYADH: From Nov. 30 to Dec. 16, Noor Riyadh, the largest annual light art festival in the world, returns for its third edition, boasting 120 large-scale works from 100 contemporary artists from over 35 countries.

The festival lets every visitor follow the map to glowing artworks within each location, with pieces spread not just across Riyadh, but throughout the landscapes of the five main festival hubs: King Abdullah Financial District, Salam Park, Wadi Hanifa, Wadi Namar, and Jax District.

“For us, it’s very important that people in Riyadh feel like this is their festival. The main purpose of it is to be part of the fabric of Riyadh … It’s to make the city vibrant, beautiful, and relevant to the citizens and residents,” Miguel Blanco-Carrasco, adviser at the Royal Commission for Riyadh City and Riyadh Art, told Arab News.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 16, every Riyadh resident will get a chance to forge a path for their own story using illuminating artworks from across the globe. (Arab News)

After running over 20,000 surveys across the Saudi populace, the team found that Riyadh’s citizens and residents preferred a more concise experience.

Nouf Almoneef, director of the festival, told Arab News: “Last year, a lot of people didn’t get the chance to go to the other locations …We want accessibility for everyone.”

Their approach was to create a contained, yet conspicuous experience: last year’s 40 locations became the five main hubs, each containing over 15 artworks, and some partnering activations in other areas.

Berlin-based French-Swiss artist Julian Charriere’s artwork “Vertigo.” (Arab News)

“Our mission is to transform the city to a gallery without walls … We’re building this legacy for artists to grow and show their works internationally. Our aim is to highlight our artists and the festival globally and for the people to also come and visit,” Almoneef said.

What truly marks out the festival is its strong curatorial narrative which leaves visitors to build a narrative out of the existing pieces placed across Riyadh.

Jerome Sans, co-founder of Palais de Tokyo in Paris and lead curator of this year’s festival, said: “We invented this as a symphony with different acts. You can take it in any order.

“Here for example, in KAFD, the story starts in the city — from mineral to nature; from the Financial District to the door of the desert, or vice versa. Salam Park is a way for us modern people to create our own garden, to shape it, but then there’s a real nature in itself. So we create all different flavors and steps where you can go from one to the other.”

Sans, supported by curators Pedro Alonzo, Fahad bin Naif, and Alaa Tarabzouni, took six months in curation to orchestrate a symphonic storyline within the city’s multifaceted landscape.

Nouf Almoneef, director of the festival said: “Last year, a lot of people didn’t get the chance to go to the other locations … We want accessibility for everyone.” (Arab News)

On the theme, the lead curator noted that desertification is a growing issue globally, not just within Riyadh, which is located in the heart of the Nafud desert. The theme “Bright Side of the Desert Moon” contemplates the light within the arid.

Like the moon, the hubs physically circle Riyadh. As visitors approach each location, they create a celebratory cross-city bonfire marked by gleaming artworks. 

For Sans, the concise number of locations act as members of the “family,” bringing the festival to a much more human scale and “easier for everyone to understand.”

For Bjornstjerne Christiansen, one of the three founders of Copenhagen-based collective SUPERFLEX, the theme lay close to the group’s way of thinking as an expanded collective, that “we need to change our behavior and perspective, and we believe we can do that through art,” he told Arab News.

Public art is an important aspect of SUPERFLEX’s work, bringing unique projects to corners of the globe, like the famous Superkilen Park in Denmark with works from 80 nationalities, The Bank urban park in UAE’s Sharjah, a projection on the UN headquarters in New York City, and many others.

SUPERFLEX’s artwork “Vertical Migration” explores territories buried within the depths of the sea projected on a high-rise building in KAFD. (Arab News)

Noor Riyadh, under the umbrella of Riyadh Art, aims to create space for the city’s populace to engage with art in a much more dynamic way. It strays away from confining the works merely within an art space and incorporates them within everyday locations, such as KAFD, a home to many corporate buildings and popular dining spots, and Salam Park, where families go to picnic and play.

SUPERFLEX’s artwork “Vertical Migration” explores territories buried within the depths of the sea projected on a high-rise building in KAFD. It highlights the importance of understanding the ocean’s health through a siphonophore, a creature that comes in trillions every night from the bottom to the surface to clean.

“It’s very beautiful but has a lot of layers of politics in it. And that’s the good thing about art: you can look at it as beauty or aesthetics while also having many layers,” Christiansen said.

Saudi artist Dur Kattan’s “Closer than They Appear” is a collection of approximately 400 car side mirrors, using the blindspot within them as a metaphor for people’s collective blindness to our own humanity.

“In a city like Riyadh, things are very busy. It’s amazing, all these changes that are happening, but you also have to somehow ground yourself and find time to reflect on yourself, your own blindspots, and that will basically protect you from crashing,” Kattan told Arab news.

Kattan is an emerging artist whose contribution to the festival becomes her second showcase after her debut in the exhibition “Heartache” by Very Public earlier this year. While the festival hosts big-name international artists like Yayoi Kusama, it also acts as a platform for younger contemporary names to surface.

Noor Riyadh has become a staple event in the city’s events calendar, the success of which was made possible by “these amazing, talented (artists) and the teams behind the festival” as well as the interaction of the public, Almoneef said.

New Zealand brings ‘Miles from Nowhere’ to Red Sea International Film Festival   

Updated 01 December 2023

New Zealand brings ‘Miles from Nowhere’ to Red Sea International Film Festival   

JEDDAH: The latest production from New Zealand film company Homegrown Pictures will be unveiled at the third edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, which runs until Dec. 9. 

“Miles from Nowhere” tells the story of Said, a young Muslim living in Auckland, who forms a dangerous friendship with the Security Intelligence Service agent spying on him and risks his whole community to fulfil his dreams. 

Using dark comedy, it explores the immigrant experience of Arab families in New Zealand’s multicultural neighborhoods. 

Homegrown Pictures is joined by two other leading New Zealand film companies, NHNZ Worldwide and Greenstone, which are also set to make their debut appearances at the festival. 

Julie Christie, CEO of NHNZ Worldwide — an Emmy-winning, specialist factual documentary production company — will attend the festival to “build on (the company’s) extensive relationships and collaborations in the region.” 

Greenstone, which is growing its programs and partnerships in the Middle East, is working to take stories about and from the region out into the world. 

Barney Riley, New Zealand’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “We are thrilled to have Homegrown Pictures, NHNZ Worldwide, and Greenstone representing New Zealand at the Saudi Red Sea International Film Festival for the first time. 

“Their presence demonstrates the quality and diversity of New Zealand’s film and television industry. We are proud to support our homegrown talents as they take their creative works to a global audience.”

Amjad Al-Rasheed on ‘Inshallah A Boy’ and the future of Arab cinema 

Updated 01 December 2023

Amjad Al-Rasheed on ‘Inshallah A Boy’ and the future of Arab cinema 

  • The Jordanian filmmaker’s acclaimed debut feature premieres regionally at RSIFF this week 

DUBAI: It’s been more than six months since Jordanian filmmaker Amjad Al-Rasheed took the stage to accept the Rail d'Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, and the world still can’t stop talking about his first feature, “Inshallah a Boy.”  

Filled with pointed criticism of modern Jordanian society, the film has become an early favorite for a 2024 Academy Award nomination, bolstered by big wins at festivals across the world. Now, at the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival, the film is finally set to premiere in the region. 

Looking at the field of films from the Arab world debuting at the third edition of the festival, Al-Rasheed is proud not only of how far Arab cinema has come, but of how that progress has allowed so many filmmakers to dive deeper into the intricacies of the multi-faceted region. It’s also a moment to highlight just how significant Saudi Arabia has become to the region’s industry—as “Inshallah a Boy” is one of a number of films screening this year that was backed by the Red Sea Fund.  

“This is a very exciting moment for Arab cinema — and it really feels like we finally have something we can call ‘Arab cinema.’ I say that because no single country is dominating the field. There are so many powerful voices coming out of Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. We each have different personalities, different cultures, different struggles, but we have so much in common. It’s incredible that we finally have a chance to tell our stories, and have the power to lift up each other’s voices,” Al-Rasheed tells Arab News.  

“Inshallah a Boy” follows a young widow who discovers that the death of her husband is only the start of her troubles. The law, she is told, says her husband’s brother can take half her house and more, and the brother intends to collect what tradition says is his. There is, however, a loophole: If she is pregnant, and gives birth to a son by her late husband, the inheritance is fully theirs. So she concocts a lie, forges documents, and buys herself some time before the walls close in on her any further.  

“Inshallah a Boy” follows a young widow who discovers that the death of her husband is only the start of her troubles. (Supplied)

“I began with a question — and it was a question inspired by a situation a close relative of mine found herself in that is very similar to what the main character is experiencing,” Al-Rasheed says. “She explained it all to me, and I thought to myself, ‘What if she says no to all of these laws and traditions? What if she wants to fight? And how is it possible that we’re still governed by laws created more than a 1000 years ago?’ All of this inspired ‘Inshallah a Boy.’” 

Social commentary in Jordanian cinema, of course can be a tricky proposition. Earlier this year, director Bassel Ghandour’s film “The Alleys” was massively popular when released on Netflix, but quickly stirred huge controversy, with members of parliament going as far as to openly condemn the acclaimed film. While “Inshallah a Boy” was already completed before “The Alleys” began to dominate the national conversation, Al-Rasheed was keenly aware that his own film may generate fierce debate. That was exactly the point.  

“Jordan has a young film industry, and people are still not used to seeing themselves in a mirror — especially if that mirror image is an ugly one. It’s a sensitive audience. There is still no clear understanding that film does not exist to promote, or to make things look beautiful. Cinema is storytelling — it’s expression and point of view. But even if we, as artists, depict a bitter reality, that does not mean we don’t love our country. It just means we want to have an open discussion and ask questions without judgment. I’m not here to provide solutions,” Al-Rasheed states.  

For Al-Rasheed, “Inshallah a Boy” is also a thank you of sorts to the many women who helped make him the man he is today. (Supplied)

“I don’t want to change anything. I don’t believe that an artist even has the power to do so. But we do have the power to start a conversation. If I had the intention to change anything, I’d be a teacher. Cinema can certainly open eyes, but we can’t give it too much credit. If art could change things by itself, we’d be living in a much better world than we are. But we’re not, so it can’t,” he adds with a laugh.  

Even if art doesn’t have the power to rewire society on its own, it can still be a powerful tool. For Al-Rasheed, “Inshallah a Boy” is also a thank you of sorts to the many women who helped make him the man he is today — who shaped his perspective and yet have rarely had their own perspectives represented on screen, especially in the region. 

“I was raised in a family full of women, and I’ve been listening to their stories since I was a little kid. Most of these stories do not reflect well on the male figures in their lives, if I’m being honest. And their stories stayed in my mind, as did the injustices they experienced. I felt I wanted to tell those stories because I felt so connected to them — I can’t tell a story if I don’t have a deep link to it —so there was no choice for me but to make this film,” he says. 

Amjad Al-Rasheed took the stage to accept the Rail d'Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. (Supplied)

In executing that vision, the only thing that concerned Al-Rasheed was authenticity, because there was no point in telling a story that he felt was so true unless it was true at every level of its depiction. That meant recruiting his two female co-writers — Rula Nasser and Delphine Agut — to be sure that the film was centered on Arab female voices and was thus realistic beyond just his personal perception of those stories. In casting, he focused more on the person auditioning than the way they performed, looking for actresses who matched the characters even unintentionally.  

“I just sat there in the auditions and talked to them about life, society, and the film — arguing with them about the issues at hand. I wanted to understand them as people, and to study their body language — because I could see in the way they moved if they fit the characters,” says Al-Rasheed. 

Now that the film has proven to be a hit across the world, Al-Rasheed is both proud and a little melancholy. As excited as he is to finally generate the conversations he once envisioned, it’s also been hard to say goodbye to the process of making the film, even as he looks forward to the next projects he has in the works as he approaches the next level of success.  

“It’s a mixed feeling. The film is out there, and that means it’s not for me anymore. I can’t control it. It has its own life. It’s for the people. My job is done,” he says. “But that’s part of what I love about what we do. That’s the beauty of cinema.”  

‘Three’ director Nayla Al-Khaja on why she is forging ahead with horror films

Updated 01 December 2023

‘Three’ director Nayla Al-Khaja on why she is forging ahead with horror films

  • The psychological horror stars ‘Oppenheimer’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Jefferson Hall and newcomer Saud Alzarooni
  • Nayla Al-Khaja is heading to Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival to thrill audiences with ‘Three’

JEDDAH: Widely recognized as the UAE’s first independent female filmmaker, Nayla Al-Khaja is heading to Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival to thrill audiences with her latest psychological horror movie “Three,” which is also her debut feature-length film.

“Three” follows a young boy who is believed to be possessed. Ahmed (Saud Alzarooni) is being bullied at school and starts behaving strangely, leading his mother Maryam to believe he must be cursed. She takes him to a traditional healer, after which his condition worsens. A British doctor (Jefferson Hall) is initially skeptical but soon immerses himself in the boy’s culture in a bid to save the child's life.

The director’s previous work includes short films “The Neighbor,” “Malal,” “Animal,” and “The Shadow,” and she spoke to Arab News about why this was the right time for her first feature, which boasts a running time of 94 minutes and features a mix of English and Arabic on screen.

“All my life, all I wanted to do is do a feature film, but there was never a story where I felt passionate enough to take that first step,” she said, adding the major hurdles she faced initially were not creative, but financial.

“We live in the UAE. We don’t really have a very robust local film (industry). Where do you begin? How do you raise money? How do you find the right producer? How do you package the film so it has a chance to succeed? The deals, sales agents, pre-sales, all that stuff that no one ever teaches you.”

Widely recognized as the UAE’s first independent female filmmaker, Nayla Al-Khaja is heading to Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival. (Supplied)

Just before the pandemic, Al-Khaja pulled the plug on her own company, giving her the space and time to create content.

“This huge weight was off my chest. I was starting to write … and at that point, I had already shot the concept film of ‘Three,’ which is called ‘The Shadow,’ which is running on Netflix right now,” she said.

“I already had a concept film, which obviously made it a little bit easier to raise funds. So once that happened, COVID-19 hit, the world took a massive pause. It was a catastrophe for many people. But as a new mom, it was the perfect timing. So, I took that time to flesh out my feature film.”

Overcoming obstacles seems to be a pastime for Al-Khaja, who wears many hats, from director to producer to fundraiser.

“I’m an all-rounder. I’m actually very good at raising funds,” she said, before detailing how she managed to “slash the budget by half without slashing the value of the film and the quality … by simply changing a few things.”

Nayla Al-Khaja on the set of 'Three.' (Supplied)

She added: “The first thing was going from 123 pages to 98 pages and then changing countries altogether. Taking a leap of faith and shooting in Bangkok — that slashed our budget.”

Considering the blood, sweat and tears that went into her first feature film, it is telling that Al-Khaja opted for a spine-tingling thriller.

“Pure entertainment,” she laughed, when asked why she chose the horror genre.

“I think it’s really new in the sense that we don’t have a big body of horror work. I think Arab comedy is very popular, and … drama, but not horror. And yes, definitely I would like to pioneer this.

“With horror, you don’t need a cast. You don't need … these famous people. You can do it very low budget. So, the chances of actually a horror (film) making its money back is quite high.

“And I think there will come (a time when) a horror (film) will break the glass ceiling,” she said, adding that historically film distributors may not have had faith that “foreign language horror would travel like English films do.”

Jefferson Hall in 'Three.' (Supplied)

She said: “I think that the whole shift of streamers coming on board buying foreign language (films) is probably changing the face of how one perceives a foreign film, whatever the genre may be.

“It’s such an important part of Arab culture — like the jinns and black magic.

“We’ve always had exorcism in Christianity and other different religions, but never in my own. We didn’t want to label it as exorcism in Islam. But if you speak to any sales agent outside the UAE and you say ‘exorcism in Islam,’ they all raise their eyebrows. That shows you that it’s an area that’s never been really tapped into internationally.”

Al-Khaja heaped praise on teenage newcomer Alzarooni.

She said: “He’s eager, he is prepared, agile, sensitive, just beautiful … I mean, he was 13 when we were rolling and … this is not an easy role.

“When we’re doing the exorcism scenes, there were no special effects, it was just his face. The way he shifts from one look to the other look, it was quite impressive.”

Newcomer Saud Alzarooni stars in 'Three.' (Supplied)

The power in this film, however, is the star of “Game of Thrones,” Jefferson Hall.

Al-Khaja said: “I was intimidated because he’s very seasoned. Christopher Nolan directed him in ‘Oppenheimer.’

“He fits the role so beautifully. The camera loves his close-ups.”

Al-Khaja is now working on her next feature film “Baab,” for which Oscar-winning Indian composer AR Rahman is creating the score.

Meanwhile, audiences in Jeddah can look forward to a psychological horror with heart in “Three.”