x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Meet an anime hero who speaks Arabic

Two Emiratis are hoping to get the backing they need for their anime TV series and debut the world's first Emirati anime character.

Ahmed al Mutawa, 28 (left) and Ahmed al Mutawa, 30 have created an Arabic anime film series which they hope will get picked up by local TV stations. DELORES JOHNSON / The National
Ahmed al Mutawa, 28 (left) and Ahmed al Mutawa, 30 have created an Arabic anime film series which they hope will get picked up by local TV stations. DELORES JOHNSON / The National

ABU DHABI // Ahmed and Ahmed share the same name, middle name, surname and one all-consuming passion: anime.

The two Ahmed Mohammed Al Mutawas, the 30-year-old chief executive and 28-year-old chief operations officer of Alter Ego Productions animation studio in Abu Dhabi, are "distant, distant" cousins.

They are aware their names sometimes cause confusion. But it will not come in the way of their mission to create the first original Emirati Anime series, which they have called Torkaizer.

During the 1970s and '80s when they grew up, TV programming in the GCC was dominated by Arabic-dubbed shows in the Japanese animation style.

From Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan, known in Arabic as the Adventures of Adnan and Lina, to Go Nagai's Grendizer, the influence of the cartoons on today's young adults is undeniable.

The first Emirati anime series started in 2011 as a joke, according to Ahmed, 30. "I was learning Flash, and I thought: 'Why not do a five-minute comedy about an Emirati stuck in the Grendizer world?'

"The more I thought about it - the more I developed the idea in my head - the more serious it became, and the more I thought I had stumbled on something really good."

The two Ahmeds began brainstorming and developed the idea.

"We wanted to create something with values, characters that can be role models for kids," said Ahmed, 28.

So they created a third Ahmed, Torkaizer's protagonist, who they swear is not based on either of them.

In the pilot, anime Ahmed is on holiday in Japan when he comes across giant robots fighting. He gains control of the super robot Torkaizer, which he then pilots to help save lives.

"We wanted Ahmed to be an Emirati hero: someone who is not afraid to act in any situation. He may seem stubborn, but he is stubborn in the right ways and helps anyone in need," said Ahmed, 28.

"Anime these days don't carry the same values and messages as the old anime we used to watch as kids," said the older Ahmed.

"Back in the old days these cartoons taught us a lot of things in life. Do the right thing, strength in unity, rise to the challenge, never give up … these were all themes in the old animes.

"These days they've really lost the message. There is no lesson to learn, and they are becoming very insulting and objectifying to women."

To make their dream a reality, the two Ahmeds employed top artists from Canada, the UK, the Philippines and Japan to work alongside young talent from the UAE.

Torkaizer has already won a strong online following, but stirred a fair amount of controversy among fans over the decision to have the main character speak in an Arabic dialect, instead of classical Arabic.

"No matter what project we do, we always try to connect it with the real world," the older Ahmed explained. "We really didn't think that having an Emirati protagonist talking classical Arabic would work."

The Ahmeds are approaching local television stations with their pilot episode, hoping that one of them will take the project on and supply the funding for a series.

"Each episode costs us about the same as a Nissan Patrol with full options. For best quality an episode can cost up to US$100,000 [Dh367,200]," said Ahmed, 30.

All of the TV executives they've met so far have wanted to completely change the project.

"Everyone tells us to make copies of Freej or Sha'biyat El Cartoon. They are too scared to invest in an original idea," said Ahmed, 30.

"Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of those shows, but we're not trying to copy someone else. We want to do our own thing."

malkhan@thenational.ae

To see a trailer for the series, search for Torkaizer Trailer - MEFCC 2013 on YouTube, or visit their website alterego.egonauts.com