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Sunday, September 11, 2022 

"The Journey" is an anime film building on Islamic propaganda

Anime News Network reviewed a cartoon film made in co-production with a Saudi Arabian company owned by prince Mohammed bin Salman, who, although he has done what to improve the status for women in the country, still has a lot of questionable practices that can't be overlooked. This film is one of them:
A co-production of Japanese animation studio Toei and Saudi Arabian media company Manga Productions, The Journey is a retelling of an event in Arabian history generally known as β€œThe Year of the Elephant.” This appellation comes from the fact that an invading army, headed by a Christian Abyssinian king named Abraha, brought war elephants to the fight, something that was apparently so alarming and striking that it remained a central component of the tale as it passed through history. While the film, at ninety minutes long, is a relatively condensed version of the event, it's interesting for the way it blends religious elements shared by all of the Abrahamic faiths with the recounting of the story, and while some parts of the narrative do have that propaganda feel to them, at its heart the basic themes of the film are actually quite universal.
So if I can figure out the premise correctly, the Christian army in this case are the baddies while the followers of Islam are the "victims"? What a surprise. But, if you know where to look, you may find that it's not like Japan ever actually has objections to Islam's evils in its animation and other products. And what if it turns out the claim of elephants as weapons is just taqqiya?
The art and animation do a good job of showing us just how outnumbered the defenders of Mecca are. There's a fairly heavy reliance on bird's eye views of the field of battle, which not only gives us a clear sense of how much bigger and better trained Abraha's forces are, but also turns out to relate to actual birds who form part of the story towards the end of the film. As a movie about battle, there is a fair amount of blood on screen, but no actual gore – no dismemberment, exposed intestines, or anything like that. The worst we see is blood gushing from a wounded elephant and a few implied deaths via stabbing, which isn't bad, all things considered, although it may be upsetting to younger viewers. [...]
And I suppose this is meant to be a propaganda tactic too, right? One that ignores Islam's own violent history, and prefers to make it look like Christianity's the sole problem here.
Those embedded narratives are, it must be noted, religious in tone. Two of them are particularly interesting from a comparative religions point of view – the first is the story of Noah's Ark from the Islamic perspective and the second the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which some of you may know as the Passover story. From my knowledge of the stories as a Jewish woman, they're both recognizable and fascinatingly different, with Noah's Ark adding in characters I wasn't familiar with and the Exodus focusing on Rachael (Rahil) and bringing in Rebecca as well. In any event, the use of these stories, as well as a third about the fall of a wicked city where the wealthy freely abused the poor, are all used to compliment Aws' plotline, showing them as giving him and those waiting for him the strength to carry on against terrible odds and the faith to believe that victory is possible. Since there is a divine intervention element to the film's denouement that feels like it has links to the plagues of the Exodus story, this really does work quite well.
Well I'm sorry, but this does nothing to alleviate the concerns this is mainly Islamic propaganda. Based on which, that's why it's got to be even more shameful this movie would contain anything involving Jewish history.
The metaphorical elephant in the room is, of course, some viewers' potential discomfort with a film that could be viewed as propaganda based on the aim of Manga Productions and its parent company MiSK to "promote Saudi ideas and messages internationally." There is a propaganda feel to parts of the film and it does cover a piece of history that may be unfamiliar to people outside Saudi Arabia or Islam, but it's no more striking than any work of fiction that uses a religious or quasi-religious event as its base; certainly you'd see something similar in a faith-based novel. While most of the characters are male, there's nothing overtly anti-feminist about the story unless you balk at pieces with mostly male casts in general.
If it feels like propaganda, surely that isn't a concern? Not to the reviewer, unfortunately, who approaches it through an otherwise unobjective lens, and that's pathetic. Daniel Pipes once spoke about how a similar animated production from Kuwait, The 99, was largely da'wah, and this is bound to be pretty much the same. Some of the commentors on the ANN message board noticed how fishy this all was, and here's one:
I'm pretty sure it's fair game to express disbelief that this article was published considering what it's about. It could not have been published without expecting to raise red flags.

And what I got from reading this review down to every detail is this fuckin' movie is, at its core, undeniable Saudi propaganda. The rest (movie, not article) is just fluff or bullshit. That further baffles me as to how it's endorsed in any way, not just this review.

PLEASE don't sugarcoat Saudi Arabia in places where you have the right to express your opinion in the same vein as how Russia has been appropriately shunned or exiled at large.
Indeed no, they shouldn't, because even now, there's valid reasons to remain concerned about Saudi Arabia's conduct. And then, from the ANN chief webmaster:
First off, our reviews don't equate to endorsement.

"Platforming" is a whole other discussion obviously, but we didn't feel the need to avoid platforming this movie.

Obviously this movie can be seen as "propaganda." It is designed to promote Saudi/Muslim/Arab culture and heritage. And there's nothing wrong with that. Whether it's Japan, China, Russia, Iran, France or wherever, promoting their heritage is just fine.

As long the film isn't being used to attack another culture, religion, or nation.

We'd be happy to review an anime about Peter the Great. We would have serious issues with any anime that promoted the false narrative that Putin is pushing about the Ukraine, and we would have to consider if reviewing it, even a negative review, might give it more publicity than it should get.

So, despite the fact that I personally felt this was a terrible anime (I disagree with Rebecca's ~B scores, but agree with all of the points she made about it), I have no ethical problem with it being reviewed on ANN.
In that case, if a pro-Israeli cartoon were produced, would they be favorable based on that aspect? Why do I get the sad feeling they wouldn't? No proper distinction made between Arabic culture and religious/Islamic culture either; something is certainly wrong with that. Another person said:
First off, there is a difference between promoting Saudi, Muslim and Arab culture and heritage and promoting the ideology and agenda of the Saudi Arabian government.

Second, it is amazing to make the claim "the film isn't being used to attack another culture, religion or nation" when the bad guys are explicitly Christian. This is important because Saudi Arabia - as well as North Africa and the Middle East - was not always Muslim or even universally Arab. It was a very diverse mix of religions, races and cultures. That diversity was wiped out by imperialism. It would be more interesting - and honest - to take a look at the history of Mecca and Saudi Arabia prior to that area falling to the forces of imperialist-imposed religious and cultural homogenization. Instead, this movie goes for the usual propaganda of how they are always the peace-loving good guys until the crusaders came and persecuted them, when in many cases said "crusaders" actually were just trying to recover land that was taken by expansionist imperialists in the first place - just like Ukraine is attempting to do now - or they were trying to stop the expansionism from going further - again which is a major reason why we are helping Ukraine now and expanding NATO to include formerly neutral Sweden and Finland instead of just abandoning Ukraine to its fate and allowing Russia to rebuild as much of the former Soviet Union as possible.

Yes, these events did happen: a Christian leader attacked Mecca. But it ignores a ton of context, which is the imperialism that led to Mecca being the way that it was in the first place, and that this imperialism was still ongoing. This expansionism went on into Spain, Italy and France before it turned back. Also, I wonder: if right wing French Catholics were to start a "Manga Production" and make an anime co-production with Japan about the glorious victory of Charles Martel over the caliphate at Tours, would this be platformed here? Or - even though it incontrovertibly happened - would it be denounced as fascist religious propaganda? Would it be linked to Islamophobia and contemporary issues in France? Would we have a reviewer claiming "While most of the characters are male, there's nothing overtly anti-feminist about the story unless you balk at pieces with mostly male casts in general" in response to a right wing Catholic movie?

I have difficultly believing that ANN would be so charitable towards a right wing European government sponsored propaganda project - say from Hungary or Poland - that promotes its extreme political and social views under the guise of "promoting culture and heritage". Or if ANN was, it is really difficult to explain why it should be. The absolute first thing any reviewer on ANN would mention about a Hungarian "anime" would be that regime's attitudes towards racial and religious minorities and LGBT people, but here we have a project from Saudi Arabia and not a peep.

Now do not mistake me. I am not arguing that this review should be taken down or anything of the sort. I am just saying that European fascism and non-European fascism gets treated very differently and for reasons that make absolutely no sense. This Saudi Arabian propaganda should get treated the same as it would if it were produced by a western regime that is similarly extremist and oppressive.
Now here's some valid points being made on double-standards likely to be applied. In which case, why must we assume they'd be as charitable to even a pro-Israel cartoon? They'd merely describe it as propaganda in a negative sense to the fullest, in contrast to this movie.

So it's honestly shameful a Japanese company decided to work on this cartoon project. As I said, bin Salman, whose company financed this, still has a ways to go in order to convince he's serious about moving beyond what the Religion of Peace stands for. That's one of the reasons I find it disappointing he's the majority shareholder in video game producer SNK. I hope the company buys back their shares, because for now, he still doesn't qualify as an ideal shareholder in such capacity either.

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  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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