Saudi Arabia’s second largest city, Jeddah. Although the F1 Grand Prix will be held from 2021, it was originally developed as a stopover for the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Jeddah is still in the early stages of development compared to Dubai, which has fully developed as a center of tourism and business. Nonetheless, the city, which was developed under the leadership of the royal family, was pierced by a number of vast bypass roads with five lanes in each direction, reminiscent of Nagoya’s “100-meter road,” and resorts were also developed along the beach.
The area along the bypass, which used to be a residential area, has become a vast vacant lot. In less than two years, the cityscape will change dramatically.
Information that Saudi Arabia is a pro-Japanese country and that there are many people who love Japanese culture was sometimes reported in the media. It’s just a story at the level of “I like Japanese culture”.
However, when I interviewed an entertainment event on the theme of Japanese animation in his land, I realized that there was a way to develop a big business beyond mere love of Japan. It’s never a social commentary. This is because Saudi government-affiliated companies are beginning to invest in the project after realizing its potential as a business.
The background to this is that Saudi Arabia is investing in the entertainment industry on a national scale, attracting the entertainment industry, which had been almost zero, from overseas, and is also trying to develop it as a new industrial field domestically.
In the midst of global decarbonization, Saudi Arabia is also finding it difficult to operate as a country that relies on the oil industry. In recent years, the national budget has often been in the red, and Saudi Arabia is trying to change its shape as a country by developing industries that did not exist in Saudi Arabia before then. According to an interview with Prince Mohammed by British Forbes, the amount of investment in the development of the entertainment industry alone (although the investment period is not clear) is as much as 64 billion dollars (approximately 8.6 trillion yen).
And one of the important content genres in Saudi Arabia’s entertainment investment is Japanese animation and the music and fashion derived from it.
Of course, not all of the $64 billion budget is for Japan. However, it is not a favoritism based on the desire for self-approval of “Japan is amazing”, as is often the case, but Saudi Arabia’s eyes on Japanese animation are hot.
Saudi Arabia’s entertainment industry is being developed by outsourcing work to overseas eventers and agencies through events and entertainment companies in Saudi Arabia. This is in order to gather “genuine entertainment content” from all over the world, accumulate industry know-how by repeatedly holding events and performances in Saudi Arabia, and build a network with content owners and artists.
In terms of content production, while commissioning overseas artists to produce content, we will also invest in joint production projects between overseas content owners and (Saudi) domestic artists, with the aim of cultivating future in-house Saudi content. .
Among these projects, the biggest events are the Riyadh season held in the capital Riyadh and the Jeddah season held in the second city Jeddah. Both are scratch and build events for a limited time, as they are called “seasons”.
I headed to Saudi Arabia to cover this event, and was truly surprised by the sheer scale of the event and the respect it showed for Japanese content.
Ryan Zahar Arab, who is in charge of the theme park and resort project at Sera, a government-affiliated event management company that undertakes the Saudi entertainment business, including the Jeddah season, said, “Saudi people’s interest in Japanese animation is high. Although we are still in the process of discussing it, we have drafted a project to build a “Japanese anime” theme park as a permanent theme park instead of a limited-time event park due to the popularity of the Jeddah season. ‘, he says.
The Jeddah season is a big event that turns the whole city into a theme park, and 2019 will be held for the first time. Together with Riyadh Season, it boasts a symbolic scale of the “open entertainment” by the Saudi government. In 2022, it will be held for 60 days from the end of May, and 60 types of event venues will be set up throughout the city.
Despite being a country where “music in public places” did not exist until the opening of entertainment, artists were invited from overseas. As many as 20 concert events were held, including performances with Saudi domestic artists, and four international exhibitions were also held.
Most of the participants were from Saudi Arabia, but there were also visitors from various countries in the Middle East, and a total of 6 million people visited Jeddah.
From Japan, miwa, Miyavi, Aimer, Eir Aoi and others performed live in Saudi Arabia. When I visited, there were no concerts by Japanese artists, but the tickets were sold out immediately, which gave me a sense of the high level of interest in Japanese artists. are listed.
The outdoor theme park called “City Walk” is the biggest event venue in Jeddah season. Various restaurants and cafes from Jeddah popular fast food to fine dining are gathered in this area, various areas such as overseas brand event shops, large playground equipment such as reverse bungee are arranged, and in the central circular square A huge LED screen with a height of 27 meters and a width of 80 meters is installed, and people are entertained with music and images.
While top-notch entertainment is gathered from all over the world, the most popular ones are actually various attractions based on the theme of Japanese anime, life-size figurines and giant dioramas, shops selling anime-related goods and Sanrio character goods, and Japanese restaurants. “Anime Village” where you can collect such things.
Not only did the rarity attract people, but the products actually sold like hot cakes even though the unit price was higher than in Japan.
Sanrio, which opened during the Riyadh season, is very popular with Saudi women and children, and is a brand familiar to women of child-rearing generation since childhood. The specialty stores in Anime Village were so limited that they had to limit the number of people entering the store, and not only small goods such as stationery, which Sanrio is good at, but also fashion-related items such as bags and apparel had large sales, and they were repeatedly restocked after being sold out.
Animate, the first store in the Middle East, secured the same floor area as the Ikebukuro main store, and exhibited and sold 2,000 types of goods and figures related to the works participating in Anime Village, but it was sold out early during the period. It is said that it has been restocked again.
In fact, the merchandise sales at Anime Village are sold by Sera, who has been entrusted with the operation by a Saudi government agency. Moreover, the construction of the Anime Village was the slowest among the City Walk projects, and the preparation period was short, so the price was considerably higher than in Japan because everything was shipped by air and the risk of inventory was taken.
In fact, there are anime-related goods specialty stores in high-end malls adjacent to City Walk, so I went to see them, but most of them were 1.5 times more expensive than in Japan. Even at Animate on City Walk, the figures were more than doubled in price, but they still sold like hot cakes.
As mentioned above, Sanrio products sell more fashion items than small items, so the unit sales price was higher than that of Japanese stores.
Although the specific sales results have not been disclosed, an official said, “I think it’s understandable that the additional products were more than expected.”
The 2022 Jeddah season has been a groping market response. However, if we can establish a commercial distribution system after confirming this, we will be able to refine our business by distributing more products at more reasonable prices and developing high-value-added products suitable for the Middle East market. You should be able to keep increasing.
Anime Village has 11 pavilions built around the stage area for anime-related events, anime song concerts, DJ events using anime songs, etc. VR such as Attack on Titan, Captain Tsubasa, NARUTO, Mobile Suit Gundam, Pacman, Godzilla Games, life-size figures, and a giant diorama were prepared, and a line was born as a commemorative photo spot. While passing through the pavilion named “ANIMAZE”, you can enjoy various exhibits such as Kimetsu no Yaiba and Jujutsu Kaisen.
A total of 11 titles are gathered, although there is expansion in the Japanese content, not just “animation” like Pac-Man and Godzilla. It does not rely on a specific production company, but is a collection of popular works in Saudi Arabia that transcend the barriers of rights holders.
Sera asked Avex, which has been planning events on the theme of Japanese music and culture in the Asian region, promoting overseas expansion of Japanese talent and artists, and producing TV programs overseas.・Asia was in charge.
The company has held a spectacle show “Star Island” that fuses music and fireworks in various Asian countries. With the success of the show in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, he was asked by Sera to support the planning, construction, and operation of the Anime Village, and acted as a bridge between various stakeholders in Japan.
The overseas expansion of video works, not limited to animation, involves the problem of how to manage quality.
Will it be exhibited in the form intended by the licensee at the licensee? How do you manage the quality of printed materials such as posters and billboards? Is the business developed with appropriate pricing? In addition, there are many uncertainties in the content business in a completely new country, including the basics such as whether the license fee will be properly paid.
In 2019, the Saudi government began issuing visas to individual tourists, except for Muslim pilgrims. The history of people-to-people exchanges is extremely short since just before Corona. Even if there was a need for Japanese content on the Saudi side, the communication with Japanese content owners was nothing, and the content owners were unable to see the actual business situation in Saudi Arabia.
There is no doubt that the success of Anime Village in such a unique situation will open the door for business in Saudi Arabia, the richest country in the Middle East. This is because I have experienced many times in the country how it leads to respect not only for music, anime and character goods, but also for Japanese products and culture as a whole.
The reason why Japanese-style content is so well received in Saudi Arabia is that the information program “Mr. Thought (Improvement)” is said to be derived from the popularity.
The program, which produced more than 200 episodes, is said to have introduced how Japan, which has developed from World War II to an economic powerhouse, has a different culture from other countries. Some of them can be viewed on YouTube, but “I learned the importance of collaborative work and maintaining a clean environment by doing cleaning duties since I was a child,” and “Umbrella bags so as not to dirty the inside of the facility with wet umbrellas.” For Japanese people, these are things that are taken for granted.
However, the generation who grew up with Japanese children’s anime, which was also familiar from childhood (sold for broadcasting in Saudi Arabia), began to move the country, and even beyond borders in the Internet age. As the environment for viewing the latest anime has improved, the groundwork has been laid for various Japanese-style cultures to be naturally accepted in Saudi Arabia.
Sera’s executive Ryan (mentioned above), who led the construction of the anime village, confessed that the degree of penetration was more than expected.
“Anime Village was definitely the number one hotspot on CityWalk (not flattering). We bring together real entertainment from all over the world. And among the diverse entertainment gathered from around the world, anime has been accepted not only by those who simply like Japanese culture, but also by a wide range of people, including families (Mr. Ryan).
Mr. Ryan was particularly impressed by the number of cosplayers who came to visit the Anime Village every day just by calling out on SNS. Also, at an anime song concert, most of the people who gathered started singing the chorus in Japanese.
The fact that the style of “anime” is accepted by society as a whole can be inferred from the fact that they have partnered with a Japanese animation production company and have begun to create new anime that reflects Arabian culture through local production. Uka
Many of the anime contents overseas are aimed at those who enjoy the memories of kids’ anime from their childhood even after becoming adults, and in many cases it is accepted by a certain segment as a “subculture”. rice field.
But the perception in Saudi Arabia is clearly different. Rather than being a subculture, there are “anime” and Japanese music as expression methods that everyone naturally accepts.
Even if there is a permanent theme park, it will be a long time coming. Luckily, big seasonal events are scrap-and-build twice a year. The contents of the exhibition will be refined and the number of exhibition titles will increase.