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Pokémon in the Arab world

Pokémon in the Arab world
Pokemon logo Arabic.png
The Arab world Flag.png
Flag of the Arab world
Language Arabic
Continent Arab world
Original anime airdates
EP001 2000
AG001 2005
DP001 Never aired
BW001 Never aired
XY001 Never aired
SM001 Never aired
JN001

The Pokémon franchise widely reached the Arab world in late 2000, with the first broadcast of بوكيمون، لقد اخترتك انت! in Arabic language on MBC Channel. Although, Pokémon video games were initially distributed in various places, particularly within the GCC countries, since 1998.

The word Pokémon is written as بوكيمون and pluralised as بوكيمونات. Pokémon are always referred to as either male or female, since Arabic has no neutral grammatical gender.

While almost all characters, Pokémon, and most of the locations have kept their English names in the Arabic version, some objects in the franchise received Arabic names. The Poké Ball, for example, has been dubbed as كرة البوكي (Kurt Al-Poké), and the Poké Flute received the name مزمار البوكي (Mizmar Al-Poké) and so on. One of the Arabic names that are different from the English dub is Team Rocket, which has been translated as: عصابة الرداء الأبيض 'isabat Ar-Redda Al-Abiadh. Also, the name of Pallet Town got changed to قرية شورباك 'Qaryat Shoreback which sounds interestingly similar to the Cantonese name of the town 純白鎮.

Contents

Controversy

In 2001, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, who is the highest religious authority in the kingdom, issued a fatwā banning the Pokémon franchise, claiming it encourages gambling and promotes Zionism. High Muslim authorities in Qatar and Egypt then joined the ban. As this happened during the second Intifada, a Jordanian newspaper printed a caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sitting in a tank and laughing at an Arab man chasing a Pokémon. This is meant to convey that Arabs are distracted from their conflict with the Israelis by popular franchises, with Pokémon as an example of such "distractions."

Despite the initial banning, which quickly wiped away Pokémon merchandise (especially the card game) from markets in Saudi Arabia, Pokémon video games quickly returned to be sold normally, but under much less demand from local consumers. Some Pokémon merchandise such as the Expedition Base Set reappeared in stores a few years later, but newer sets were never brought. Generation III and Generation IV games seem completely unaffected by the ban.

A fatwā was also issued in the U.A.E. emirate of Dubai, however no bans officially occurred.[1] Although the U.A.E. takes its Islamic identity seriously like most Arab states, actions based solely on fatwā would however violate its federal constitution. Regardless of this, the licensed local distributor ceased importing Pokémon cards into the U.A.E. until the early 2010s, when the TCG experienced a resurgence among local players. In 2016, the U.A.E. became the first Arab country to be officially sanctioned by The Pokémon Company International to hold official Play! Pokémon events.

Pokémon video games

Before the earliest Pokémon games, Nintendo's products did not have much presence in any Arab country, as most countries faced various political and economical challenges that made them unattractive markets at the time. Throughout the 1980s, most demographics considered 8-bit home computer products a preferable choice for gaming before their gradual decline. However, by the early 1990s, as particular economies in the GCC countries thrived, various independent distributors based in those countries pushed to introduce gaming consoles after becoming hot and competitive commodities in Western markets, including Nintendo's products. Albeit the video game market grew in the GCC countries, for many years there was little effort for standardization among distributors and retailers, causing a discrepancy as both PAL and NTSC hardware and software were sold off the same shelves. Consequently, by the time Pokémon Red and Blue launched the first time in 1998, units available were imported from both Europe and North America. To this day, Nintendo-published products, including Pokémon video games, remain the only gaming products to be imported from both regions into the GCC, despite other publishers focused on importing units solely from Europe.

Nintendo have long considered the GCC markets as part of the greater Asia, thus officially opting to localise NTSC-U North American (NA) products for these markets de jure by the late 1990s, albeit both PAL and NTSC[2] Nintendo products de facto continued to co-exist. Itochu Corporation's Dubai branch was originally assigned to officially distribute Nintendo's NA products within the GCC markets,[3] before ending its collaboration in 2000. By the early 2000s, Active Boeki, distributor for Southeast Asian countries, gradually took over NA distribution duties, albeit it took a while to release Pokémon games due to the controversy against the franchise after the 2001 fatwā was issued against it. No official bans against the games were made however in any country. Working alongside the local resellers, in 2010 Active Boeki founded Dubai-based affiliate Active Gulf to represent them alongside Nintendo and The Pokémon Company within the GCC markets. Albeit the NA Wii and Nintendo DS hardware did have localized packaging made for the U.A.E., the NA Nintendo 3DS became the first Nintendo console officially released under Active Gulf, and it launched in all GCC countries on the same day as the United States in March 2011. However, it was not until the NA launch of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire became the first Pokémon games authorized by The Pokémon Company to be distributed specifically by Active Boeki for the GCC and Southeast Asian markets.

In August 2016, the GCAM introduced the official video game age rating system for Saudi Arabia; Pokémon Sun and Moon were the first Pokémon games released under Saudi Arabia's official age rating, although Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were the first to feature the age rating hard-printed on the case cover. In January 2018, the NMC introduced the official video game age rating system for the United Arab Emirates; Pokémon Let's Go, Pikachu! and Let's Go, Eevee! were the first Pokémon games released under the U.A.E.'s official age rating.

In the 1990s, Nintendo Co., Ltd. were involved with distribution in Africa,[4] although did not particularly focus on the Arab countries. In 2002, Nintendo of Europe took on executive control to supply Nintendo's PAL products for various low-key distributors within the GCC and other Arab countries in the Levant region and Egypt. In the case of the latter two, the markets remain mixed for gaming in general, let alone Nintendo and Pokémon, due to on-going political and economical challenges. Regardless, NOE continues to import its products into all these countries to this day.

Pokémon anime

The Pokémon anime airs or has aired in the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian National Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen.

In the Arab world, the anime is available on Netflix.

Country Channels aired
Algeria MBC, Spacetoon and TRT
Bahrain MBC and Spacetoon
Egypt MBC and Spacetoon
Iraq MBC and Spacetoon
Jordan MBC, Spacetoon and New TV
Kuwait MBC and Spacetoon
Lebanon MBC, Spacetoon and New TV
Libya MBC, Spacetoon and TRT
Morocco MBC, Spacetoon and TRT
Oman MBC and Spacetoon
Palestinian National Authority MBC, Spacetoon and New TV
Qatar MBC, Spacetoon, TRT and New TV
Saudi Arabia MBC, Spacetoon, TRT and New TV
Sudan MBC and Spacetoon
Syria MBC, Spacetoon and New TV
Tunisia MBC, Spacetoon and TRT
United Arab Emirates MBC, Spacetoon, TRT and New TV
Western Sahara TRT
Yemen MBC and Spacetoon

The Pokémon anime was originally dubbed to Arabic by Syria-based Venus Corporation (مركز الزهرة, Markaz Az-Zuhra), but they had since ceased production due to the controversy in 2001. After that Lebanon-based Super M Productions continued dubbing the anime. In the first year the anime was aired exclusively on Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), a channel broadcasting from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, but after the end of the first season, it spread rapidly to other channels. It was aired mainly in MBC, Spacetoon (also broadcasted from Dubai), Tunisian Radio and Television (TRT), and New TV (broadcasting from Lebanon). The total number of Arabic dubbed episodes so far is 366 episodes, with the latest episode being AG092.

As of the 2010s, none of the Arabic-language TV stations in any country is airing or rerunning the Arabic dub of the Pokémon anime, most likely to wane audience interest, and also possibly because of the fact that the dubbing production has long been discontinued (circa 2005) for reasons unknown. All forms of home video releases are also virtually nonexistent in the Middle Eastern market, despite the fact that Region 2 DVDs can be imported, usually from the United Kingdom, should any production lack a licensed local distributor. However, there is currently at least one TV channel that airs the Pokémon anime in the local region with newer episodes, albeit only in English: subscription-based channel Disney XD, as provided by OSN for the region. This broadcast of the anime series is not well-known though, most likely due to, if not for the language barrier, then to the relatively low participation of the expensive subscription TV model in the region overall. Regardless, Disney XD's airing of the anime is not officially recognized for the MENA region specifically.

As most global Internet-savvy users do, people in the region can have access to the anime via alternative means. They use unconventional methods such as torrenting episodes, or dubious methods such as accessing the official Pokémon TV service either via website or app since it is not region-restricted, unlike most similar video streaming services. The former method is very common overall since many of the Arab states are lenient on pirated content, not due to lack of related laws, but more likely due to lack of enforcement.

Cast and crew

Venus Corporation

Ash Ketchum was voiced by Buthaina Shia (بثينة شيا), Misty was voiced by Majd Zhazha (مجد ظاظا), and Rafat Pazo (رأفت بازو) provides the voice of Brock. For Team Rocket, James is voiced by Ziad Rifaee (زياد الرفاعي), Jessie is voiced by Fatima Saad (فاطمة سعد), and Meowth is voiced by Adel Abu Hassoun (عادل أبو حسون). Professor Oak is voiced by Marwan Farhat (مروان فرحات). Other notable voice actors in the Arabic dub include Amaal Saad Adin (امال سعد الدين) as Nurse Joy and Fadwa Suleiman (فدوى سليمان) as Officer Jenny.

Super M Productions

Ash Ketchum was voiced by Mona Majzoub (منى مجذوب), Misty was voiced by Jumana Al-Zangi (جمانة الزنجي), and Nabil Assaf (نبيل عساف) provides the voice of Brock. For Team Rocket, James has been voiced by Abdo Hakim (عبدو حكيم), and Jessie has been voiced by Iman Bitar (إيمان بيطار).

M22

Whilst not confirmed, it is believed that Masry Media, Netflix International Dubbing's usual partner, is responsible for M22's Arabic dub; it is the first Pokémon-related media dubbed into Arabic since the cancellation of the main series' Arabic dub, which has not been picked up by any other party as of 2020. In the movie, Ash Ketchum was voiced by Rana Rifaii (رنا رفاعي), Misty was voiced by Jumanah Zanji (جمانة الزنجي), and Brock was voiced by Hisham Abu Suleiman (هشام أبو سليمان). For Team Rocket, James is voiced by Abdu Hakeem (عبدو حكيم), Jessie is voiced by Asmahan Bittar (أسمهان بيطار), and Meowth is voiced by Hassan Hamdan (حسن حمدان). In addition to Jihan Mulla (جيهان ملا) as Nurse Joy, Emman Bittar (إيمان بيطار) as Officer Jenny, Sam Ghusen (سام غصن) as Mewtwo, Ibrahim Madhi (إبراهيم ماضي) as Giovanni, and Osama Oley (أسامة العلي) as Dr. Fuji.

Pokémon movies

Pokémon movies were released in some capacity in Arab countries throughout the years. All of the movies that were distributed in American theaters by Warner Bros. were also released in theaters in certain Arab countries by Warner Bros.'s Middle East agent Shooting Stars LLC (also known as Joseph Chacra & Sons in Lebanon). Before 2020, the movies were available in English, usually accompanied with Arabic subtitles. It was not until the international release of M22 via Netflix in February 2020 that movies were dubbed in Arabic.

Pokémon merchandise

After the Pokémon anime started airing in the Arabic language, it became one of the most popular anime series in the Arab world. Therefore, the demand for Pokémon-related merchandise among Arab children was high. Thus, several video game retailers began to sell a wide variety of Pokémon merchandise as they were best sold. Additionally, many restaurants offered promotional toys with their meals, such as Burger King in 2000. Due to the controversy in 2001, however, a lot of the merchandise was withdrawn from the main retail shops. After the controversy subsided, many game stores started selling Pokémon goods again without incident.

As of the 2010s, various distributors imported certain official Pokémon merchandise from either Europe or North America, such as Toys "R" Us outlets selling Poké Dolls and other kinds of toys. Many high-end bookstore chains, especially those that rely heavily on imported materials, may sell an assorted variety of books and magazines. For example, a Kinokuniya outlet situated in The Dubai Mall (the sole Kinokuniya outlet in the entire region), which is known to sell large volumes of varied stock, has been retailing children's magazines, video game guides, game books, film novelizations, as well as most of the Pokémon manga series, available in both English and Japanese, with the latter being distributed exclusively via this store.

In early 2013, Active Gulf, Nintendo's officially licensed distributor in the Middle East, have collaborated with their retail partners to locally sell authentic packs for the Pokémon Battle Disc Game.[5]

Many smaller toy and variety stores found in the grey market may often sell unlicensed and counterfeit products, with many of them imported from China. It is also possible to find pirated trading card packs, but in much smaller volumes than when initially released, as in prior to the 2001 controversies. Overall, the current legal status of the official trading card game itself remains vague in any case.

Events

Pokémon Live!

Despite ending its run in January 2001 in the United States, Pokémon Live! was invited to perform on an open stage in Al Mamzar Park, Dubai, U.A.E. in the duration of the whole month of March that same year, coinciding with the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.[6] Whilst the musical was mostly identical to its performance elsewhere, the female actors had a slight change to their wardrobe which covered their exposed abdomens and thighs, likely to abide with Dubai's public dress code. Since the musical featured the same cast from its American run, it was performed solely in English. The musical, albeit received very positively by its audience, ended its run just days before the 2001 controversies began in the region overall.

Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions

On March 31, 2017, Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions was performed at the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates as part of the Mother of the Nation Festival. It is the first Symphonic Evolutions concert to be performed in the the Arab world.

Related articles

References

  1. Dubai scholars declare Pokemon unislamic - Gulfnews
  2. Technically, today both PAL and NTSC signals are no longer used in most countries after being effectively superseded by newer DVB-T and ATSC signals respectively. However, the terms "PAL" and "NTSC" continues to be used for legacy reasons in reference to regional origins of specific game units since various older platforms are region-locked, and despite Nintendo eventually opting for fully region-free hardware starting in 2017.
  3. International Distributors: Middle East - NOA official website (1998 archive); Wayback Machine
  4. https://web.archive.org/web/19980205070953/http://www.nintendo.com/corp/companies/japan.html
  5. Active Gulf announcing on their official Facebook page about the availability of the Pokémon Battle Disc Game
  6. Young and old enjoy Pokemon - Gulfnews
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