Cultural Identity's role in handling Covid Lockdown: Hunter X Hunter & English vs Arabic Pop Culture

Updated: Jan 29

I’m 22 right now, so I was a kid in the early 2000’s-2010s. I turned 18 in December of 2016. Before officially moving to Toronto in 2010, after coming here every summer, I lived in Kuwait. The thing about living in Kuwait, which is also the same as living in Toronto, is that it's basically living in the United States of America. All of pop culture is American pop culture, I went to an American school, a lot of my classmates were children of American diplomats and military personnel, I mainly spoke English, we ate McDonald's, KFC, Chilis', Papa Johns and Pizza Hut, we'd get Nachos and popcorn and watch movies in the movie theatre that were made in Hollywood with Arabic subtitles, most of the references we made were to WWE, Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon shows.


The only apparent difference in pop culture is that some scenes and storylines in movies and shows were cut out in the Middle East. So sex scenes and things that were explicit in nature weren’t allowed on television. But after a certain point we were all on the internet anyway, so we watched whatever, whenever. Yet still, that rigid constraint over content plagues me to this day. For years I didn’t understand the “Draw me like a French girl” meme from Titanic, despite having seen the movie upwards of a dozen times....because I have sisters by the way, I’m not just randomly watching Titanic in my free time... It’s the biggest movie in the world, okay? Fine, I love the movie. Anyway, the broadcasters would cut those promiscuous scenes in editing, and if the content was completely dubbed into Arabic, then the entire storyline changes to reflect the ideals of a Muslim society. Muslim media is very open about operating under Islamic guidelines and wanting to uphold these ideals and their Islamic cultural identity.


When I started watching Detective Conan in English dub as opposed to in Arabic, I found out that Rachel was his girlfriend, not his fiancé. I found out the reason Richard had his cheeks flushed red, and his tie around his head was because he was drunk, not because he ate a lot. Obviously alcohol is haram, so the show refrained from mentioning it, and really convinced me that eating a lot made you get woozy, so I had a bunch of awkward buffet family trips where I was acting a fool because I thought that getting drunk happens when you eat a lot of food. 7 year old me has literally put his tie around his head at multiple weddings, because he ate a lot of rice.


The reason the media outlets did that is because they truly believed the content we consume affects how we operate in a society. So every year, Detective Conan Edogawa, and a host of other anime characters, would wish us a happy Ramadan and Eid, and many of the show’s represented the ideals of the society, its the equivalent of Christmas specials over here. Most of the shows on SpaceToon (the Arab Disney Channel) when I was growing up, were Japanese Anime's about Samurai ethics and morals (like Thunder Jet aka Hazeem Al Ra3d). The theme songs would have profound lyrics that speak of courage, bravery, patience and Islamic morals. They would cherry pick the content to dub, and then rewrite the script to fit the ideals and narratives of that cultural identity, which is something I’ve noticed in the West as well. Except that here the ideals usually upheld by the society are freedom, optimism, exploration, destiny and ambition.


The perfect example of the differences in cultural ideals lies in the lyrics to the Hunter X Hunter theme song, in Arabic and English. These theme songs couldn’t be more different, for the exact same show. Starting from the opening video. The Arabic opening shows the protagonists of the show in nature, practicing the craft of hunting, the song is a slow, poetic ballad, with a slow motion video that shows the characters being patient, wiping away tears, being calm and somber. The English opening is set in a big city, and it begins with the rising sun over skyscrapers, and the main character Gon walking upstairs, through bright doors, smiling, the song is upbeat and speaks of an ambitious future.


English lyrics:

Waking up, we tread this wondrous land

Walking on this earth we take a stand

With a smile we open up our eyes

It’s departure time!

When you’re all alone

Never think you’re on your own

You’ll go and find your destiny

Just give it time. Continue to breathe

Filled with tenderness

Thank you, Earth, for my life’s quest

Now that it’s time to leave, wish for the best

You can smile again

Basking in the sunlight

You can fly away

Time to rise up. Shine your light. Show the world you can make the climb!

Waking up, we tread this wondrous land

With a smile, we’re running hand in hand

No matter if we fall, we’ll try again!

Knowing we can win! (you can smile)

Now the journey starts, I won’t give up, I won’t throw in the towel!

Though it’s time to go, I won’t be alone!

Arabic lyrics:

His eyes shone with determination, and his right rose up

In the silence of the night

Who is steadfast adventurous in the face of the torrent

Away from his eyes comfort

Challenges an opponent in the arena

It goes on and hits the goals, always striving to achieve fairness

And the imagination of his father in dreams

In the sensitive heart awakens the love of goodness for all people

Whatever the price, the difficulties

He will still be the sniper hero

With all patience and sincerity

Works hard and on standby

It goes on and hits the targets

Always seeking fairness

Now these are vastly different openings for the exact same show, the difference is also apparent in how the characters are treated in the show, how the dialogue is written. The Arabic versions are trying to instill steadfastness, bravery, honour and Islamic morals to the kids, and the message is more confrontational. The morals aren’t as ambiguous over there, where a majority of people are Muslim, and many governments operate under Islamic laws, so its easier to enforce certain belief systems to the masses. Here the message is usually freedom, optimism and ambition, the lyrics are mainly focused on leaving, exploring, and achieving something, it's focused on manifesting a destiny. That made me look at the Japanese version of the song. The show is originally Japanese, what's their take on this? My findings were peculiar, to say the least.


Japanese lyrics:

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile!

Even when you're alone, you're not on your own.

Your birth definitely has significance.

Thank you, Earth,

Brimming with gentleness.

YOU CAN SMILE AGAIN

YOU CAN FLY AWAY

You can smile again.

Bask in the sun.

You can fly away.

The world is waiting for you to shine.

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile! (You can smile!)

It's never too late to start.

Get up again and again!

We won't give up till the very end.

Continuing on definitely has significance.

YOU JUST TRY AGAIN

YOU JUST GO AWAY

You just try again.

Escape the darkness.

You just go away.

The future is always waiting for us.

(YOU CAN TRY!)

Dash through the heavens and cross the oceans.

Catch the angel's air kiss! (You can try!)

Tomorrow, let's fly out to a world

That nobody has seen yet.

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile.

Let's set out on a never-ending adventure.

As long as we want, wherever we want.

You're turning the tears running down your cheeks into courage.

Spread your angelic wings and soar! (You can fly!)

Wrap up your sadness and pain,

And get stronger tomorrow.

You're awakening as you tread the earth.

Lead us out with an angelic smile! (You can smile!)

It's never too late to start.

Now this is vastly different from the English and Arabic versions. It has some similarities with both, the Japanese one is optimistic and focused on perseverance, but it's different in that the main focus is some sort of resurrection, after a death. The lyrics talk about escaping the darkness, transforming tears into courage, and how it’s never too late to try again, which is different from the English message of getting back up when you get knocked down. It's constantly referring to death with allusions to angels, heavens, skies, wings and eternity. The theme depicts a perseverance through meaninglessness, the themes are way more nihilistic than the other two. This might have something to do with Japan's cultural narrative since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's no wonder why certain movies like Akira are literally about nuclear explosions that can wipe out cities. Kind of like how a lot of Hollywood movies after 9/11 are about threats coming from the sky and destroying cities, all the avengers movies, all those pacific rim, battleship type movies. Our cultural fears and threats often place themselves in our content, because most content is about enforcing a narrative in the minds of the masses. The content we consume creates, promotes and cements a cultural identity.