Early in the 1970s and 1980s, an assortment of Japanese animation was broadcasted to the Lebanese youth such as; Mitsubachi Māya no Bōken (Maya the Honey Bee), Takarajima (Treasure Island) and most importantly UFO Robot Grendizer, which was dubbed by the older generations as a war hero. The plot follows the adventures of monster robot Grendizer and his operator Duke Fleed –a prince who escapes his destroyed homeland and seeks peace on planet earth. The protagonist prince was flawlessly voiced by prominent voice actor Jihad Al Atrash, while the singer Sammy Clark, known for his operatic voice, performed the show’s opening song.
Surprisingly, the series was more successful in Lebanon than Japan. This multi-colored robot emerged into the lives of the Lebanese youth during the time where civil war plagued the arena. Although there was little time to indulge in entertainment then, the local channel Tele Liban screened a welcoming distraction: Grendizer.
Al Atrash commemorates the work by stating that Grendizer represented every oppressed individual and every refugee around the world. Grendizer was the unifying figure and savior of humanity that inspired positive ideas such as loyalty, persistence, and courage. Most importantly, he instilled the allegiance to the nation and promoted the sense of patriotism. Indeed this is evidenced as you take a walk through the Lebanese streets; one can see graffiti art featuring Grendizer on the walls. People still raise their fists in the air while listening to Mr. Clark’s performance of the opening theme song.
As for the younger generation, their attachment to anime has been heavily influenced by popular shows like Pokemon, Dragon Ball, Digimon, Slam Dunk etc…as well as complimentary products such as the toys that followed.
Unfortunately, anime began to slowly disappear from local Lebanese broadcasting stations in favor of satellite channels. With the internet, people found what they had lost. Anime shows were accessible again. However, they still lacked a place to meet, connect and share their passion.
Lebanese Otaku (LO) came to light here. LO is an online community that was founded in 2012 with the goal of creating a peaceful and comfortable communication platform for the Lebanese and the residents of Lebanon, to cherish and develop their common interest in the Japanese culture, Japanese animations, and manga (Japanese comics).
Starting with few members at first LO grew exponentially to reach 2000 members now. As the group expanded, the need to meet was growing stronger. It wasn’t an easy task as the members were used to being ostracized for liking “kids’ shows.” When the first meetings took place, it was a mild success. Gradually, they became more frequent and eventually led to the first big event in 2015, Matsuri (the word for festival in Japanese). It was an instant hit, taking place in one of the busiest streets of Beirut, Bliss Street. It attracted Otakus and passerby alike. The success came from the fact that the event wasn’t limited to pop culture, but celebrated the Japanese culture in all its aspects. The festival’s program included activities such as Japanese calligraphy writing, origami, a display of the tea ceremony, and competitions in manga drawing, karaoke, and cosplay –our most famous portion of the event. Fans would dress up as characters and then proceed to reenact or recite scenes from the show.
The Matsuri became a yearly tradition with its 2nd iteration in 2016 and 3rd in 2017, which took place in the Lebanese Fine Arts Academy (ALBA). In 2018, the name Matsuri was dropped in favor of a more well-known word: Con. Thus the first Otaku-Con in Lebanon emerged. This event had over 800 attendees and was covered by the local television stations. It was a hard gamble that paid off. This con was especially bigger with the appearance of the singer who enchanted the Lebanese population since the 70’s, Sammy Clark; as well as the Japanese flute player: Ms. Nobuko Miyazaki, from the band Oumi Ensemble.
LO is currently looking to expand its horizon by organizing larger scale events and assimilating cousin pop communities (gamers and comics readers). The goal is to create one big unique festival and unite the Lebanese who are trying to break free from the war’s influence. We aim to carry a message of peace and tolerance by unifying all the Lebanese youth with common interests, hobbies, and passions.
In a society shredded by political and economic instability, Lebanese Otaku has provided the local community with a peaceful, comfortable, and healthy environment for members to express themselves and their interests; thus, enabling them to better integrate into their community. As such, the Lebanese community although shredded by political, religious, economic instability and warfare has been able to unite under the leadership of a common interest in the Japanese culture, in hopes of fostering the ideologies of acceptance, tolerance, and respect whether cultural, ethnic, or personal.