CAIRO – A scene from an animated version of a popular Japanese comic book has sparked an outcry in the Muslim world, where some fear it could fuel a backlash not seen since European publications carried cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Shueisha Inc., a Japanese publisher involved in the production of the “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” comic book and its animated versions, said Thursday it has suspended sales of some of the original “manga” and the DVD series.
A Shueisha press official said the material was not intended to be offensive and was the result of none of the animators knowing Arabic in 2001.
At issue is a 90-second “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” video segment that depicts Dio Brando, a villain, picking up a Quran from a bookshelf and apparently examining it as he orders the execution of the hero and his friends.
The animation is based on the widely popular manga by Hirohiko Araki that appeared in the weekly Shonen Jump from 1987 to 2003. The Japanese publisher said the Quran does not appear in the print version.
The scene in question is in episode six of the animated video “Stardust Crusaders,” which was produced by A.P.P.P (Another Push Pin Planning) Co. in 2001.
A pirated version of the cartoon series with Arabic subtitles has been available on the Internet since March 2007.
Someone posted negative comments and a still from the video, sparking a groundswell. Messages on the topic have appeared in more than 300 Arab and Islamic Web forums, with some accusing Japan of insulting the Quran.
Sheikh Abdul Hamid Attrash, chairman of the Fatwa (religious edict) Committee at Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni authority, based in Cairo, called the cartoon an insult to Islam.
“This scene depicts Muslims as terrorists, which is not true at all,” he said. “This is an insult to the religion, and the producers would be considered to be enemies of Islam.”
Responding to the accusation, the Shueisha official said it was “a simple mistake.”
“Neither the original comic nor the animation intends to treat Muslims as villains. But as a result, the cartoon offended Muslims,” the official said. “We apologize for the unpleasantness that the cartoon may have caused and will carefully consider how to deal with religious and culture themes.”
The official said one of the animators came up with the idea of using an Arabic book to give the scene a more authentic feel, as the villain was hiding out in Egypt.
With that in mind, the animator took out a library book, which turned out to be the Quran, and used it for the scene. No one realized the mistake because no one at the company could read or speak Arabic, the official said.
Reactions on the Web have included taking offense at the villain reading the Quran and the alleged underlying message suggesting children who read the Quran will become villains.
“There are prejudiced pictures about the greatest and purest divine book, our Great Quran, in a new cartoon series called ‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ . . . what is the purpose of putting in these pictures?” a well-circulated Net message asks.
Qannas al-Jazira, one of the most active members of Al-Hesbah, a major Islamic Web site used as a clearing house for Islamic militants’ statements, wrote: “There is a wicked man in a cartoon series called ‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ and this villain appears in a clip while reading the Holy Quran . . . even the Japanese began to depict Muslims as evil persons and terrorists in their cartoon films.”
Despite the apology from the publisher, some are not willing to accept the error.
Aly Yassin, owner of a Cairo Internet cafe, said he believes the object of the Japanese producers was to say: “This evil character derives its subversive ideas from this book, the Holy Quran. . . . This indicates the deep-rooted rancor against Islam and the misconceptions about Quran meanings. This is unjustifiable.”
Still others, including Gamal Qutb, ex-head of the Fatwa Committee at Al-Azhar, were even tougher, suggesting Muslims should boycott Japanese products unless Japan takes action against the video.