Last night I finished reading a very good book, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.It's a fantasy, but instead of set in a typical European-like place, the novel took place in a Middle Eastern themed world.Since this is a rather unusual setting for a fantasy novel, it got me thinking about anime, and how most fantasy series are either Asian based or European based.Oodles of series take place in deserts, but very few use the diverse cultures of the Middle East as a backdrop.
One such series is Magi, a manga written by Shinobu Ohtaka.Magi is one of two of her series to be licensed in the US, the other being Sumomo mo Momo mo.It is hard to believe that both series come from the same mangaka.Sumomo is a frantic martial arts comedy, with utterly absurd fights and characters a la Ranma 1/2.Magi, on the other hand, is a serious fantasy story with rather dark undertones.The manga touches on slavery, governmental corruption, and fate.Comedy is not absent, however, as the characters devolve into blushing chibis on a regular basis.
One of the main characters, Alibaba
The manga is still running in Japan, and there is currently a second cours of the anime airing, whichis streaming.
Viz published the second volume of manga this month, with the 3rd volume slated for December.Viz can't print them fast enough for me, but once every two months is a heck of a lot better than the twice a year schedule they have for some series ( for example).
Aladdin, the titular Magi of the series
Another similarly set series is Otogibanashi wo Anata ni: Tsukiyo no Maihime by Shiina Ayumi.Published in 2006 in Ribon magazine, it is unavailable outside of Japan.Even though Shiina's art is very beautiful, none of her works have been licensed for release in the States.It clocks in at only 3 chapters, but in 143 pages we are treated to a female phantom thief, a variety of highly intricate costumes, a prince disguised as a commoner (of course), a tragic romance, and a full-on coup.While the plot may not be entirely original, it gets points for choosing a rare setting as its backdrop.Unfortunately this manga may be difficult to find, as even when it was in print I had a hard time tracking it down.
The cover of Tsukiyo no Maihime
Last season's anime series Free! had a very interesting ending song.Basically in less than two minutes it tells a story of a desert kingdom whose water supply is controlled by a greedy prince.It deserves mention mainly because the costumes, setting, and characters are all reminiscent of the One Thousand and One Nights.Below are some stills of the ending animation.
Free! itself has absolutely nothing to do with deserts, sultans, or traveling vagabonds, but for those who have watched the show it makes perfect sense why these images were chosen.You can watch Free! in all its exclamation marked glory on Crunchyroll.
There are probably some other manga series out there that employ a Middle Eastern setting, but certainly none of them are as wildly popular as Magi presently seems to be.