JEDDAH: Mitsuhiro Arita, the acclaimed Japanese illustrator of the Pokemon Trading Card Game TCG, met with his Saudi fans for the first time in Jeddah at Anime Village in City Walk, one of nine zones of Jeddah Season 2022.
The full-house meet-and-greet sessions on May 27-28 allowed Arita fans to listen to and talk with the artist behind their favorite childhood cartoon and card games.
Arita has illustrated hundreds of Pokemon cards during a 26-year artistic career sthat has also produced “Final Fantasy Games,” “Berserk: The Golden Ages” movies trilogy — a worldwide favorite of anime and Nintendo fans — and “Culdcept.”
“I supervised these three works, but all I cared about at the time was to get an excellent result in all three works, which I love equally. But my admiration goes to ‘Culdcept.’ For me it is art, and I feel proud that it is among my works,” he told Arab News in an exclusive interview while signing cards and autographs for his fans.
“Culdcept” is a series of turn-based strategy video games developed by OmiyaSoft in which the player traverses a map and uses magical, tablet-like “cards” to defeat their opponents by forcing them to land on specific spaces and pay a toll — similar to Monopoly.
Arita was born in 1971 in Fukuoka, Japan, and now lives in Tokyo, where he began his career as a professional illustrator in 1996, with Pokemon TCG as his first project.
He has designed and illustrated over 660 Pokemon cards and has also worked on the design of “Final Fantasy XI” for 11 years, as well as designing magazines and movie books.
A self-taught illustrator, Arita said that his inspiration is Katsushika Hokusai, known simply as Hokusai, and famous for the woodblock print series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” and the iconic “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”
“When I was in high school, back in 1998, one of my friends introduced me to ‘Final Fantasy’ by Yoshitaka Amano. I used to draw from time to time, and ‘Final Fantasy’ was an inspiration, and my favorite artist and role model was Katsushika Hokusai,” he said.
The talented and ambitious Arita had the chance to impress the creators of “Final Fantasy XI” when they saw his drawings in the book “Arms and Armor,” which was published in 2004. He then spent more than 11 years working on “Final Fantasy XI.”
Arita said: “I enjoyed working with the team that built the ‘Final Fantasy’ world; we used to enjoy working together.”
Saudis have long been fans of Japanese culture, anime productions and illustrations, with the first Saudi-Japanese anime film “The Journey” premiering worldwide in 2021.
Arita advised young Saudis who want to be illustration artists for anime, manga or video games to “watch different illustration works more than once so that the ideas become clear to you, and make sure to present anime works that represent your Saudi culture.”
In the past five years, Arita has traveled the world, appearing at public events in Japan, the US, China, Italy and now Saudi Arabia.
Arita said that his views about the Kingdom changed on his first visit after meeting with his enthusiastic fans, who held stickers, posters and cards for him to sign.
As a gesture of gratitude, Arita drew an illustration for the City Walk in a livestream before heading to the Anime Village from his hotel. The illustration is available for sale on his website https://linktr.ee/mitsuhiroArita
Among the fans was 35-year-old Saudi entrepreneur Mohammed Fakhry, who was carrying an album folder holding more than 200 Pokemon TCG, harking back to the ‘90s when children would take their collectible Pokemon cards to show friends at school.
“When I heard that the designer of the original card game was coming, I wanted to show him my appreciation and what I still have — it still lives on. It’s not just a trend. It’s stayed with us, it’s part of us,” Fakhry told Arab News.
“Pokemon was the first card game that I was ever exposed to. We collected, we bought, we traded cards and we had battles. I’m holding the trading card collection — it matters a lot to collectors.”
Fakhry said that he and his friends view the cards as an art form.
The long-time fan asked Arita for a unique signature, saying that it was an “unforgettable moment” for him.