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Ancient Egypt is a setting that for many animators has fueled their imagination for years. After all, it’s a culture with a vast history featuring everything from pharaohs to mummies, a pantheon of gods to the pyramids, hieroglyphics to fauna – elements inspiring both plots and designs.
This was seen to great effect in the recent video game Assassin’s Creed: Origins, which explores this setting – putting a fictitious spin on an already existing world. Ubisoft, the game’s creators, hired everyone from Egyptologists to historians to archeologists in order to create a world that may not be historically accurate but felt historically authentic.
What makes the Assassin’s Creed franchise so solid is that it manipulates those grey areas of history and weaves them into the plot. If a real person died but under mysterious circumstances, the game incorporates it into the protagonist’s tale. Through this, the franchise has proved its possible to create a culturally sound representation – not just landmarks but a whole country.
Another example of Ancient Egypt onscreen is Yu-Gi-Oh!, one of the most famous animes of all time. It centres on an ancient pharaoh being brought to life in modern times and using his wit as he outsmarts his enemies through a card game that’s of Ancient Egyptian origin. Features of the show like Exodia The Forbidden One and the God cards are all based on Egyptian themes and designs, taking inspiration from deities and forming narratives around them. In fact, the ‘Dawn of the Duel’ season almost entirely takes place in this Ancient world, where even though it is fictitious, it provides a solid backdrop that draws on mythology and lore.
Ancient Egypt or its culture crops up time and time again in animation, its many elements like mummies and pharaohs lending themselves so well to the worlds created through the artform. Scooby Doo has used an Egyptian setting on more than one occasion. The animated series adaptation of The Mummy looks at Imhotep, the historical high priest (not much is known of him and the show takes creative license to the extreme), and has him as an antagonist terrorising the core characters.
The 1997 animated series Mummies Alive! gives viewers an action-packed romp about a young boy who reawakens four ancient Egyptian warriors who help him fight an evil mummy sorcerer. Later running in the noughties was Tutenstein, which moves the action to an Egyptian exhibition at a museum. It tells the tale of a boy pharaoh brought back to life, constantly getting into situations that allow his perfectly named friend, Cleo, to explain modern life to him. There are clichés in all of these, of course, but they all portray an aspect of history that is dramatised with respect.
Lastly, there’s also Papyrus, a short-lived, 52-episode animated series based on a series of Belgian comic books. It tells the tale of the gods’ choice to entrust a young fisherman with the task of freeing the god Horus from the clutches of the evil Set. Here, Imhotep is actually an ally of the protagonist, unlike in The Mummy, showing us that meshing mythology and magic while retaining some authentic details can deepen a show, here enhancing the viewer’s enjoyment of a culture.
Papyrus is the kind of show that can encourage audiences to take up an interest in history and lead one to study into Ancient Egypt’s magical legends and gorgeous backdrops even more.