The studio behind the satirical Saudi cartoon millions are watching

It’s still dangerous to push the boundaries in Saudi Arabia.

That’s exactly what animation studio Myrkott is doing, and it’s building a huge online following in the process.

Myrkott and its creators are behind the wildly popular satirical cartoon series, Masameer.

Named after a Saudi neighborhood about 186 miles (300 km) west of the capital Riyadh, the series pokes fun at the conservative kingdom over issues such as women’s rights, corruption, drug use and religious tension — subjects that would have been taboo until very recently.

The series has so far amassed more than 600 million views over 100 episodes on YouTube.

“We try to create characters from all aspects, all different backgrounds, cultures, religions. Characters that you meet everyday,” said Abdulaziz Al-Muzaini, who founded Myrkott with Malik Nejer and Faisal Alamer in 2014.

“When you watch it as a Saudi or from the Gulf, there is a certain depth of reality… that makes people love it,” he told CNNMoney.

Masameer also tackles other dramatic changes being driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who wants to overhaul the economy and restore a more tolerant culture to Saudi Arabia.

Related: Saudi Arabia’s reforming crown prince has youth on his side

A recent 12-minute episode covered recent reform efforts and the struggle with religious authorities who oppose steps to liberalize society, such as allowing music concerts for the first time this year.

It features a man who runs out of patience with the lack of change, and decides his only option is to escape what he calls the “medieval” kingdom, leaving his wife in the process.

He starts a video blog about his new “freedom” and his desire to try things that are forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

“Tomorrow I’ll think about being an atheist, then become part of an opposition, then try being gay,” he says in a video that was cut short for an announcement claiming women will be allowed to drive.

That prompts him to return to Saudi Arabia.

The episode has been watched more than 1.7 million times. But Al-Muzaini knows it won’t be universally popular.

“We know that not all people are going to take it well,” Al-Muzaini said in his studio in Riyadh. “We don’t want to follow, we want to lead. We want to go on five years from now and say ‘we told you so.'”

 

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