Light novels have become one of the major sources of anime adaptations. When KAORI held a survey regarding fans’ interest for light novels, we could observe that just in the two-year period of 2018 to 2019, there were at least 42 airing TV anime that are based on light novels. The impact on anime fandom has also been notable. In Indonesia, for example, the airing of Sword Art Online anime in 2012 has been said to have created an entire generation of “weebs,” or in other words, became a gateway series to many anime fans who were in their teens or in their young adult years at the time of its airing.

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However, despite the significance of light novel adaptations, the source materials of those anime have had limited presence in Indonesian market. At the time of this writing, the light novel of the aforementioned Sword Art Online, despite its popularity among Indonesian fans in mid-2010s, is only getting Indonesian language release in 2021, about nine years since the anime adaptation debuted. While it is not the first time light novels get published in Indonesia, it is notable for being a very popular series getting licensed by a major Indonesian publisher.

In the occasion, this article would look back at some history of light novels licensed for Indonesian language release. While, admittedly, our data are still incomplete, we hope from the materials we could gather, we could provide some basic background on what the situation of publishing licensed light novels in Indonesia was like until 2021.

In Indonesia, there are two major publishers that are publishing licensed manga in the Indonesian language: Elex Media Komputindo and m&c!, both of which are part of Kompas-Gramedia Group. These publishers have actually published some manga adaptations of light novels like Toradora!, The Familiar of Zero (Zero no Tsukaima), Durarara!!, Regarding Reincarnated to Slime (Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken), or Kino’s Journey, and continues to the present day with titles like Oregairu, The Pharmacist’s Monologue/The Apothecary Diaries (Kusuriya no Hitorigoto), or Re;Zero. However, they have not done so with the novels these manga are based on. Setting aside the excerpt of Regarding Reincarnated to Slime novel included in the first volume of its manga, only The Familiar of Zero would see its novel released in Indonesia later, but even then by a different publisher which will be mentioned below.

Some light novel-based manga series released by Indonesian publishers (KAORI Nusantara / Halimun Muhammad)

When KAORI interviewed the editors from the two publishers in 2018, we also asked them about light novels, and both responded that they were taking cautious approach for licensing light novels because the domestic market did not seem to be viable enough for this product yet. We heard from these talks that there were actually attempts to publish romance light novels at least as early as the 2000s, but, as Elex Media’s editor Ratna Sari Abubakar admitted, those books did not sell well enough.

And then, around mid-2010s, some smaller publishers attempted to publish Indonesian editions of several light novels. Shining Rose Media, for example, began with with publishing lesser known titles like Penguin Summer, Leena’s World Map (Seizuyomi no Leena), Candid, Vampiress of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Vampiress), The Shut-Ins are Mocking My Youthful Days (Hikikomori-tachi ni Ore no Seishun ga Honrou Sareteiru), and My School Days has Just Begun (Boku no Gakuen Seikatsu wa Mada Hajimatta Bakari da!) between 2013 to 2015, before getting some series that have had anime adaptations like No Game No Life, the aforementioned Zero’s Familiar (Zero no Tsukaima), Absolute Duo, and Ryuugajou Nanana’s Buried Treasure.

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Around the same period, Katalis Pustaka as an imprint of the publisher Eaststar Adhi Citra was publishing novelizations of a couple of Makoto Shinkai’s works, 5 Centimeters per Second and Voices of a Distant Star, the novelization of the visual novel Narcissu by Tomo Kataoka, and The Everlasting Andante (Yuukyuu no Andante), in addition to later getting into manga publishing with ReLife in 2016. However, Shining Rose Media has not been publishing any new books since releasing the second volume of Absolute Duo in 2017, and neither have Katalis since releasing the second volume of ReLife in 2017.

As for the major publishers, in Elex Media’s case, starting from mid-2010s the publisher has mainly been releasing novels that are tied to already popular manga series such as Attack on Titan, Detective Conan, or Naruto, using the “light novel” label. Elex Media’s Ratna Sari said that these books can serve to bridge comics readers to also read novels, reach an audience that maybe interested in certain series or genres but do not like to read comics, and if these novels prove to sell well, there is a possibility that Elex Media could start to consider licensing more varied light novel titles. At least Detective Conan‘s novels have been appearing in Elex Media’s regular lists of best-selling books, but it remains to be seen if Elex Media would go ahead to license light novels outside of manga tie-in titles.

Both of the big manga publishers in Indonesia has pursued a strategy of publishing tie-in novels to popular manga series (KAORI Nusantara / Keinda D. Adilia)

As for m&c!, the strategies taken to prepare for licensing light novels for Indonesian language release has been described in more detail in an online talkshow held as part of the publisher’s 18th anniversary in May 2021, featuring the editors of m&c!’s novel publishing imprint, Clover, which was created in 2017. As explained by one of the editors, Mega, there had been doubts on whether light novels could sell well in Indonesia, not just because the early attempts in the 2000s did not sustain, but also because of considerations such as the books being mostly texts that might be off-putting for comics readers, and length of some light novel series that go on for many volumes may make it difficult to retain continuous readers’ interest and purchase over time.

Those issues are of concern because they make licensing light novels a risky endeavor for the publisher, as getting the license can be quite costly. As detailed by Clover’s editor Sasha, there is a minimum guarantee that needs to be paid in advance to the Japanese publisher for each volume in the series, and also fee to use the illustrations. Those factors also add to the challenge of keeping the translated books at an affordable price for Indonesian consumers.

But a more encouraging development occurred in 2014 when the publishing industry was rocked by the success of novels originally published on online platforms (such as Wattpad) that sold highly when published commercially in print. m&c!’s editors saw the Indonesian market may be getting more ready for light novels, since those web novels can also go on for multiple volumes with their readers mainly composed of teenagers, and at that time it was also becoming common in Japan for novels published on online platforms getting published commercially as light novels.

But to advance this agenda, the editorial staff needed to get convincing data that publishing light novels is worth the investment for the publisher. Hence, m&c! began publishing books that not exactly light novels, but are considered similar enough. Among them are publishing Gakken’s “Senkoiseries of educational romance novels in 2015, and like Elex Media, publishing spin-off novels of popular manga titles like Death Note, Chocolate Magic, or Tokyo Ghoul. Another important step was publishing the Psychic Detective Yakumo novels, which allowed the publisher to test the sales retention of the multi-volumes novel series, and the sales numbers proven to be satisfactory and stable. These steps are taken gradually not only to gather the necessary data, but also because m&c!’s editorial and design manpower was still too limited to publish many novels.

With the data acquired, serious talks for getting light novels began in the publisher in late 2018, that eventually lead to the selection of Fate/strange fake and Sword Art Online to be published in 2021. As the editors said, the performance of these titles will be important consideration for m&c! whether to publish more light novels in the future. In the case of Fate/strange fake, the editors expressed confidence in the interest of Fate series’ Indonesian fanbase, since m&c! has been publishing several Fate/Grand Order manga in Indonesia, which have proven to sell well. But although Sword Art Online is very popular and often requested by fans, it has been chosen with more caution as high amount of request do not always translate well into sales numbers, and as the series has had more than 20 volumes and counting, there is still concern that consumers’ interest in the series would diminish over time.

At the time of this writing, the first volume of Fate/strange fake has been released in April 2021, and has been reported to be one of the best-selling titles of Clover in the first half of 2021, with the second volume has also come out in July 2021. Meanwhile, the first volume of Sword Art Online was planned to come out around June or July 2021, but eventually got delayed to September because of social restrictions imposed because of the surging COVID-19 cases, so it still remains to be seen how well the book would perform.

Bringing light novels to Indonesia has not been an easy journey. Nevertheless, 2021 marks a new chapter in the publication of Indonesian editions of light novels. Only time will tell whether the market for light novel will be more sustainable this time and continue to grow in the future.

Read more: KAORI Nusantara Light Novel Readers Survey

The Indonesian Anime Times | Text by Halimun Muhammad

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