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To follow up from our manga readers survey, KAORI met with Ratna Sari Abubakar, Managing Editor for Comics of Elex Media Komputindo, one of the prominent publishers of manga in Indonesia, and talked about manga publishing in Indonesia. Our report of the discussion will be divided into three parts. The first part will mainly concern about the history of manga publishing by Elex Media, the second part will mainly concern about the process and challenges of licensing manga series for publication in Indonesia, while the third part discuss various things about manga readers in Indonesia, and other activities beyond publishing manga books.

The Winding Road of Licensing

Elex Media licenses manga from various Japanese publishers. Some of them are contacted directly by Elex, while some others via agencies. With the various parties that could get involved in the licensing process, it can get complicated, long, and challenging.

In choosing a manga title to be licensed, Ms. Sari explained that there are various factors that can be put into consideration. First, Elex Media may look into the popularity of the manga in Japan or in the world, or take input from readers such as through pollings or recommendations via e-mail or phone. Then, Elex will review the title to see if the drawing and the story are good and interesting, as well as to check for excessively objectionable contents by Indonesian standards. If it passes the review, then Elex will apply to obtain the license to publish it. If any modification deemed necessary, request to do modification must also be included in the application. But screening for objectionable contents can be particularly challenging with ongoing series. In one case, the available volumes that were reviewed when the application was made was still be tolerable. But after the application for the license has been approved, the later volumes contain adult contents that would make it more suitable for the Level Comics label.

When applying for license, Elex Media may apply for the same titles at the same time as m&c!, another comics publisher in the Kompas Gramedia group. Then, it is the Japanese side that decides which titles will be licensed to which Indonesian publisher. Curiously, there is a tendency for the Japanese companies to give license for boys’ manga to Elex Media while girls’ manga to m&c!. “We’re not sure how, but Elex has gained a reputation of being publisher of boys’ comics, while m&c! as publisher of girls’ comics, both from Japanese companies and readers, and sales of girls’ comics are generally better at m&c!.”

Elex Media publishes popular shounen titles such as One Piece, Naruto, Detective Conan, and Fullmetal Alchemist

Of course, Elex Media and m&c! do not limit themselves to only male or female readers only. Elex Media’s first manga publication was the shoujo manga Candy Candy after all. While m&c! has also published Shounen Jump manga such as Bleach, Haikyuu!, and My Hero Academia. “We often receive questions from readers, like, ‘why is Tokyo Ghoul not published by Elex, but by m&c!?’ The decision is from the Japanese company.”

After the application for new license has been sent, in theory, the standard for getting a response is ten work days, but in practice, it can vary greatly. In some cases, applications sent in the morning may receive response in the evening or the next day, while in other cases there may still no replies given after three months. “It’s up to how smoothly things go from the Japanese publisher, the author, and the agency,” Ms. Sari put it shortly. Getting the license is more difficult when the manga is based on anime (such as with the comicalization of Naruto feature films), because there are other companies that also hold the rights to it.

Different publishers and different authors may give different conditions for the version of the manga that will be published in Indonesia. The case of Rurouni Kenshin in the previous part is an example of a condition requested by the author. Other examples include Shueisha not allowing reader-submitted fanart at the back of the manga volumes to be included in the Indonesian version, a publisher that requests the manga to be produced with the same paper dimensions as the original, etc.

The title of the manga when published in Indonesia may vary between using Indonesian (as with Maou-sama Chotto Sore Totte! becoming Raja Setan, Ambilin Itu Dong!), using English that have been used in the original version (as with BIRDMEN), using English translation of the Japanese title (as with Natsu no Arashi! becoming Summer Storm!) or keeping the Japanese title (as with Natsume Yujincho). In Ms. Sari’s explanation, The first is keeping the original title from Japan, which could be done if the original title was already using English to begin with, if the title is the character’s name (like with Naruto or Kobo-chan), or if it is short enough. Second, there are titles that are changed into English. For this second approach, Elex Media may use title that has been used somewhere else in the world, or, if the manga hasn’t been published in English, Elex Media will think of a title that is short and easy to remember. “In general, the rule is to have the title easy to remember and related to the contents of the manga,” Ms. Sari summarized.

Maou-sama Chotto Sore Totte is one of Elex’s licensed manga which title is localized to Indonesian © Tomoya Haruno, Shueisha/Elex Media

Ultimately, the chosen title still have to be approved by the Japanese publisher. “Hakusensha, for example, rarely approve of our choice of English title. They ask the meanings of each words used, how does it relate to the contents of the manga, and so on. So we often resort to using simple Indonesian title for that case.” Ms. Sari also mentioned that with Raja Setan, Ambilin Itu Dong!, the use of Indonesian title is requested from the Japanese side.

When Elex Media has obtained the license, they are supposed to keep publishing the series until it ends in Japan. For ongoing series, Ms. Sari said, whenever a new volume has been available in Japan, Elex Media will immediately apply for the license to that volume, to take into account the time that it may take to get approval. The Japanese publishers usually push for the series that have been licensed to keep getting published in Indonesia, even though the sales in Indonesia has not been good for Elex Media, out of respect to the authors.

But sometimes, there are series which publication get suspended indefinitely. There are some reasons that Ms. Sari explained may cause that to happen. The first is because the author is on hiatus, such as with Hunter X Hunter or Topeng Kaca (Garasu no Kamen), so the manga simply has not continued yet in Japan to begin with. The second is because the gap to the release of the next volume takes too long, and the third because the contract expires.

And then, occasionally, the author themselves request to stop giving the license to foreign publisher, such as what happened with Master Keaton. Having published the first 10 volumes, Elex Media has applied to publish the remaining eight volumes, and even offered the option to re-release the whole series from the beginning in “deluxe” editions, but both options have not been accepted because the author refused. “Japanese publishers respect the wishes of the manga artists very much, especially if they have became popular, since they are assests for the publishers.”

In addition to manga, Elex Media has also been releasing light novels, though the novels in question are usually related to already popular manga titles such as Attack on Titan in 2016 and Detective Conan in 2018. Prior to that, Elex Media had published romance light novels, but they were not successful. Hence, Elex Media now takes a more selective approach in licensing novels, starting with spin-off of well-known manga franchises such as mentioned above. At the time of our discussion, Ms. Sari revealed to us that Elex Media has planned to release One Piece and Naruto novels. “Publishing these novels is also a way to reach into an audience that may be interested in certain series or genres, but doesn’t like to read comics,” Ms. Sari mentioned.

If these novels do well in the market, it’s possible that Elex Media may try to license more varied light novel titles. And with more anime now are adapted from light novels, readers now are probably more aware and familiar with light novels. But Elex Media will move cautiously step-by-step to make sure that the domestic market for light novels is viable.

CLAMP’s “Magic Knight Rayearth” artbook that used to be published by Elex Media © CLAMP/Kodansha/Elex Media

In the past, Elex Media had also released artbooks, such as one of Magic Knight Rayearth from CLAMP. However, currently Elex Media does not release artbooks like that because reproducing the artworks in high quality would make the artbooks cost almost as much as the original Japanese release. “It’ll probably make no difference if fans just buy the Japanese artbooks,” Ms. Sari said.

To be continued in part 3

The Indonesian Anime Times | Reporting by Halimun Muhammad, Dody Kusumanto and Videtra Reynaldi

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