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October 26th, 2007

What Manga is Like in Indonesia - Part I

Next month mark 17 years since Candy-candy was first published in Indonesia. 17 is also the legal age to obtain an ID card in Indonesia and get married. Considering that fact, an obvious thought crossed my mind: Have the market and its fan base matured with age itself? I am going to talk about that in this series of columns starting this week. I am not sure how many parts it will be (so far it's three), it'll depend on your attention span and my urge to write and be articulate. I am not a manga expert, so you are welcome to point my mistakes.

Part I: History

In 1990, Elex Media Komputindo published its first manga titled Candy-candy. Elex is a publishing company which was widely known as a computer book publisher. Of course, Elex was not the first publisher to try their hands on manga in Indonesia, but Elex is the most persistent and consistent publisher for this type of books. Someone must have foreseen the potential of a huge market in the coming future. But, I will cover that in Part II: Issues around publishing.

1990s – An Appealing Market

With the Candy-candy success, Elex focused on targeting the younger market, as Indonesians still perceived comics (including manga) are for children. During the period of 1990s, Elex began publishing more shojo titles about young boys and girls, and their epic lives like the Mari-chan ballet series, Pop Corn (Seito Shokun!) and Rose of Versailles. Meanwhile, the boys also enjoyed titles like Dragon Ball, Akira, Chinmi series (Hakkenden) and Natane. Doraemon was also published and its anime has been broadcast in Indonesia regularly since 1990.

The success of these titles from Elex seems to inspired interest for Gramedia, a publishing company that publishes magazines and comics exclusively under the imprint name M&C. M&C had experience with comics - Donald Duck and Hong Kong kung fu comics - and they launched their manga line with AKAISHI Michiyo titles, such as Setinggi Langit dan Bintang (lit. As High as the Sky and Stars, 天よりも星よりも, Ten yori mo Hoshi yori mo) and Alpen Rose.

You may say that the mid-90s was the starting point for the manga culture in Indonesia. Many titles popped out and were snatched up from the bookstores immediately. The price range was IDR 3000 - 3500 (then USD 1.20 - 1.40) with dust covers, thus Indonesia was considered to be one of the places where readers could get some of the lowest-priced manga in the world with great packaging and sometimes excellent translation quality.

The titles Elex and M&C published around this period were carefully selected. They choose titles which would captivate most of their target readers. By publishing more mainstream manga they were able to stay clear of visually harmful content (to avoid getting censored!). The mainstream manga selections helped in establishing a faithful fan base that would continue to support the industry during the upcoming economic crisis.

1998 - Economic Crisis and Price Dive

With the arrival of an economic crisis in 1998, the manga industry was also hit severely. Manga is no longer available with jacket to cut printing costs and the price range shot up to an average of 9000 IDR. It was hard to buy manga during this period. No one could foresee what was going to happen with the Indonesian rupiah value at the time as its value kept on depreciating against the US dollar. The lowest dip was 15000, and manga publishers released fewer titles during this period to accommodate the purchasing power of their consumers.

As of today, the price range for a manga is fixed at 12.000-15.000 (USD 1.29 - 1.61). Meanwhile manga magazines are priced around 20.000 to 22.000 (USD 2.15 - 2.35). You can buy them cheaper in some places like the newsstand or manga rental. Both Elex and M&C have delivery service in major cities where they have branch offices.

2000s – Steady Growth

Since 2000, manga has enjoyed great popularity which in turn helped push many other elements of Japanese culture to be imported here. Not to mention the increase of interest in taking Japanese courses and JLPT every year. I will write about these subcultures in the Part III: Indonesians and Manga Culture.

Around 2002, businesses bounced back and people got on with their lives. And as purchasing power increased, so did the number of titles published - from 10-30 titles to nearly 70 titles per month. And after an unsuccessful attempt at a manga magazine called Candy back in the 90s, Elex braced themselves and launched Nakayoshi Gress in September 2003.

Manga themes also caught up with those who were kids in the 90s, and in September 2005, Elex hit another milestone by launching Level, an adult imprint. Advertised heavily in anime and manga communities, adult manga fans welcomed titles that were previously considered impossible to be published in Indonesia.

The manga market in Indonesia is maturing and has never been better. Publishers are also making a lot of money despite the lack of proper advertising initiatives and problems like preferences over scanlation and pirated copies of manga. These problems will be discussed more detailed in the next part.

That's it for this week, I leave you wondering with Elex enthrallment over the month of September, I am still figuring out the mystery myself. See you next week!
—Pea Rea (reapea@gmail.com)