In this webinar, Dr Rachel Chan discussed the conditions of the rising popularity of Malaysian-made manga and the potential that they bring for education polices in Malaysia.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
The Politics of Art in Southeast Asia Seminar Series
Tuesday, 29 September 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Dr Rachel Chan Suet Kay, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, National University of Malaysia to speak in a webinar on the rising popularity of Malaysian-made Manga in Malaysia. This webinar was part of the Politics of Art in Southeast Asia seminar series supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and moderated by Dr Su-Ann Oh. Mr Christian Echle, Director of Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia at KAS gave opening remarks, where he expressed his appreciation for Dr Chan’s participation in this webinar.
In this webinar, Dr Chan spoke about the rising popularity of Malaysian-made manga among Malaysian youth. She described this manga as ‘Malaysian-made’ as it is rooted in locally recognisable depictions of Malaysia’s education context, ethnicity, gender, and social class. Dr Chan began by introducing the history of manga as a cultural product originating from Japan and asserted that manga is not simply Japanese comics or visual language aimed at entertaining young people. Manga is a platform worthy of sociological analysis insofar as it sparks and promotes intellectual discussion about social issues. Riyoko Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles and Naoko Takeuchi’s manga-turned-anime series Sailor Moon, for example, were used as examples to foreground a discussion on gender politics. Dr Chan emphasised that manga provides valuable reflections and critiques of contemporary society.
While the demand for Japanese manga has grown exponentially across the world, manga particularly Naruto and Doraemon are found to resonate strongly with young people in Malaysia. In Malaysia, the print versions of Japanese manga has been widely translated into multiple languages including English, Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese, with the English version less accessible due to its higher price. Dr Chan described this Japanese manga as ‘culturally ordourless’ insofar as it is often contextualised in a fantastical world that has few parallels with the daily lives of young readers. The characters such as Card Captor Sakura and Sailor Moon also usually foreground Westernised aesthetics that bear little or no resemblance to Asian facial features.
However, in recent years, Dr Chan observed the emergence of Malaysian-made manga in Malaysia. Not only is the manga developed by homegrown artists, it is also culturally adapted to the social and cultural context of Malaysia. Malaysia-made manga usually provides depictions of stories and experiences on the daily issues, fears, and struggles of Malaysian youth, such as familial expectations, academic stress experienced and friendships. Using the example of Malaysian-made manga, Kepahitan Tersembunyi (translated as Hidden Bitterness), by Dreamerz and Leoz, Dr Chan described how this manga reflects the moral values of perseverance and the importance of families and friendships.
In closing, Dr Chan reflected on the role of manga as an educational tool. She said that manga could serve as an effective channel in conveying moral education to young people from a bottom-up perspective. However, Dr Chan also pointed out some challenges and considerations of using manga as an education platform as they often feature controversial topics such as sexuality, gender and romance. Nevertheless, Dr Chan pointed out that manga has long been incorporated into and used in the Japanese curriculum to teach complicated concepts and subjects. With more access to web-based manga today, Dr Chan emphasised that manga has untapped potential in connecting people of diverse ethnicities, gender and socio-economic backgrounds around the world.
The webinar was attended by 39 participants from both Singapore and abroad. Issues that were discussed during the virtual Q&A session included the similarities and differences between manga and other popular artistic mediums such as Pantuns, folklores and Cosplay as platforms of social critiques; the policy relevance of manga; and the future potential of Malaysian-based manga vis-à-vis Japanese manga in Malaysia.