It’s been a long dream of mine to see manga widely distributed in the Philippines. In fact, if people asked what I would do if I won the lottery, I will say that I will establish a manga publishing firm in the Philippines.
Not that I have issues in seeing manga in English (I’ve been thankful that this is available to me), but see, I’m a little envious that our Southeast Asian neighbors have easy access to manga.
Meeting people online as well as traveling to places has shown me how late the Philippines is in the manga game. Almost every major Southeast Asian nation has a manga industry. Ten years ago, I managed to go around the region thanks to my father and back then, localized manga from Thailand and Malaysia were thin tankoubon formats printed in newsprint. The Chinese editions were a little different, with paper closer to a thicker version of parchment.
In my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, I took a shot in buying manga from a 7-11 store. It was the Malay version of Gokudou Twins and I cannot vouch for quality of the translations but I can share that the publishing quality is quite good. It even mimicks Japan’s double cover! The best part yet was it was sold for RM7, just a little over PHP 98, or $3.50.
Upon seeing that edition, I return to what I had reflected on about the five years that came and went since I started this blog. In it, I had high hopes that manga is on an upswing in the Philippines however, can it be as widespread as it is in Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia?
The problem of audience
Just who would benefit from localized manga in the Philippines? Most kids would rather watch anime, but who will be reading the manga? Will it be the masses? The regular kids who play in the streets? Will it be the working class? Will it be the middle class? Maybe the elite?
It was my own personal failure to easily assume that not a lot of people in the Philippines read. It’s kinda true and kinda not true. In 2008, the the NSO conducted a FLEMMS survey, basically to see the nation’s position in literacy. Around 86% of the population is functional literate, meaning they can read and write for various purposes. In their 2003 survey, only an average of 41% of the population actually read printed material. That’s at least 2 out of 10 people in the Philippines. The rest turn to the television to do their reading.
If I think about the social classes, the upper middle class and the elite is none of my concern. These are the people who can buy manga off the shelves at its current prices. I do have friends who would read scanlations but eventually buy the title once it has been licensed. But I can only cite 2 who do. I can site 3 who buy the Japanese editions, and that’s including myself.
Based on my research, only 4.7% of scanlation readers do buy the manga in the Philippines. There are currently 30M internet users in the Philippines. If you put that against 1,710,000 Filipinos who visit a website like Mangafox.com, only 80,370 people will definitely buy the manga they read scanlated. And even then I can’t guarantee that they will buy since 1.2M people responded that they would occasionally buy it. Perhaps 2-3 volumes in a year or two. 19% of Mangafox readers (324,900 people) will definitely never buy the title. At least there’s an intention to buy, right? In my survey, and looking at website statistics, most of those who read from Mangafox and Onemanga are women ages 18-24.
Bookstores are well and alive in the Philippines and there are people who buy books. The most accessible bookstore to the masses, National Bookstore, has a limited selection of books but contains books for all kinds of needs, even public school text books.
I remember attending a book convention and listened in on a panel about romance novels. Apparently, romance novels is one of the top selling books in the Philippines that can sell as much as 5,000 copies or more. Priced at PHP 37/novel, these books are highly accessible and widely read by lots of women, primarily from the working class.
My staff in the office has one romance novel kept in her bag everyday and I see her swap and exchange notes on these novellas with some other staff members in other offices. I was particularly amused with their interest that even I had my share of reading a romance novel and thought… well… it’s all right. If I’m not irked by the continuous code switching and the small grammatical errors, it’s actually a fun read. In fact, midway through the book, I just wanted to see how it ends!
This same staff saw me reading manga in the office once and asked if there’s an easier way to read them. By principle I told her that she can buy the comic at the bookstore across the school. The next day, she returned with a romance novel, telling me that the book was much too expensive that she’d rather buy 10 romance novels.
I found this exchange quite interesting because it made me wonder, can manga reach the same casual appeal as these romance novels? Can manga be localized in the Philippines in such a way that girls like my staff can reach for it with ease in the bookshelf and enjoy it?
The problem of language
The Philippines’ national language is Filipino. It’s actually Tagalog with a mix of words from other dialects. For me, I cannot exactly distinguish the blend of other dialects in my Filipino. I just speak how most people speak. And that’s really… a mix of Filipino with a splatter of English.
Last week, questions about publishing manga in Filipino surfaced in my life again as my friend and I were doing research on the local manga industry in the Philippines. I did say once that there’s manga in the Philippines as published by Jline Comics. They print mostly Doraemon and currently they are at their 25th volume. What’s interesting is that this company of 3 have published this manga in Filipino, however, their Filipino is closer to a Visayan/Cebuano Street-level Filipino, thus some small grammatical errors in their text. However, it’s still pretty readable as a title. In fact, it’s a very fun title to read! The funny thing is despite its presence in bookstores, nobody’s bought it. Based on some people’s reactions when I asked over twitter, nobody has even heard that it existed.
I always have a couple of volumes in my room and when my nieces and nephews come to play, they will often reach for my Doraemon volumes more than they would my English titles (they said it’s because I had weird tastes. I told them not to touch my BL). The kids love it. Well, my nieces never really bought them but we had a guest once who ended up loving the book so much that I ended up giving it to her. Of course there must be a universal reason why kids love Doraemon, but this small experience gives me a glimpse of how having manga in Filipino can be nice.
But what kind of Filipino? I asked people in my timeline if they would buy manga in Filipino. They said they would but on certain conditions. For example, some would buy it only if it is in perfectly straight Tagalog.
I don’t mind reading that but I will confess that reading something in straight Tagalog can be a little vexing. Yes, people can speak in straight Tagalog but in everyday parlance, people interject borrowed English words that have become second nature to conversations. At times, people could also get lost in the vocabulary. More so, manga is not exactly high literature. As manga entail conversations, I personally believe it should be based on conversational Filipino. And that… is… quite… questionable.
Everyday parlance can be grammatically incorrect and often condoned for its codeswitching behavior. Taglish is seen as a deterioration of the language, and yet I speak this in front of people. Even my staff converses with me in Taglish. I’m surrounded by people who speak like this and at least until we’re out of high school, nobody really gives a damn if you mix in your Tagalog with your English. As long as people can understand you, it should be fine. But I understand that this language is in no way proper Filipino but this is one that many understand. This casual language is often used in many television dramas and even in translated anime.
I’ve taken the liberty of making a sample translations in order to understand the language. First up is a page from Ouran High School Host Club. Here’s the page in straight Filipino.
Here’s the more casual Filipino.
There are benefits in both but on a personal end, I’d rather read the more casual Filipino. For one, it’s an easier language and quite believable in terms of conversation. More so, there are some terms that really doesn’t have a perfect Filipino match. If you force the more grammatically correct language, it sounds horribly awkward and antiquated that no one can relate to it because no one talks like that.
Over at twitter, I was asking people if localizing tone is also appropriate. For example, Domyouji of Hanadan perfectly fits the profile of a rich spoiled brat that studies in a private school. A boy like Domyouji would probably speak in mixed Filipino, stressing his English more than his Filipino. I also did a translation of Hanadan and rather than slipping up on his English, I made Domyouji slip-up on his Tagalog as this would be more difficult for him. In that sense, readers who catch up on such misses will notice Domyouji’s difficulty and immediately know (beyond the obvious) that he’s quite a rich dumb guy.
I made a sample chapter of Hana Yori Dango in Filipino and showed it to a couple of friends and of course to my staff for reading. The reactions were mostly of amusement. For the translation, I played a bit with a more casual language. If I remember it, I’ll follow a stricter grammar. That said, despite the positive reactions from my test audience, they had mixed reactions about buying it. Some who were unfamiliar with the title would like to buy it. Others won’t and would possibly invest on an English edition rather than this tagalog version. Given a chance, they will still read it, but probably not buy it.
I did ask my staff as part of the general audience, and she was more than happy to see it in Filipino and wished that my sample chapter was taken from Sailormoon rather than HanaDan. My staff’s part of the romance novel demographic thus she has more grasp of what the working class girl would rather read. She said, in a heartbeat, she’d rather read her manga in tagalog, in the same casual language as this. I showed her the sample chapters of Ouran and even she found the straight tagalog to be far too deep that she’ll get bored with it. According to her, it’s more fun to see English mixed with Filipino as there’s a comedic beat to it. It’s “Kenkoy,” if I may quote her correctly.
So what do you think? Please give my horrible sample chapter of HanaDan and tell me what you think and feel about reading manga in Filipino.
Do you think, if a manga was sold in this kind of language, you will buy it off the shelves?
Link to sample HanaDan in Tagalog: http://goo.gl/QqQqz