The Nusantaranger team, from left: Hendranto Sastro, Shani Budi Pandita, Indra Arista, Bisri Mustova, Keinesasih Hapsari Puteri, Tamalia Arundhina and Sweta Kartika. (JG Photo/Muhammad Edy Sofyan)
Indonesia is home to an incredibly diverse range of cultures and ethnic groups, but misunderstandings and differences have frequently sparked conflicts between some of those groups.
Critics both inside and outside the country have long denounced these conflicts and how they sit at odds with the national motto of “ Bhinneka Tunggal Ika ” (“Unity in Diversity”). But now a group of creative minds hopes to teach the children of Indonesia to see diversity as a great power, through a platform that is easy to get to grips with: a comic about a team of super heros representing Indonesia’s archipelago.
“Nusantaranger,” a portmanteau of the Indonesian “ nusantara ,” or archipelago, and “ranger,” takes inspiration from the popular Japanese comic series “Power Rangers,” or “Super Sentai.”
Nusantaranger, which has won a devoted audience online, tells the story of five youths given super powers from Indonesia’s major island. These five rangers, called Nusa, are endowed with different powers from animal spirit from each island, called ruh , or spirit, to protect the world from Kelana, a resurrected evil.
Red Ranger gets the ruh of the Javan hawk-eagle, the country’s national bird; Yellow Ranger has the Sumatran tiger; Green has the Bornean orangutan; Black the Sulawesi anoa, a type of buffalo; and Blue has Papua’s sawshark.
“We want to teach the children how to be nationalist and preserve local cultures, but we don’t want to lecture them,” says Shani Budi Pandita, one of the Nusantaranger creators.
“We try to incorporate traditional cultures in the comic using a pop culture approach so that the readers can enjoy the story as well as learn cultural values.”
Shani says Nusantaranger’s goal is to create a local super hero who can be new idol for Indonesian children, given the local dominance of Japanese and the US comic and movie heroes.
The idea for the comic began when Shani and his wife, Tamalia “Tami” Arundhina, began tweeting about the possibility of having a new local super hero, back in August 2013. The idea attracted a lot of feedback from social media users who voiced their support and suggestions.
Shani and Tami then found other people to complete their production team: Keinesasih “Ines” Hapsari Puteri, Sweta Kartika, Indra “Nabun” Arista, Bisri “Ova” Mustova, and Hendranto Sastro.
Together they worked hard to develop Nusantaranger, including researching cultural and historical material to suit the story and characters.
On Jan. 1 this year, the first chapter of the comic was uploaded to the website nusantaranger.com. Its well-prepared concept and heavy social media plugging saw the site rack up more than two million hits.
The number of loyal readers of Nusantaranger, called Jagawana, has also grown, reaching 1,455 followers on Twitter and 5,788 fans on Facebook.
“The number of readers reached more than we expected,” says Ova, the Web designer. “Our Web server went down after the first chapter was released, indicating that a lot of people wanted to read the comic.”
He says the readers often vie to be the first to read the latest chapters, and it’s very exciting to see their immediate responses. Some of them post praise and other feedback through Nusantaranger’s comment section and social media, while those who can’t read the comic because of server problems often complain.
“Our readers are hilarious. They don’t complain to us, because they understand our limited capacity, so they complain to other readers who cause the crash and ask them to leave the website,” Ova says.
“Some of them created a group called F5 Fighter, because they have to press the F5 button frequently to refresh the crashed website.”
Ines, the writer, says the readers’ reactions to the comic have been beyond their expectations.
“It’s fun to see how they spot some traditional cultural material that we incorporate into the story, such as the folklore behind the villains, or the rangers’ costumes that are inspired from their ruh and traditional costumes. They try to guess the plot and make fan art,” she says.
The appreciation shown by the readers keeps the team pumped up about continuing the comic and uploading new chapters on the first and 15th of every month.
“One day a fan sent us a pic of a Nusa-Red figurine made of paper. The figurine looked exactly like in the comic and we had no idea how he made it. How could you not cry over that kind of appreciation and love for your work?” Ines says.
Most of the Jagawana grew up in 1990s, when superhero shows ruled the airwaves, be they animated or live action.
“Kids these days don’t have that many super heroes to serve as role models,” says Nabun, the project manager.
“We’re worried because they prefer watching variety shows where people do silly dances and sing inappropriate songs about moonshine. We don’t want them to be more grown up than they really are. Childhood should be full of imagination and super heroes who teach them to fight and struggle for their dreams, not to chase instant success by acting silly and inappropriate.”
Ines says the team wants to make a lasting change to the Indonesian comic industry. Since the end of 1990s, no local superhero comics have been able to compete with foreign ones, she says.
“We really want to publish our comic in print so that children who don’t have access to the Internet can read it. Some comic publishers have offered to publish our work, but they just want to the benefits without providing resources, such as experienced editors to help develop the content,” Ines says.
“In Japan, comic publishers help the artists by providing experienced editors who know the industry well, such as market trends or story development. That’s why Japanese comics, or manga, are better and more popular than Indonesian ones. And that’s why we’re still publishing our comic on the Internet, so that readers can give their feedback directly and become our editors. They’ve helped us a lot. I hope that when the comic does get published it has good quality and can make us proud.”
Sweta, the comic artist, says Nusantaranger is free to read, but has investment potential further down the road.
“Maybe we won’t get an instant profit, but it’ll pay off if we consistently produce it and take care of it. We want Indonesian children to have a comic that they can idolize and be proud of, because it’s created by Indonesian artists,” he says.
Sweta, who draws his inspiration from Japanese manga artist Urasawa Naoki, says making cool drawings is easy, but the hard part is to stay disciplined. He says he hopes Nusantaranger can inspire Indonesian comic artists to maintain their consistency even though the local industry is far from fulfilling its true potential.
“Being a comic artist these days, you don’t have to ask many questions if you want to know more. However, try more, so you will know more from the process as the time goes by. Those who ask too much before trying are shirking away from learning from failure,” he says.
This article was published in The Jakarta Globe on June 22, 2014. Here’s the link for online version: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/features/nusantaranger-powers-local-comic-scene/