Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Indonesian manga analysis

I recently found this interesting paper, "Impacts of manga on Indonesian readers' self-efficacy and behavior intentions to imitate its visuals," that attempts to dissect the factors influencing why Indonesian comic fans imitate the drawings in manga (pdf at academia.edu...account may be necessary to access).

They gave readers a copy of a manga (Naruto) and a non-manga comic (Tintin) and then had them rate the attractiveness of their visuals, the intentions behind imitation, and other factors. They found that people rated the manga as more attractive, more engaging, and eliciting more "psychological" responses. They conclude that "emotional attractiveness" is the primary factor for why people prefer manga to non-manga comics.

First, let me say that I really like that people are doing these types of sociological studies looking at these issues. I like the overall aims of this study, and especially the use of a data-driven methodology, and would like to see more approaches like this.

However, I think that the actual results are pretty confounded. The authors admit, for example, that the participants in the study already read comics, particularly manga (and some even had already read this issue of Naruto, but not Tintin!). This means that the results aren't actually finding information about "blank slate" preferences for some inherent quality of manga vs. non-manga (here, a European comic). Thus, the results are a bit confounded for the intent of the study. So, this study doesn't necessarily tease apart the influences on why they like and imitate manga.

Rather, these opinions reflect participants' tastes having already selected manga as having their visual language of choice. Given this, I think the results more provide evidence that people who are already have preferences for comics using a particular visual language will therefore deem it more positively than comics using a different visual language. This might seem fairly trivial (of course people like the things they already like!), but providing in-group vs. out-group effects for a type of visual language would be consistent with the same effects that occur in spoken languages, where people have more positive views of their own dialects to others.

This of course leaves open the question of "why?" people are so keen on imitating manga across the world (Indonesia included). I personally think there are many factors, including sociocultural factors (the "coolness" of Japan and/or the types of people in the new country that read them), economic factors (price of books, etc.), story factors (subject matter, differing genres etc.), and others. However, as I have argued in several papers and my upcoming book, I think there's also a cognitive factor based on the consistency of the visual vocabulary. Essentially, since the same visual language (i.e., "style") is used across most all the books, it creates a consistent template for people to imitate. Compare that with the relative diversity in American and European comics—it's much harder to identify a "group style" to associate with (and thereby become an in-group member of that "visual linguistic community").

So... while I don't think that the results really support what they set out to look at, I think this is an interesting paper nonetheless and I'd like to see more approaches to analyzing these sorts of issues using similarly data-driven approaches.


Ahmad, Hafiz Aziz, Shinichi Koyama, and Haruo Hibino. 2012. Impacts of manga on Indonesian readers' self-efficacy and behavior intentions to imitate its visuals. Bulletin of JSSD 59 (3):75-84.

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