Manga comic on Singapore’s founding premier Lee Kuan Yew launches

The LKY Story (above) is illustrated by Yoshihide Fujiwara (far left) and written by Yoshio Nabeta.
The LKY Story is illustrated by Yoshihide Fujiwara (left) and written by Yoshio Nabeta.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

A Japanese publisher has launched a 248-page comic book about the life of Singapore's founding Prime Minister

The story of Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has been told many times, but never as a Japanese manga - until now.

The LKY Story was launched in Singapore on Tuesday by Japanese publisher Shogakukan Asia.

The manga about Mr Lee, who died at the age of 91 in March last year, is the first in the publisher's planned series of original biographical comics for the Asia-Pacific market.

Its managing director, Mr Bunsho Kajiya, 57, says: "In Japan, it is not uncommon for manga to depict actual events in history, or the biographies or life stories of famous people.

"We believe that the manga format would also work on a global scale to attract many potential readers and introduce Mr Lee to a wider audience."

Shogakukan commissioned author Yoshio Nabeta, 53, and illustrator Yoshihide Fujiwara, 50, to work on the manga and they spent 11/2 years on it.

The LKY Story (above) is illustrated by Yoshihide Fujiwara (far left) and written by Yoshio Nabeta.
The LKY Story (above) is illustrated by Yoshihide Fujiwara and written by Yoshio Nabeta.

Its 248 pages depict scenes from Mr Lee's life that would be familiar to most Singaporeans, but they are embellished with dramatic emotions characteristic of Japanese manga.

For instance, when Mr Lee and Malaysian premier Tunku Abdul Rahman shake hands on the separation of their countries in 1965, a single, shiny tear rolls down Mr Lee's cheek and splashes on his hand.

Speaking in Japanese through a translator, Nabeta says that in manga, emotions are usually heightened and dramatised.

As no one else was in the room when it happened, no one could know what exact words were said and what tears were shed. "But I don't think it is very far from the truth," he adds.

For research, Nabeta read 10 books on Mr Lee's life, including The Singapore Story: Memoirs Of Lee Kuan Yew.

He also visited Singapore in August last year, during which he watched The LKY Musical, starring Adrian Pang, and made a trip to the Oxley Road bungalow where Mr Lee lived.

Fujiwara, who had not been to Singapore before the launch, referred to old photographic books on Singapore as well as Google Earth for inspiration.

His greatest challenge, he says, was drawing the huge crowds at the election scenes, as he wanted to take pains to illustrate the different races in Singapore accurately and respectfully.

As for Nabeta, he struggled with writing about the Japanese Occupation of Singapore during World War II, during which Mr Lee barely escaped the Sook Ching massacre.

The scenes might prove controversial in their country, where acknowledging Japan's war crimes remains a sensitive subject.

The manga will be released there in a digital Japanese edition next month.

Nabeta says: "I really feel sorry for what our nation did in the past.

"All I wrote is based on fact. I want Japanese people to know these facts and I want others to know that it was a Japanese person who wrote this."

The publication of the manga coincides with the 50th anniversary of Singapore-Japan diplomatic ties.

Besides its release in Singapore and Japan, the manga will be distributed in nine other Asian countries.

And what does the publisher think Mr Lee himself would say of the manga?

Mr Kajiya says: "I'd like to think he would have smiled as he read it. If only he were alive to do so."

•The LKY Story is available at major bookstores here for $16.90.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Lee Kuan Yew's story in a manga'. Print Edition | Subscribe