AdiFitri Ahmad’s Taubat Si Tanggang 2 is the second part of the Taubat Si Tanggang graphic novel trilogy. Think Malaysian Folklore, with an Avengers twist in which characters from different Malaysian folktales such as Si Tanggang, Sang Kancil the mousedeer, Si Lunchai, Pak Belalang, Belalang and Pak Kaduk come together to fight a tyrannical ruler and villains with superpowers. But this is not just an action-oriented crossover that is about defeating some main bad guy to save the world. It is a clever narrative showcasing Tanggang and his companions who encounter various other folkloric characters, some good, and some bad in order to help them or oppose them.
There are many changes in this retelling, especially in regards to the folkloric characters’ portrayal. For starters, Tanggang is not just a prodigal son cursed by his mother to be a stone statue. He is instead now a stone giant. He is accompanied by Sang Kancil who is the brain of the group. To complete the trio, Si Lunchai is a lesser known folkloric character who is known for his cunning trick of using two gourd fruits to escape from a cruel king. In this graphic novel, his head is indeed made of gourd. He is the comic relief of the trio, while Kancil takes on the mantel of resident Trickster.
What AdiFitri does well is not just remaking the characters with superpowers but also providing them with personalities, therefore transforming them from two-dimensional characters to more complex and relatable characters. Tanggang struggles with guilt. He also has to complete a series of tasks to atone for his sins, and to turn back into human.
Sang Kancil on the other hand is shown to be more than just a trickster in this retelling. In fact, he is shown to be a kind and loyal friend to Tanggang and Lunchai. He is also seen as the humblest of the trio and is even willing to admit his vulnerabilities as an animal. Lunchai has a major inferiority complex. He constantly tries to show the rest that he can be an asset to team and is not just a comic relief.
In Taubat Si Tanggang 2, the trio come across a country which is ruled by a tyrannical Raja who allows his citizens to compete in all sorts of gambling type games with him. But the catch is that if they lose, they become his slaves. It begins with the folkloric Pak Belalang, and Belalang his, “son” trying to win a shell game where they have to guess a marble under three cups. In the original tale, Pak Belalang wins all the challenges the Raja throws at them thanks to Belalang’s genius. But in this case, they lose because of a secret weapon the king has. Pak Belalang is caught but Belalang escapes.
Thus, a very superhero like beginning to the story. Compared to the first Taubat Si Tanggang book, book two showcases a lot more superpowered action. Book Two also presents a very surprising twist in the character of Belalang that will delight people who know the folktale. Adifitri deftly adapts and re-assigns different popular culture tropes and this makes the comic a more exciting read, as it creates a familiar connection with the folkloric characters. He does it in a way that pays homage to both the folkloric and popular culture characters, creating his own version of the graphical superhero genre.
Taubat Si Tanggang 2 was very exciting read, I found it immersive enough to finish in one go. A very innovative and creative take on Malaysian folklore, I look forward to reading book three. The two books share some continuity yet at the same time, one can read book two and enjoy it, without referring back to book one. Overall, I believe the graphic novel is a creative way to promote Malaysian folktales to a global community, as both Western and Eastern communities can relate to the issues.
BIO: Chris QWK is a published author, journalist, and audio book junkie. An adventure seeker with a Marine biology background, he has worked with a vast array of animals from penguins, to rabbit-sized marmosets. The closest he came to getting a shark bite was from a giant river sting ray. He is a PhD student currently doing research on Sang Kancil and Malaysian Folklore at the National University of Malaysia. Chris is an avid fiction reader, writer as well as a scholar. An ex-Star reporter, he also has written stories that have been published in two Fixi Novo anthologies, Chronicles of KK, and PJ Confidential.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This review is supported by the grant GGP-2019-017 Climate-Based Literary Theory and Analytical Model for Indigenous Malaysian Communities impacted by Climate Change and Climate Migration, awarded by the Centre for Research and Instrumentation (CRIM), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. (Principle Investigator: Dr. Anita Harris Satkunananthan)