A Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘Sacred Guardians: The Audio Drama’7 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
The last time Sinema.SG spoke with tokuAsia, the team behind the Sacred Guardian Singa project, they were on the verge of showcasing the series’ concept trailer, which has since accumulated over 53,000 views on YouTube. Two years on, tokuAsia remain ever-determined to bring to life Singapore’s very own live-action superhero — now with a comic book and an accompanying audio drama to prove it.
Published by Asiapac Books and supported by the National Arts Council (NAC) Presentation & Participation (Publishing) Grant (2020), comic book Sacred Guardians serves as the series’ prequel. Penned by Aydeel Djoeharie, the story follows Dev, a demi-god from another realm who assembles a team from across ancient Southeast Asia during the seventh century to rally against a demonic invasion. His journey brings readers to the lesser-known parts of Southeast Asian history, highlighting the rich and tightly-knit tapestry of the region’s culture.
The comic book and a slew of Sacred Guardian Singa merchandise are available on the project’s website.
Supported by NAC’s Digital Presentation Grant (2021), it’s a one-to-one telling of the comic book complete with a soundtrack and foley effects. Talents across Singapore’s creative space lent their voices to bring another layer of charm to the book’s colourful cast of characters and comic artist Alan Bay’s detailed illustrations. The cast list includes National Youth Film Awards’ Best Actor (2020) recipient Aric Hidir Amin and veteran radio personality Hamish Brown, who is the story’s narrator.
The audio drama was initiated by Asiapac Books, who previously worked with Swedish audiobook company Storytel to publish three audio titles.
“We thought about how to make audio content out of our existing comic books and Sacred Guardians seemed like a good place to start,” shares Chong Lingying, manager of Asiapac Books and a producer for the audio drama. “On top of the comic book’s fantasy and action, we felt that there were a lot of opportunities to make it more exciting and cinematic with the audio experience.”
Aydeel’s first reactions to the pitch were excitement. The audio drama would be tokuAsia’s first, with Aydeel on scriptwriting and directing duties. The leap to audio required him to fully understand his creations and to flesh out the background sounds within each comic panel. While penning the audio script, he referred to Western comic books and their audio adaptations for inspiration.
Sacred Guardians Audio Drama aims to bring out the same cinematic qualities found in last year’s audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. However, being a project with a modest budget meant that making the best of what was available was a constant concern.
He explains: “After discussing with [producer Basil Yeo], we decided that there are certain things that we cannot pull off. For starters, we cannot compose our own songs for the production without blowing the budget.”
“There are that get away with not having images; it’s just full reading. There are others that feel like a movie just minus the animation. These are usually big-budget productions. For us in Singapore, we have to be very realistic about what we can do.”
The team expressed that they were fortunate to be able to engage the voice actors they have for the project. Aydeel adds: “They are really professional and just getting them on board might lead others to think that the budget is of a full-on production. But that’s not the case. It’s really about working within our means and trying to punch above our weight.”
In between both tokuAsia and Asiapac Book’s regular work and after months of discussions and preparations, Sacred Guardians: The Audio Drama would be a go from December 2020. Its recording was done over two days in March 2021. Most of the cast were present for the sessions, with those unable to attend sending their own recordings to the team.
The project brought all hands on deck, with several behind-the-scenes members, including Lingying and Aydeel, lending their voices for background characters. Basil doubled as a producer and assisted with the audio drama’s mixing, edits, and mastering. Bringing listeners ever closer to the book’s unique setting and action sequences is the sound design work of GRYD, a music and audio post-production studio.
On the difference between directing video content and purely audio content, Aydeel says: “The real challenge is to make it possible for listeners to visualise how the characters look when they are saying certain lines instead of the one expression shown in each of the comic’s panel. There are a lot of feelings and emotions that have to be related through the voice. All the voice actors we had are very talented and they got what we were trying for.”
Lingying adds: “I think it helped that Aydeel wrote the book. I think he always heard the voices while he was writing. Compared to other comics, I would say that Sacred Guardians is written in a very conversational manner. From the very beginning, the comic book was always meant to be something beyond just the printed format.”
This sentiment is echoed by tokuAsia’s goals for the Sacred Guardian Singa project, which strives to remind youths to keep in mind their heritage, and to push them to understand their identity and what it means to grow up in the middle of Southeast Asia as an English-speaking people. Aydeel quips: “[Singaporeans] are a strange bunch, aren’t we? We are a mish-mash of Asians in the middle of Southeast Asia speaking a European language.”
“That creates a lot of confusion for kids growing up. People don’t address it but we see the impact. When we go around asking people, ‘What it means to be a Singaporean?’ they can’t give a concrete answer…. When you understand your history, you understand your identity. You don’t feel lost. You realise that there’s an anchor somewhere that makes you rooted to a certain place.”
He hopes that both the Sacred Guardians graphic novel and its audiobook will be a “fun starting point” for people to understand and appreciate the history of Southeast Asia. He concludes: “People don’t realise how connected we all are in Southeast Asia. We can find similarities in our cultures. We want to bring that all together and, perhaps, just make kids understand that we don’t have to divide ourselves, that we are actually neighbours and we are all friends.”
Get the latest updates from the Sacred Guardian Singa team by following them on Facebook and Instagram. Join the team on Discord and participate in an ever-growing community chatting about the Sacred Guardians Universe, Tokusatsu, films, and anything under the sun. For the latest from Asiapac Books, give them a follow on Facebook, Instagram, and check out all their titles on their website.
The audiobook was released on 17 June 2021, with a virtual screening party and Q&A session held on 20 June 2021 featuring Lingying, Aydeel, artist Alan Bay and actor Aric Hidir Amin to celebrate its launch. Check it out below: