The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Satoko and Nada
What's It About?Satoko is excited to move to America for college and to meet Nada, her new roommate. She's in for a surprise, however, when Nada greets her at the door in hijab, niqab, and full-body veil!
But the two young women soon learn that they're more alike than not, and as they discover each other's cultures, Satoko learns to leave her preconceived notions of Muslim women behind. Cultures are better when shared, and Satoko and Nada are happiest when they're doing just that.
Satoko and Nada is written and illustrated by Yupechika. Seven Seas released the first volume in September as a print book, and it sells for $12.99.
Is It Worth Reading?
The only reason this isn't a five is because the art isn't all that attractive, and for a visual medium like manga, that is a bit of a problem. But beyond that, Satoko and Nada's first volume is a winner of a book. The base plot is very simple: Satoko and Nada are both international students at an American university, with Satoko hailing from Japan and Nada from Saudi Arabia. That means that Nada is an observant Muslim and veils herself accordingly, something Satoko has basically no experience with.
Where this book succeeds is in the casual way creator Yupechika goes about exploring the girls' cultures. They're both in a foreign country, which makes them both outsiders prey to the various preconceived notions Americans have about their cultures. For Nada, that's a little scarier, and the extra at the end of the volume reveals that Satoko is the first potential roommate to even be willing to share an apartment with her, everyone else driven off by her hijab. That's infuriating, but unfortunately not implausible; one of my students wrote about her experience as a hijabi on public transportation and it's not far off. Therefore we can see Nada almost overtrying to “test” Satoko at their first meeting, opening the door fully veiled. When Satoko fails to react (at all, a sign of Japanese politeness), Nada becomes much more comfortable, and before long the two are getting along just fine.
While there's definitely a goal here to de-stigmatize Muslim culture, Yupechika handles it deftly, mixing it with Satoko learning about living outside Japan. She's more aghast at California rolls (although she later admits they're good) and lame, easy American cooking than at anything Nada throws at her, and Nada is equally confused by Satoko's all-inclusive view of religion and naivete. There's a nice give-and-take here, and the later inclusion of a Christian character, an American named Miracle, helps to keep things feeling fresh.
The story is told in four-koma format, and that mostly works. Not only does it allow Yupechika to give information in bite-sized chunks, but it also allows for a cozy slice-of-life feel to the story that helps to keep it from feeling preachy. It's just a nice story, reminding us that, as Dr. Seuss said, a person's a person. Even if only the subject or the slice-of-life genre is appealing to you, this is really worth your time.
I grew to love Satoko and Nada more with every page. Rare is the manga with this much love and empathy. It's a genuinely educational read founded on a basis of cultural respect, and it's just really, really fun.
Satoko and Nada is primarily dedicated to cultural understanding and education. Satoko is a Japanese exchange student and Nada is from Saudi Arabia, but the manga isn't about culture clash so much as a dialogue. Satoko and Nada learn to cook from each other, ask questions about each other's history so as to learn more about one another rather than to look down and judge. Yes, there are culture-based disagreements, but they're always framed as humorous squabbles between two friends who fundamentally care about each other. It's quite refreshing, especially with how stories of cultural exchange are often framed; where diversity is a source of strife rather than a beautiful thing that can bridge gaps.
But the thing that makes Satoko and Nada really remarkable is how it implies deeper social issues while still maintaining its likeable tone. Satoko and Nada takes place in America, and the fact that both of our characters are immigrants is a constant subtext. Nada asks Satoko if she was made painfully aware of who she was when she first moved to America, implying that Nada went through that experience too. There's even commentary American on patriarchy with an arc where Satoko is almost kidnapped while hitchhiking. It's nothing intensive, but the fact that Satoko and Nada chooses to reckon with these questions shows a willingness to engage with material conditions that is necessary when depicting this sort of reality.
The one potential problem is how Satoko and Nada's policy of understanding for everyone often prevents direct critique of worldviews. This is most evident with the character of Miracle, an American Christian who often looks down on Nada for her beliefs. But the crucial thing here is how, in spite of that, Miracle comes to be friends with Nada and does away with those bigoted judgements. Because at its core, Satoko and Nada is a story about how communication with those of different beliefs is not only essential, but deeply enriching. And in the current political moment, stories with this much positivity and beauty are a reminder that there is a world outside of bigotry and hatred. And it is an amazing one indeed.
Satoko and Nada is a charming four-panel comic that depicts two college student expats living together in America while navigating American culture and teaching each other about their own cultures and traditions. Humor is woven adeptly throughout so that the manga feels part educational, part entertaining, and totally endearing. Satoko and Nada are both so respectful of each other's cultures and religions (or lack thereof), patient with each other's differences, and so willing to learn from one another that they make the ideal foreign exchange students. In some ways, it almost seems like there isn't enough conflict to drive the narrative, but on the other, there's a biographical feel to it, and there's no sense in inventing conflict where there might not have been. There are glimpses of bigotry and (oftentimes unintentional) rudeness from some of the Americans around them at the edges of the manga, but it's rarely the focus, except for a poignant side story at the end that depicts Nada's feelings of homesickness and her lack of acceptance by other potential roommates before Satoko's arrival. Despite the lack of a structured “story,” we manage to see Satoko grow as a person by volume's end as Nada's outgoing personality rubs off on her.
Yupechika's art is quirky and distinctive. No page is particularly detailed and backgrounds are minimal, but the manga doesn't really call for comprehensive art, considering the short and sweet format of the content. The character designs are a highlight with each character seeming to represent a real person. Overall, the minimalistic art is one of the charms of the manga, lending it even more of a diary-like quality.
The first volume of Satoko and Nada simply stands out from other manga. It's a feel-good story that demonstrates how real friendships can blossom even in unfamiliar surroundings and how stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to some of your most treasured memories and experiences.
In a nondescript American town lives two college exchange students. Satoko, (Japanese) and Nada (Saudi Arabian) spend each day in this yonkoma (four panel manga) learning about themselves, each other's culture, and of course, America. Each page is a different snapshot in the two women's lives uplifting each other, watching out for one another, and celebrating each other's successes.
The formula of Satoko and Nada is simple. There is no overarching plot and the only passing of time is mentioning of holidays such as birthdays or Ramadan. There's never talk about finals, or big papers. It's the little highlights of the mundane and average, and that's what makes Satoko and Nada so delightful to read. I got lost in the simplicity of it all. In a strip where Nada gets her American license, I was cheering along with Satoko. And when a man offers Satoko a ride and almost kidnaps her, I was scolding Satoko along with Nada. I felt like I became a friend to these two women, and feel as if I was a part of their lives.
A modern and adult take on slice of life, this manga was a joy to read. I learned a little bit about the Islamic faith, certain laws about the Saudi Arabian government, and how to make a simple dessert. This manga isn't meant to be educational but like in regular life, friends discuss personal lives and worldly knowledge is learned. Everything is taught organically, despites a few fourth wall breaking moments. My only qualm is that yonkoma can be a little repetitive and may bore people visually after reading a few chapters in a row. I also wish there was a plot, but for now, those are only small grievances. Satoko and Nada is definitely a manga made for the global modern manga fan, or any person who has ever been away from home.
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