by Rebecca Silverman,

Satoko and Nada

GN 1

Satoko and Nada GN 1
Satoko is beginning a new life as a university student in the US, and she's excited to meet her new roommate, Nada. She's a little surprised when Nada answers the door in a full niqab, but she quickly learns that no matter what her religion or how she dresses, Nada's just a person like any other – and that the two of them have more in common than she realizes!

The world is a big place, and that means that there are many different kinds of people in it. That may sound elementary and maybe even a bit ridiculous, but for those who live in largely homogenous cultures or areas of any given country, there's a fairly big difference between knowing that intellectually and coming face-to-face with it. That's the case for Satoko, a young Japanese woman beginning college in the United States with an unknown roommate. She's talked to Nada, another foreign student, on the phone and knows that she's from Saudi Arabia, but even though she intellectually knows what that means, she's still taken aback by the fact that her new roommate opens the door in a hijab, niqab, and full-body veil. Because Satoko is polite, only we readers are privy to her shock, but even as she masks her surprise, Satoko still has a lot of misconceptions about what Nada's religion says about her.

In some ways, Satoko can (and is meant to) stand in for a lot of cultural misunderstandings about hijabi (women who wear a hijab, or headscarf). Not only does she quickly learn about the variety of different head-and-body veils worn by Muslim women in different parts of the world, but she also realizes that Nada doesn't feel remotely oppressed by covering herself up. This first comes up when Satoko compliments Nada's hair at home and remarks that it's so beautiful that it's too bad she has to cover it. Nada just smiles and says that she covers it because it is beautiful. Later, both women feel sorry for each other because of their perceived clothing restrictions – Satoko thinks it's too bad Nada can't show off her clothes, but Nada thinks it's unfortunate that Satoko has to take into account how others will see her clothing choices. Creator Yupechika doesn't beat the point home, and that's one of the strengths of the book – she simply makes statements or observations and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions from them, whatever that may be.

In that way, Satoko makes for a very good everywoman figure. Very few of her surprises are because she's specifically Japanese, and her own foreignness means that she's also the source of some cultural surprises, especially when she befriends Miracle and Kevin, two American students. (Her reaction to a California roll is pretty good.) That she's the only person who will room with Nada is as close as the volume comes to exploring the prejudices Nada faces as a hijabi in American culture, and that's only handled in the book's extra chapter, although Nada's comment about feeling invisible when she goes out fully veiled can be taken a few ways. Most of what Satoko learns about Nada, however, is just the simple fact that they're more alike than not.

There is a slight sense of “comparison” to the story that actually doesn't detract from it or give it a picture book feel. In some cases it's simply Nada explaining Ramadan (and that she actually usually gains weight from eating after the sun goes down rather than losing it from fasting) or clarifying that mosques can be air-conditioned and aren't any more mystical than any other religious building. Yupechika does delight in scenes of Nada and her friends whipping off their hijabs or burqas when at home, mostly to make the point that what they wear outside the house doesn't define the women any more than anyone else, and Nada herself definitely gets a bit of glee out of “flashing” Satoko by showing off her outfits by lifting up her veil. Simply put, this is just a fun, four-panel slice-of-life series about two roommates learning about each other and the country they're studying in where one of the roommates happens to be Muslim.

Yupechika has definitely done her research for this series, as the cultural aspects are largely spot-on. (There are a few places where Saudi laws have changed since the book's initial publication, but those are all noted in the text.) The only cultural issue is the inclusion of chocolate bagels, but since the book has no Jewish characters, I can attempt to let it go. Satoko and Nada's relationship is a strong one and watching the two of them look out for each other, from Satoko cooking with halal foods to Nada saving Satoko from her naivete, is genuinely sweet. The art isn't particularly attractive or strong, but it also is detailed when and where it needs to be and more than gets the point across, particularly in the four-panel format the series uses.

Satoko and Nada's first volume forms both nice representation and a good base for cultural understanding. With Japan preparing for the 2020 Olympics by prepping a mobile mosque, this series comes at a good time for its original audience – and for a largely misunderstood group, this is a boon in English translation as well. Even if the plot isn't particularly interesting to you, the slice-of-life sweetness still makes this an engaging read, and no matter what, more diversity in what we get to read is never a bad thing.

Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B-

+ Accurate and engaging without being preachy
Art isn't terrific, a few elements could be expanded

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Story & Art: Yupechika

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