By Yupechika and Marie Nishimori. Released in Japan by Seikaisha, serialization ongoing on the online site Twi 4. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jenny McKeon. Adapted by Lianne Sentar.
The premise of Satoko and Nada feels a bit fresher because it has an extra twist to it. When you see the series takes place at an American university, and features two roommates learning more about each other, you’d expect that one of them would be a stereotypical American. In fact, Nada is Saudi Arabian, and her new roommate Satoko is Japanese. Thus they’re not only learning about their own culture and personal foibles, but also learning about life as a foreign woman in America. It’s the sort of premise that works well as a 4-koma, as I think in extended chapters the lessons of “no matter what nationality, religion, or culture you are, you can still be friends” might be a bit didactic. Here each new strip resets things, and the result is a manga that’s light and funny while also making its aims very clear. And, if you’re just here to be entertained, Satoko and Nada does that as well.
A large number of these pages are typical “college roommate life” filtered though the culture of both women. We see Satoko gradually opening up and becoming more confident. It helps that Nada is the extrovert of the two, which also helps to show that the woman under the Niqab is not going to be the stereotype you’d expect. Satoko’s food is too bland, Nada’s food is too spicy. Satoko also seems to lack a sense of self-awareness at some points, leading to the one serious scene in the book where she accepts a ride with a sketchy guy and is thankfully rescued by Nada. Even on campus, America is not Japan (and it doesn’t seem they live on-campus, but in housing somewhere else.) Thankfully, most of the time the “life lessons” are more humorous, such as when Nada lectures Satoko about the different kinds of Muslim women and the outfits they wear, then berates her for an unfashionable dress.
The cast is fairly minimal. Nada has a few other Muslim friends, who sometimes come over for a “girls’ night out” and prove to be just as extroverted as Nada. Of course, this is just in comparison with the introverted Satoko – I do wonder how much of this story is based on real life experiences, as it can sometimes feel like a biographical comic with added punchlines. We also meet an American girl called Miracle (she apologizes for her parents’ “phase” when she was named), who’s a Christian church-goer, to add to the religious balance. (Satoko, as a typical Japanese woman, is technically Buddhist but in reality not all that religious, which leads to some amazement among her other friends.) I was also amused and sympathetic to Kevin, an American who’s trying to get a job teaching in Japan… but he’s Asian-American, and they only want Americans who “look white” to teach.
Satoko and Nada is not revolutionary, but I spent my time reading it with a smile on my face, and I did learn a thing or two as well. (Praying towards Mecca now has an app to help with the direction.) It’s something I’d recommend to any fan of slice-of-life manga, or those who enjoy seeing manga starring and about women.