Satoko and Nada (サトコとナダ) by Yupechika is a slice-of-life four-panel manga series about a Japanese girl named Satoko who goes to America for her studies. Upon arriving, she becomes roommates with a Saudi Arabian Muslim girl named Nada and the two ladies develop a sweet bond of friendship and youthful exploration of identity. This shall be an #OwnVoices review with regard to Islamic representation, as I am a Muslim.
I have never seen manga with Muslims in my decade and a half of being an otaku, so when I came across this volume at the library, I swiped that shite off the shelf so fast, let me tell you. It’s extremely rare to see representation of Muslims in East Asian media, or rather media outside of South Asian literature and cinema of any scope actually. To see that representation, and to find it being done so well and respectfully, utterly blew my mind. To say that I enjoyed reading the first instalment of Satoko and Nada would be a gross understatement, and much of that can be accredited to how validating it felt to see these characters in one of my favourite bookish mediums.
Satoko and Nada is a story about female empowerment, positive friendships that is based on a foundation of respectful curiosity and understanding, and exploring the unknown to smack away misconceptions and stereotypes. Toss in a bit of humorous shenanigans, whimsical and carefree illustrations, and the short anecdotal narrative style, you’ve got yourself one amazing winner of a slice-of-life series.
My favourite aspect of the series was getting to watch how Satoko and Nada interact with one another. They are curious about one another’s culture and chat about it often to gain a better comprehension of each another. As they exchange information and morsels about culture, faith, childhood, and more a bond develops. Nada is a fiercely independent woman who has such a beautiful spirit and empowering personality. She helps Satoko understand that wearing a hijab is her choice and it doesn’t oppress her identity or sense of self, but rather helps her own it and be proud and confident in her own skin. We see depictions of this during Girls’ Night when Nada’s other Muslima friends come over and hang out with Satoko. Since they are all women, they don’t wear traditional Islamic clothing. Each lady has their own unique stylish fashion. They wear make-up, listen to music, and revel in the things that bring them joy.
The common misconception about Islam with regard to women is that by wearing a hijab, burqa, or niqab women are being smothered or that they are prevented from having their own individuality. As someone who has recently re-acquainted themselves with their Islamic faith and as someone who is preparing their trek towards wearing a hijab themselves, I can safely say that those stereotypes and incorrect assumptions are just that, incorrect. Crap. WRONG! My hijab helps me feel confident in my skin and body. It makes me feel connected and wholesome with my faith while allowing me to say NO and FUCK YOU to societal perceptions of jaded beauty standards. I’m choosing to love myself and to accept that my beauty is for me and whomever I choose to share it with. It is beautifully empowering (a word I’ve said a lot in this post and shall continue to use because that’s the main idea of the manga) and inspiring; to unabashedly love myself without pressure of needing to fit this mould or that mould. The only thing I need to fit is what makes self-love possible to me, and my respect and acceptance of faith as a personal relationship between me and Boss Man, no one else.
Nada’s brilliantly contagious ideals on not allowing other people to dictate how she should live or have fun, or anything else akin to that, helps Satoko come out of her personal anxious shell. She starts to feel confident and more self-assured in her feelings and more willing to try new things. Satoko begins to feel happier and comfortable with being herself, no matter how strange or “foreign” she may come off to others. On the flip side of that, Satoko helps Nada understand more about Japan and how the Japanese people really aren’t that different than Muslims; how they aren’t xenophobic, just more reserved than others.
The story of their friendship and overall youthful theatrics is portrayed via anecdotal, four-panel style formats. Each four-panel collection is essentially a mini-story about an event or exchange that the ladies had, either with one another or with other folks. The ones involving food experimentation were my absolute favourites, following the parts that provide insight on the Islamic faith and its practises. They were hilarious and hunger-inducing all in one go. The insightful ones helped express the basics of what salat is, what praying toward Mecca means, as well as discussions on female Islamic attire, all in simple, accessible ways that would appeal to both kinds of readers: people that are versed with Islam and those who don’t know anything about it.
Other things that I liked is that when Satoko asks Nada questions. She does so very respectfully. There is no Islamophobia or disrespect (except when we learn about the challenges that Nada faced with finding a roommate). Even when they are discussing life in America and how American food, for example, is very different than their respective cuisines, the manga never once insulted or offensively poked fun of Americans or American ways. Everything is presented tastefully and considerately. Anyone who says that it’s impossible to write a story without some inclusion of prejudice where differing beliefs are concerned, should read this and learn how wrong they are.
Overall, I was floored with delight upon finishing volume one of Satoko and Nada. I shall definitely be reading through the rest of the volumes (already placed them on hold with my local libs) and one day I will be adding the whole thing to my personal library. It made my heart ooey and gooey with love, and I highly recommend this to readers who are interested in positive and uplifting portrayals of diverse, multicultural female friendships in literature, as well as to otaku who are fans of cute, slice-of-life stories.
For anyone who is curious, the script advisor for this manga is a Japanese Muslim woman who helped the mangaka with creating this series. This information can be found in the first volume. ✌🏾