A Charming Friendship Without Borders

A Charming Friendship Without Borders
Manga Review: Satoko and Nada Vol. 1

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I glanced at the cover of Yupechika’s manga, Satoko and Nada in the teen manga section at the bookstore.

If you’re a fan of Japanese animation (anime) or Japanese comics (manga) like me, then you noticed that these two mediums are mainly based on Japanese culture. It’s interesting to see how stories in anime and manga dabble in representations of other cultures or how creators adapt and re-work stories from other cultures to create impressive art.

I would say that a manga like Satoko and Nada is progressive compared to other series I’ve seen.

Let me explain why:

Satoko and Nada is a story about two female college students belonging to different cultural backgrounds. Satoko is from Japan and Nada is from Saudi Arabia. The two women live together in a shared apartment in the United States. It is the first manga I discovered with a female Muslim character as a protagonist and its themes of friendship and inclusivity are important and relevant to what’s happening in our world today.

I appreciate how the story represents two different cultures in a respectful manner. The manga frames itself by using the protagonists to explain their respective cultures and customs. They share simple and clear explanations about a range of topics, from religion to food to fashion.

Satoko and Nada are not afraid to ask each other questions and give reasons as to why they pose a question in order to further their understanding of one another, share their cultural customs and build their friendship. However, this doesn’t mean that their relationship is perfect. There are also misunderstandings where no communication is shared between them which lead to humourous conclusions as well as little arguments over what kind of food to eat for dinner, for example.

The manga also offers a perspective on a foreigner’s experience of American culture through different examples. In the comics “Chicken Soup” and “Finished”, Satoko and Nada prepared American-style chicken soup and are taken aback to discover that the soup doesn’t require a lot of time to make compared to Japanese and Saudi foods. The two women were skeptical about its taste but it turned out to be delicious.

In addition, the cutest comics showcasing this point are “Movie Theater” and “Popcorn”. These two comics would be my favourite because the former provides interesting notes to explain Nada’s excitement. In Saudi Arabia, movie theaters were banned in the 80s but they were re-introduced by the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in April 2018. Satoko was baffled by the inexpensive price for movie tickets and by the butter pump machine for popcorn. 

Satoko and Nada’s friendship is charming because they have different personalities that complement one another. Satoko is more introverted than Nada and is self-conscious about her body type. Nada teaches Satoko to embrace being herself by encouraging Satoko to be confident in her decision making. For example, Nada inspires Satoko to make her own fashion choices for her own happiness rather than choosing clothes based on Satoko’s perception of how others view her.   

Although the manga does not present many issues of racial or cultural discrimination, it brings an interesting case to the reader’s attention in that discrimination still exists all around the world.  

The manga introduces us to Kevin-kun, who is Satoko’s conversation practice partner. Kevin helps Satoko practice speaking English and she teaches him Japanese. Kevin is a third-generation Japanese American who is interested in teaching English in Japan. Although Satoko praises his Japanese, Kevin explains his worries about schools in Japan looking for teachers who have a certain image. He says, “They want English teachers who are white or something. People who look like they speak English. Being Asian is a disadvantage.”

Kevin’s story is a reflection of how a person’s misconception of what an English speaker should look like isn’t the case in reality because anyone has the ability to learn and speak a language. No matter what race or ethnicity a person belongs to, the credentials to teach, speak English fluently and to work hard in a professional manner are qualities that are truly important in Kevin’s situation. It can be inevitable to face people who have little or no experience speaking to people of a different race, but it’s important to use those opportunities to explain and teach others about different cultures and customs.  

I enjoyed reading Yupechika’s Satoko and Nada because it reminded me of the importance of mutual respect in communication. This manga definitely shows that being willing to learn different customs and cultures opens your eyes to brand-new experiences and new friendships.

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