SATOKO AND NADA (Satoko to Nada), by Yupechika. First published in 2017 and first published in North America in 2018.
Satoko is a Japanese girl studying abroad in America, and by chance she ends up rooming with the vibrant Saudi girl Nada. Satoko has a lot to learn about living life as a Muslim woman from Nada and her friends, and together the two face some of the everyday challenges of foreigners living in the USA.
It's pretty obvious that this started life as a webcomic. It's basically a 4-koma at heart, but it has the sort of casual, hanging-out-with-friends attitude that a lot of amateur webcomics have. That being said, it's easy to see how this gained a following.
In many ways it's an educational piece, as Nada ends up explaining things like the differences in head coverings, eating halal, daily prayer, etc to the oblivious Satoko. There's also some more culturally specific stuff like Nada learning to drive (something which was until very recently forbidden to women in Saudi Arabia), but Yupechika isn't interested in examining the larger philosophical or socio-political ramifications of these things. In a way, that's freeing because it allows Nada and her other Middle-Eastern friends to simply exist as they are without having to be representative of anything larger. It's certainly a marked difference from how a lot of Western media deal with Muslim characters.
Most of the time, though, it's just casual stories of two young women living on their own and making friends in college. In that sense, it's not that different from a lot of webcomics out there, save for the lack of jokes about video games and nerd culture. It's not just Satoko and Nada learning about one another's cultures or the American one they find themselves in, but simply being friends and making friends. There isn't any sort of larger story, simply smaller arcs around modest events like planning parties. Even then, most of them are pleasant and low-stake (even the one where Satoko is almost kidnapped while trying to get back to her apartment). The most dramatic things get are in a side-chapter at the end, where we see Nada living on her own before Satoko came along and feeling lonely. Yet I think that was precisely was Yupechika was going for, though. Satoko, Nada, and their growing circle of friends may all come from different places with different cultural or religious practices, but together they can create their own sense of community and belonging.
Yupechika is an amateur artist, and you can totally tell. While they've got a good eye for distinct silhouettes, the art is kind of flat and stiff and that's not helped by the 4-koma format. Still, she plays up the exotic looks of Nada and her friends with their wide, heavy-lidded eyes and their stylish fashion, while Satoko is positively plain with her beady eyes and messy bob. She also finds room for a few good visual gags, including references to things like the 'salt bae' meme.
In a day and age where so much hate and prejudice can be found across the internet, finding something like Satoko and Nada is downright healing. It tells a story of cultural understanding and friendship in a lighthearted and even educational way without being preachy, and it comes highly recommended.
This series is published by Seven Seas. This series is ongoing in Japan with 4 volumes available. 1 volume has been published and is currently in print.
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