Mongol Empire Becomes Stage for Epic Revenge Story

©Tomato Soup(AKITASHOTEN)2022
The cover of the first volume of “Tenmaku no Jaadoogar”

Tenmaku no Jaadoogar(A Witch’s Life in Mongol)
by Tomato Soup(Akita Publishing Co.)

In this column last September, I introduced the manga “Cecil’s Queen” by Ai Kozaki, which is about Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I and her mother. At that time, it briefly crossed my mind that we might be entering a boom for historical manga with women as protagonists. It now seems like this trend is becoming a reality. Another masterpiece in this respect has appeared, with an unexpected angle.

The story is set in the early 13th century, in the eastern Iranian city of Tus. Setareh, a slave girl, is bought by Fatima, who is a wealthy scholar’s widow. Her son Muhammad is a brilliant talent like his father and teaches Setareh the importance of learning. After Muhammad leaves home to go on a study trip, Fatima treats Setareh like her own daughter. But then, the Mongol Empire that has been raging across the Eurasian continent attacks Tus. Fatima is killed, and Setareh is taken away as a Mongolian slave. Burning to wreak vengeance, Setareh takes on the name of Fatima and, armed with only her own wits, plots a solitary war against the world’s largest empire.

Although you will find a disclaimer before the story starts, which states, “This is a work of fiction,” a woman by the name of Fatima Khatun did exist in Mongol. She became a close aide to Toregene, the sixth wife of Ogodei Khan, the second emperor of the Mongol Empire. He succeeded Genghis Khan, the founder of the empire. After the death of Ogodei, Toregene took advantage of the political turmoil at the time to wrestle control over the empire. It is said that Fatima’s actions were behind the move. The two women ruled the entire empire at one time, even though it was short-lived. The word “jaadoogar” in the original Japanese title of the manga means “witch” in Persian.

Except for people who are interested in Mongolian history, the name Fatima Khatun is probably not recognized among the general public. I believe it is the first time that she has become the protagonist of a work of fiction. It is certainly a feat of great strength to convincingly turn such a niche subject into a manga about the epic revenge of a slave girl.

The creator, Tomato Soup, seems to be quite a world history buff. The mangaka’s debut manga, “Dampier no Oishii Boken” (“The Delicious Adventures of Dampier”), vividly depicts the voyages of William Dampier, a 17th-century British explorer who, again, is probably not widely known outside Britain. Characters in Tomato Soup’s manga are cute, and the mangaka’s light touch and simple drawing lines may look like those from comedy manga at first glance. But Tomato Soup also draws details meticulously when necessary, showing ample information. Above all, it is gratifying to see a work of manga that provides readers with clear and painstakingly detailed explanations of customs and the daily lives of foreign cultures. This is a difficult task that can only be done by someone with a genuine intellectual curiosity.

According to the author, the Mongol Empire afforded women a higher status than in Europe or in the Islamic realms at that time, a surprising aspect that explains why Fatima’s name was recorded in history books. “A Witch’s Life in Mongol” is sure to influence and gradually help transform widespread notions about the empire. The manga has only two volumes in book form so far, but I loudly declare it to be a work that will remain in history.