I’m approaching 30 and am two years out from getting married, so it’s safe to say that I’m not really the target audience for Tokyo Tarareba Girls, but I do feel like I know enough people like the women in this manga to feel a connection to their story. They’re thirty year old women who have been told over and over again by society that they might as well be washed-up has-beens if they’re not married and living comfortably by now. This manga is simultaneously a depressing and entertaining look at how society–Japanese society in particular–enforces ideals of marriage, success, and love on women throughout their lives while setting an arbitrary cut-off date for these things at 30 years old. Akiko Higashimura continues to use a sharp sense of wit, a dynamic art style, and a keen understanding of society to create a truly entertaining manga for thirty-somethings and those of us approaching that arbitrary milestone age.
Volume two of Tokyo Tarareba Girls picks up right where volume one left off, with the fallout over Rinko drunkenly sleeping with the famous model Key. After finding herself alone the morning after, Rinko heads back home by herself feeling like it’s becoming ever more apparent she’s going to be alone for the rest of her life. Meanwhile, her friends Kaori and Koyuki are feeling like they’ve found a small bit of bliss while hooking up with a married man and an unavailable ex-boyfriend respectively. However, even these two begin to see that sex isn’t everything and the same old “what-if’s” begin to pop up again as they all have to face up against younger and fitter women.
I love Higashimura’s art. I’ve loved it since setting my eyes on Princess Jellyfish and I love this manga for much the same reasons. I went over my reasons a lot in the volume one review, but I really do want to reiterate just how expressive her characters and her art is. I don’t think this manga would have the same appeal or popularity is that wasn’t the case. While I would say that the vast majority of her manga has this very loose, sketchy style to it, Higashimura has this great ability to switch back and forth from that style to a more detailed style for some panels. This effectively makes those detailed panels stand out all the more.
And in terms of panel design, I really love how she handled Kaori’s story in particular. The way she laid out her panels really helped make her gags land. I found myself laughing every time Kaori had to get up and the leave the bar when she was getting too overwhelmed by Marui’s handsomeness. The panels are split into four small panels on the bottom of the page, really emphasizing Kaori’s movement and how the deadpan way she just gets up and leaves. A different panel design would have have a very different feel. Here, her movements are quick because the panels are small and laid out back-to-back. The gag lands when you turn the page away from her deadpan expression and to her real feelings. It’s a great set-up and I loved that part of the story because of it.
The story that continues in volume two is great as well. I think we really get more of a sense of who Kaori and Koyuki are through their own unique backstories and love troubles that pop up this volume. We find out that Koyuki used to date a musician back in college and has been vaguely regretting cheating on him and leaving him ever since. But it just so happens that she meets him again, and he seems to be interested in getting back together. The only problem being that he is already dating a model, making this just another superficial hook-up scenario. Koyuki’s troubles are based on regret and fear of missing out. She regrets the way she acted back when she was younger and she fears that she’ll miss out on being connected to someone successful if she doesn’t keep this up. She most likely has genuine feelings for him–I doubt she would keep going back to him if she didn’t–what’s under question here is, what are the quality of his feelings, and what does that mean for the quality of this relationship?
Kaori is another interesting case. She claims she is the more realistic one, the one with the better head on her shoulders, especially when it comes to being responsible with things like cooking for yourself. She also claims she never wants to cook for a date, that cooking every day at the bar is enough for her. Then she meets Marui, who seems to be her type and compliments her on her cooking. But why is he her type? It looks to me that it may be because he acts like he needs to be taken care of. He has this soft way about him that’s slightly childish, and I think Kaori gravitates to that, especially when you consider the kind of relationship she has with Koyuki and Rinko. She likes to think of herself as a mature, smart woman, but she gets slowly dragged into this affair with the married Marui despite a bunch of red flags.
I think a major part of this series is the difference between realistic and unrealistic goals, and how chasing after unrealistic goals can lead to heartbreak. Take Kaori who wanted to be married to someone successful and have a comfortable life rather than support a fledgling musician. She leaves Ryo for the much more successful doctor, but realizes that’s not what she wanted either and so regrets ever leaving him for a more superficial relationship. Now she has neither fame nor success, but is still grasping at those goals and holding out for these what if’s that might come true. It becomes this weird addiction to “what if”. “What if he’ll leave her for me?”; “What if he actually loves me?” All three women wind up obsessing over these questions like an addict, forming toxic and self-depreciating relationships with people who they know, deep-down, will never feel the same or treat them the same as their number one woman.
I feel like Higashimura’s message through the whole of Tokyo Tarareba Girls is how people should form realistic dreams and move past regret to finally and actively seek out what they want. Right now Rinko, Kaori, and Koyuki are displayed as wasting their time at the pub contemplating their lives without actually going out and doing anything about it. They even question why they can’t just approach men first now like they did when they were younger. It becomes this cycle of “what if’s” that has lasted 10 years so far, and doesn’t seem to be budging anytime soon. However, I think Key is the likely catalyst in this story, the one that may snap them out of their cycle if they don’t hit rock-bottom first.
Higashimura also has a few pages of author notes at the back of the manga, and it was super interesting to see just how her friends and coworkers reacted to a comic that’s suppose to be a parody of society. Their reaction was one of panic and depression, making me think that Higashimura hit on a bigger societal problem than maybe she realized. Please let me know in the comments below if you’ve picked up this series yet and what you thought about the story and characters so far.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress for all Bloom Reviews content updates and news!
If you like what I do, consider supporting me through Ko-fi!