What is it about watching romantic comedies about older women failing at love that keep us coming back? Is it because watching them fail makes us feel better about our own lives? Or is it just oddly entertaining to watch people make mistakes and ruin their own lives? I’m not entirely sure why, but all I know right now is that I am still hooked on the story of Tokyo Tarareba Girls. I mentioned in the volume 2 review that the themes and story of this series are fairly relatable, dealing with how the arbitrary 30-year-old milestone makes women think they’re failures if they’re not married and successful by then. Volume 3 continues these themes and shows us more how forcing yourself to be happy can lead to disastrous outcomes. All of this is wrapped up in some awesome art by Princess Jellyfish creator Akiko Higashimura.
Volume 3 picks up where the last volume left us, with Kaori and Koyuki still continuing their relationships with a married man and an ex-boyfriend while Rinko still feels lost after being dropped from a writing gig. When a gig finally comes Rinko’s way however, she finds she may not be young enough or in-the-loop enough to handle a story geared towards a younger audience. After Rinko loses the gig due to none other than Key’s meddling again, both Kaori and Koyuki begin questioning why they’re still in these relationships as new information about both of their men surfaces.
Tarareba Girls is primarily a comedy, but I think what makes a romantic comedy appealing to me is how they balance the comedic and serious moments, and I think we get to see that partly through the panel and page designs. Volume 3 gives us some pretty existential and serious moments and conversations between characters. The way that Higashimura distinguishes between those moments and the more comedic ones can be seen in her panel designs. Her comedic scenes are usually laid out in a tighter arrangement with more panels. While her more serious scenes are given a lot more space to breath, with larger panels or full-page splashes.
Page 14 of act 9 is where Kaori gets thrown of of Ryo-chan’s apartment when he finds out his girlfriend is coming home. The two panels at the top of the page take up a little over a third of the page and show the absurdity of Kaori getting tossed out with her clothes all a mess and Ryo not seeming to care. The next two panels grow in size one after another as Kaori is forced to stop and actually consider the absurdity of the situation she put herself in. The last and largest panel, shows Kaori’s face as she finally begins to see how hopeless her situation is and how uncaring Ryo has been to her. She finally realizes she will never be his number one woman. The increasing size of these panels helps transform the tone of the page from a comedic moment to a more existential and serious one.
We see this concept pop up again starting on page 40 of act 9 as we get slowly pulled into Key’s memories. We see the panels grow larger or even blend into one another as Key gets lost in his memories of another time. The next couple pages are formatted with larger panels showcasing and giving space to Key’s memories and feelings in the moment. They draw our eye to the importance of the scene give it the space to breathe by lengthening the time we spend with each panel. It makes for great and engaging scenes that break up the more comedy focused moments, giving balance to the series as a whole.
What can we say defines this volume in terms of theme or message? Fear, avoidance, exhaustion, and desperation all color the story of this volume. A repeating thematic element of Volume 3 is using a rollercoaster as a metaphor for all three girls’ lives. At the start of the volume, we see the girls riding up to the top of the coaster in a large full-page splash, seeing the steep drop falling off the edge. The coaster drops them, taking them through loops at lightning fast speeds over Tokyo as their lives flash before their eyes. The steep climb up the coaster becomes a metaphor for the standards and dreams all three of them built for themselves over the years, building up their hopes and dreams to such a high level that now they’re staring down that steep drop wondering what went wrong.
They ask themselves “why don’t you just jump off the coaster?” but that sense of desperation and fear keeps them in their seats. To them, this wild quest for happiness is all they have, and if they stop to focus on something else, they may never reach their ideal or may never be happy. The fear of getting older, the fear of being alone, and the fear of never being happy keep all three of them where they are. To them, it’s too late to change or they just don’t have the energy to put in that effort to change.
Rinko is the embodiment of all of these themes throughout the volume. After facing the fact that she may be too out-of-touch with the industry to write popular series anymore, she actively avoids writing the episode of the series she was hired to do. She goes to get food, she runs off to a movie rental place, and then runs off to a bar to drink. She’s scared of facing the reality that there may be younger writers better than her now. In the process of avoiding, she runs into a handsome bartender who she starts to think could be her answer to her love troubles. In him, she sees a chance to run away from her career troubles, and to fill that void in her love life. She makes a declaration at the end of act 10 saying “I’ll fall in love with him” like falling in love is something you have to consciously make yourself do.
Balancing love and career goals then becomes a major issue, with her bartender hunk, Okuda, representing love and Key representing her career. Key is the one that has to sit down and talk sense into her, using “cold logic” as she says, pushing her to stop running away and face-up to the reality of the situation. Okuda gives her an opportunity to run away, to dream that she may have an easier life if she just quit and helped him run his movie bar (which in-and-of-itself is an escapist-themed retreat). It becomes a battle of what’s more important, how do you balance these competing dreams, and do they need to be in balance for a person to be happy?
That’s all I have time for today. I really hope you’re enjoying these series reviews. Volume 4 just came out this month, so you can look forward to another review soon. Let me know in the comments what you thought of volume 3.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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