Home > Manga Reviews, Reviews > Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vols. 1 + 2

Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vols. 1 + 2

Cover to Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 1Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vols. 1 + 2
by Akiko Higashimura, translated by Steven LeCroy.
Kodansha Comics
Rating: Older Teen (16 +)

From Akiko Higashimura, creator of the absolutely amazing Princess Jellyfish, comes a series about the pressures faced by Japanese women in their 30s as they attempt the navigate the tangled web of their own personal desires and those society places upon them. Rinko, Koyuki, and Kaori all seek happiness, but are living in a world where youth is at a premium, and as they move deeper into their 30s, they find themselves wondering if the romantic life has passed them by as they chose to focus on their careers. Is it truly to late to find love and passion? Are they destined to live with the lingering questions of “what if…?” as the titular tarareba suggests? What if they had lowered their standards? What if they said yes? What if they accepted domesticity over careers? Or, can they prove the world wrong and find both the internal happiness to silence their doubts, and the external happiness they seem to seek? These are just a few of the questions explored in Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vols. 1 + 2, with the wit and emotional honesty that made Princess Jellyfish so beloved.

The first two volumes of Tokyo Tarareba Girls are deeply difficult and raw looks at the internal life of a woman struggling to find her path to happiness and fulfillment. Akiko Higashimura does an amazing job at conveying the conflict, self-delusion, and pain that such a struggle entails via Rinko’s interactions with her friends, co-workers, and her own internal monologue. The level of self-doubt and fear Rinko feels at the prospect of forever being alone would deeply uncomfortable to read on its own, but added to it is the tension between her desire to be socially acceptable yet also follow be her own person. It’s an emotional mix with leads to some deeply, emotional, and unsettling moments of introspection. These moments are often balanced by the traditional humorous tricks of the trade, including exaggerated reactions, silly misunderstandings, and anthropomorphism, all of which help lighten what might be an otherwise overwhelmingly despair filled read.

A large part of what makes the otherwise bleak and emotionally unsettling tale tolerable is Akiko Higashimura’s uses of visuals to depict Rinko’s emotional state. In addition to internal dialogues being carried out with the help of anthropomorphized food items, on several occasions we see Rinko’s internal reactions depicted as catastrophic accidents, complete with property destruction, lightning bolts, and more. It’s cute and effective at conveying how damaging or upsetting these moments are, and is also a nice change from how intense emotional scenes are often depicted in manga via toning, lack of panel borders and a sense of timelessness. Instead, these beats are given a physicality and materiality through the crumbling of the world around Rinko. Such sequences are also a nice visual break from a surprisingly dense series. For much of these first two volumes, pages are just absolutely covered with dialogue. At times the dialogue can be so dense, it can seem like there’s less artwork on a page than there are word bubbles and captions. As a result, Tokyo Tarareba Girls feels like a shocking slow read and, given the frustrating and unlikable characters, this in turn can cause it to feel like an unenjoyable slog at times.

Page from Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol. 1

An example of Akiko Higashimura’s use of exaggerated visuals to convey emotional states.

Unfortunately, humor and clever artist imaginings can only get you so far, and Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vols. 1 + 2 seem to suffer from some unlikable cast members. Everyone makes mistakes, but Rinko, Koyuki, and Kaori mistakes are often so large and glaring that it hurts their likability and relatability. In addition to this, the male lead comes off as so unlikable that you’re more likely to want to see get hit by a car—and run over a second time as the car backs up over his prone body, then run over yet again as it speeds away—rather than find out what motivates him or root for a possible relationship to blossom with Rinko. It’s a daring decision on Akiko Higashimura’s part, and one which really works against the enjoyability of these opening volumes.

In the end, Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vols. 1 + 2 are something of a mixed bag. There’s a powerful emotional core to the story being told, but the nature of it and the characters make it a difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes deeply frustrating read. Watching these women struggle to unpack what their own personal desires are versus what has been engrained into them via society can be incredibly unpleasant at times. However, it’s not difficult to imagine muscling through the painful introspection will ultimately result in an enjoyable and pleasurable conclusion and moments of personal growth and self-realization among the characters. One just hopes they get their a bit sooner rather than later.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vols. 1 + 2 are available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copies provided by the publisher.

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