The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
Tokyo Tarareba Girls
What's It About?Rinko is 33-years-old, single, and feeling the pressure to find “The One” but spends most of her evenings getting drunk with her equally single 30-something best friends.
Rinko's subconscious feeds into her insecurities and she's not sure if a woman her age is supposed to wait it out for true love or settle for companionship. Adding to her hopelessness, an old suitor proposes to her much younger assistant and her script writing career hits a speed bump. Rinko is rapidly approaching a slump when she becomes involved with the younger male model Key.
Tokyo Tarareba Girls is an original work by Akiko Higashimura, the creator of Princess Jellyfish. Kodansha Comics will release the first volume in print on June 26.
Is It Worth Reading?Lynzee Loveridge
Tokyo Tarareba Girls is not a delicate book. It's a very raw look at specific insecurities that can plague women of “a certain age” where value is placed on doing it all, and doing it all well. Society dictates women need to age gracefully, remain sexually desirable, not be too eager, have a successful and fulfilling career, stable finances, and maintain a clean and attractive home. If you haven't landed a man by 31, it's a sign of a personal failing in one of the above categories. Your skin is starting to show your age, you put on that Freshman 15 in college, or, god forbid, you're boring.
The women of Tokyo Tarareba Girls have internalized all of this and believe it to be self-evident truth of desirability. In some ways I pity them, but I also relate to their feelings intimately at the same time. It takes a lot of bravery to be conditioned to believe that a successful romantic relationship is the key to eternal happiness and then deny it. Rinko has swallowed all of it, hook, line, and sinker to the point she's dropping hundreds of dollars on clothing in hopes of getting a proposal from a guy she rejected a decade ago and has not seen in any kind of romantic context since. Girlfriend is desperate for acknowledgment professionally and personally.
Introducing Key, a male model who has a bit of truth to his negging on Rinko and her friends, but is otherwise a giant asshole. I'm not entirely on board for him awakening some kind of personal re-evaluation in our protagonist unless it's her dropping him and gaining some self respect in the meantime. Yes, Rinko and her friends' drinking parties are commiseration circles and aren't really productive, but Key's criticism of her writing was a step too far, in my opinion, at least in the way he presented it. The volume's author talk gives me some hope though. Higashimura's view on women's place in society is progressive, to say the least, and she's not afraid to call out gender norms when they're ridiculous and is no stranger to controversy.
Tokyo Tarareba Girls is a rude awakening to the kind pressures women find themselves in when their party-happy 20s are over and only adulthood lies ahead. It's a refreshing frame of reference for a story and I'm rooting for our Rinko to find her way through it, man or none.
On the surface, Tokyo Tarareba Girls volume 1 is aimed at the thirty-something woman who focused on her career to the point where she's still single (despite not wanting to be). However, there's something universal in wondering “what if,” even if you're married or happily single. One's thirties is perhaps on the early side for a mid-life crisis, but considering Tokyo Tarareba Girls focuses almost exclusively on Rinko and her friends' inability to get married and have kids, it makes sense since in Japan in particular, women are expected to have gotten married in their twenties. Instead of being grateful for any strides they've made in their careers, Rinko and her friends are focused solely on their perceived failures, which isn't a healthy place for anyone to be. Their insecurities are the crux of the manga, and there are moments where Rinko in particular tries to put her doubts behind her and make her goals come true, but they always blow up in her face, leading her back down her downward spiral. It's almost comical how everything in her life starts going poorly because there are younger, “more attractive” women out there to take her place, both in personal and professional relationships.
Anyone who's read a hate-to-love romance knows right away that Key, the surly young model who hangs out at the same bar Rinko and her friends do, is likely to make a move on Rinko at some point, despite his clear and utter distaste for these thirty-somethings. However, it's hard to get invested in their budding relationship when Key is such a jerk. He's condescending, misogynist, and rude at every turn, his taciturn demeanor not even revealing a hint of interest in Rinko until the very end of the volume. Many tsundere characters have soft sides that make them a little easier to root for. Key is all-around off-putting, and it'll be a shame if Rinko's relationship with him proves integral to her character growth in the long run. Hopefully, her entanglements with him will at least encourage her to look inside for her own happiness.
Higashimura's art suits the josei genre, though there's nothing about it that stands out in particular. Perhaps intentionally, but Rinko and her friends look as young and beautiful as the twenty-somethings she draws (though perhaps the point is they can't see it), sort of undercutting the main hook that they're past their “best by” dates. Key is supposed to be strikingly handsome, but he seems muddled and soft. Backgrounds aren't finely detailed, but that's not a drawback, considering so much of the “action” of the manga takes place at the same bar and Rinko's workplace.
Tokyo Tarareba Girls volume 1 will strike a chord with virtually any adult reader who's second-guessed an important decision or wondered if it's “too late” to make big changes. However, so far it hasn't put down much foundation for the characters to grow internally without the help of external forces pushing them one way or another. Then again, it helps to know in the mangaka's afterword that she doesn't actually agree with her friends (the models for her characters) who think marriage is the be-all and end-all, so perhaps this slow, depressing start will pivot in future volumes.
Just because you loved Princess Jellyfish doesn't mean that Tokyo Tarareba Girls will be up your alley. In fact, I think that the two are almost direct opposites – the Sisterhood of Princess Jellyfish just wants the ability to continue to live the lives they enjoy, while the ladies of Tokyo Tarareba Girls are desperate to end their (roughly) comparable days and marry. The result is that while I found the former to be very affirming and about coming into your own, I find the latter rather depressing.
Interestingly enough, Akiko Higashimura seems to as well, or at least to find her characters a bit frustrating; she discloses in the afterward that she absolutely doesn't believe that marriage is a woman's ultimate goal and is conflicted about having married her second husband. She based the story on her friends and their sudden mad desire to find Mr. Right (or possibly Mr. Good Enough), and turned it into the tale of three women aged thirty-three who are all at least moderately successful in their careers but worry that they're on the shelf and will never get a man because of their apparently advanced age. The main “tarareba” (“what if”) woman is Rinko, a screenwriter who has her livelihood nearly destroyed thanks to the careless words of a model in line to act in her latest show. Key's criticism of her writing gives the producer the chance to install his lover in Rinko's position, something he was probably planning to do at some point anyway. To Rinko, this and her coworker's preference for her young assistant simply reinforce her burgeoning notion that she's past her sell-by date and will never find creative work or a man again.
Higashimura does have a deft touch with both art and character writing, but it is difficult to like any of the characters. They're largely unhappy (Rinko's assistant is the major exception), generally not nice people in one way or another, and perhaps that's what will make them appealing to some readers. You could drown yourself in “what if” and “if only,” as Rinko seems on track to do, and it isn't so much that hers is not a world-view I share but that nothing about the book makes me even particularly sympathetic to it. It may very well be that Rinko's journey over the course of the series is one that will make her more self-confident and happier (with or without a husband), but this volume doesn't particularly make me want to find out.
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