Last month a very strange thing happened. I found myself reading, God forbid, a heterosexual manga. And on top of that, I found myself sincerely enjoying it too. So how did I even get into this position?
Well, it’s my love of Akiko Higashimura’s previous works that brought me to Tokyo Tarareba Girls. The cast consisting of women in their 30’s was the part that really intrigued me. It’s so rare to see mangas about people past high school and young adulthood, and especially ones from the perspective of working women. The closest other thing I can think of to this perspective is Turning Girls, the hilarious and overlooked Trigger short about female coworkers struggling together as they face the prospect of turning 30. Tarareba Girls feels like a continuation of that spirit, in name and in plot. Our girls are into their 30s, haven’t married, still have boozy girl’s nights together like nothing has changed in a decade, and are generally terrified about their futures. Reading this through my birthday gave me some very relatable feelings!
Packed into this romantic/depression comedy is a lot of explicit and implicit social commentary. Lots of grumbling about how underwhelming the men in Japan are, lots of questionable guys doing creepy things, some discussion about the role of married women as workers versus housewives, just the whole works. You start to get the feeling that within the current societal romantic setup, everyone is kinda suffering in some way. And this isn’t just a Japan thing! While some of the sexism and ageism is pretty specific, a lot of is totally applicable to any culture. My takeaway from the early volumes was that heterosexuality is terrifying and as long as it entails inherent relationship power imbalances, nobody will be happy.
This sounds sad and hard to read! But I promise, once the manga gets rolling it ends up being way lighter reading. The trio oscillates in and out of all sorts of relationships, some messier than others. A better work-life balance is achieved. The one thing that stays the same is the girl’s endless nights drinking and badmouthing their men. During these drinking escapades they’re visited by anthropomorphized representations of milt and liver who fill their thoughts with ‘what-if’ questions and aging anxiety, which is a nice callback to Clara from Princess Jellyfish.
Milt and Liver also run an advice column chapter at the end of each volume, in which real world ‘what-if’ women mail them their romance problems to sort out. This is a really interesting role for the mangaka to take on, and it’s played fairly sincerely – obviously there’s a lighthearted air to it, but she does try to offer serious advice. The problems get weirder and more convoluted as the manga goes on, which is always a fun time.
Speaking of romantic advice, I actually kind of disagree with the ending that Higashimura went with. But that’s not a problem at all! I’m younger than the depicted women, my world view is way different, and the ending still carries a very coherent message: don’t regret yourself or make excuses, just keep on living to your best.
Like most of Higashimura’s works, Tokyo Tarareba Girls has a painful autobiographical undercurrent to it, which makes it feel all the more genuine. It kinda sucks being an awkward aging romantic mess of a girl, but I love seeing the mangaka reflect and work through it over the course of multiple manga series!
Men still suck though. Try to avoid them if you can.