Thursday, February 6, 2020

Throwback Thursday - Tokyo Tarareba Girls volume 1 (Manga Review)

Three women in front of imagery of Tokyo
Throwback Thursday is a riff on my column Missed It Monday where I review manga/anime that I didn't read/watch when they first came out. Nothing new came out last week for me to review this week, so I'm starting a series I missed when it was released in English in 2018: Tokyo Tarareba Girls.

Tokyo Tarareba Girls vol. 1 - 7.5/10 (*see scoring rubric at the end)

I'm so excited to finally be reading Tokyo Tarareba Girls (Kodansha Comics). Akiko Higashimura is a wonderful mangaka and I've loved both Princess Jellyfish and Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist's Journey (her auto-biographical manga). I'm pleased to say that volume 1 of Tokyo Tarareba Girls gets off to a very strong start that is reminiscent of all that I've loved about her other series.

In volume 1, we meet Rinko, a young woman in her early thirties. She's a screenwriter for web series and other small productions. She's also single and very aware of that fact. We are also introduced to her two single female friends. The three spend their time drinking, complaining about being single, and supporting each other emotionally.

One day, while drinking due to another crushing personal defeat in Rinko's dating life, a young man at the bar angrily confronts them about their bad attitude and lack of putting in effort to move their lives forward. While he's unconscionably rude (and quite a bit misogynistic), he's also young and beautiful - and maybe right about their attitude towards life.

As Rinko prepares to cast her newest web series, who should be pitched for the young lead in the series? Why, the young man from the bar of course! (because manga). He happens to be a model and aspiring actor. After reading the script, he refuses to audition for the part because he finds the script boring. Rinko loses her writing job on the series and another writer is brought on board.

Thus begins a series of interactions between Rinko and the young man, Key, culminating in a fairly significant situation at the conclusion of the volume. I will say that due to the amount of alcohol being consumed, I was not at all comfortable with that final scene. That doesn't mean things like that don't happen, but it will be interesting to see what reflection, or critique, on that scene comes in volume 2.

There is so much to like about this series. First, it's a josei which are all too rarely translated into English from what I can tell. I really like reading about people my age (i'm actually almost 40, but we'll count it). The types of conversations, the attitudes, the less-than-perfect qualities of our lead make her believable and relatable.

The art is classic Higashimura-sensei which means it is open and fluid but also very very expressive. This isn't cookie cutter "manga" art at all. This is a highly personal style that supports both the dramatic and comedic aspects of the series. Some of the best art moments are when Rinko gets bad news or does something stupid and Higashimura-sensei depicts this with over-the-top imagery such as Rinko falling through a hole in the floor, the building blowing up, or similar. The use of metaphorical art to depict her inner emotional state really supports the comedy/drama balance and also makes it light enough to never feel depressing or overwrought in the moment.

There is also going to be lots of room for Rinko to grow as a person. She's still set on some idealized version of what she thinks adult life will be like. But already it is clear she'll be faced with harsh realities and need to take control over her own destiny. This is a theme in Higashimura's other works and is particularly in sync with Blank Canvas. I really and truly appreciate manga where there is character growth rather than just a "will-they/won't-they" get together story.

So basically, we've got a story about adults(!!!!), where the purpose is character growth and self-actualization, with good art, a strong comic and dramatic mix, and insightful writing that feels authentic and relatable. That's awesome. I'm very excited for this series. Volume one is a strong start. Tokyo Tarareba Girls vol. 1 gets a 7.5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 8
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 8 - 30-year old women taking the spotlight!
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 7 - funny and insightful
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 8 - right in line with Higashimura-sensei's other series including her autobiographical series: "Blank Canvas" - really highlights the realities of young adult-hood as middle-age is on the horizon.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 8/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 3 - a solid start to exploring what it means to be a single 30-something woman as well as aspects of the entertainment industry
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - at this point, Rinko is not taking the bull-by-the-horns, but that's the point. That's what she has to overcome - to lead her life, not let it pass her by.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - too early in the series for this yet, but it's coming
  • Quality art (0-5): 2 - fun, fluid, expressive.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
  • Other (0-5): 2 - a scene at the end involves lack of consent due to being highly drunk.
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -1


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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