TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS VOL. 1 BY AKIKO HIGASHIMURA REVIEW
Art
Characterization
Concept
Summary
Akiko Higashimura delivers playful, lighthearted humor effortlessly in this energetic romantic comedy that tackles the sticky topic of matrimonial expectations.
87 %
Relatable Relationship Struggles
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Adulthood is hard and relationships are even harder. From Akiko Higashimura, the creator of PRINCESS JELLYFISH comes TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1!

TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS follows Rinko Kamata, a 33-year old screenwriter, and her two friends, Kaori and Koyuki. The girls pine over the many “what ifs” in life and dream of finding love. But life, ironically, isn’t a fairy tale romance. Before they know it, Rinko and her friends are thirty-somethings and still single. As a result, they spend many “girls’ nights” in Koyuki’s pub gossiping and drinking their sorrows away.

However, everything changes when Key, another pub patron, calls them out on their griping. He calls them “what if girls” because they always dream about “ifs” without ever doing something about them. Key’s harsh critiques allow for hilarious banter and sometimes even serious life questions for our heroines.

This rollercoaster of comedy is mixed with a perfect dose of sincerity as it follows Rinko’s journey to find love. Rinko’s struggles to find herself a husband hilariously illustrate everything about mature relationships that take an experienced heart to handle. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking you might never find your soulmate, you can probably relate.

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Art with Character

Like Akiko Higashimura’s other work, PRINCESS JELLYFISH, TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1 takes on a lively art style that pops with energy. The details, particularly character faces, aren’t over-exaggerated like the typical manga or anime style and instead lean towards a slightly more realistic and mature feel. The style really fits the theme of Rinko’s coming-of-age story, so to speak, especially when Akiko delivers punchlines and gags with playful, childish expressions. It’s a perfect mix of maturity and immaturity — just like the characters themselves!

What’s particularly admirable about the artwork of TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS is the diversity of character design. Too often in manga, characters suffer from the infamous same face syndrome, where nearly everyone shares identical eyes, noses, and face shapes. If it weren’t for their wacky hairstyles, you’d have a hard time telling these characters apart. Rinko and her friends, on the other hand, have the kind of facial diversity you’d expect to see, since, y’know, real people don’t all look like carbon copies of one another.

Koyuki, Rinko, and Kaori glam it up for a singles' meet in TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1.
Work! | Image: Kodansha Comics

Each character has their own distinct nose, eye shape, defining jawline, body type, and of course, sense of fashion. No two characters are quite the same and everyone has their own distinct style. It’s refreshing to see that attention to detail and it gives the characters a little extra flair on top of Akiko’s already excellent artwork.

The What if Girls

The TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1 cast isn’t just diverse in their design, they’re also unique in their personalities. Rinko, Kaori, and Koyuki are serious, hardworking adults — sometimes. Each has their own passion for their work, but when it comes to romance, they’re as mature as teenagers. Key compares them to old ladies who sneer at everyone during their drinking parties. He criticizes them for dreaming about their Prince Charming while never being proactive about their dreams.

These instances show Akiko’s writing prowess and delivery of flawless comedy that simultaneously deals with heavy topics. Rinko’s failures in love and Key’s harassment are entertaining to watch, but Key also brings out the flaws in Rinko’s personality. Rinko hasn’t completely realized her own immaturity yet, but Key has made her doubt herself just a little bit. Rinko begins to question her nights spent complaining about exes with her friends and whether or not she might be the bigger problem.

Key throwing some serious shade in TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1.
Key throwing some serious shade. | Image: Kodansha Comics

Personally, I think it’s sweet that Rinko and her friends have their own hangout. What’s so wrong with a couple of friends getting together after a long day of adulting? It’s good to wind down from the stress of life and have fun, plus it shows the strength of their friendship. Honestly, who doesn’t want to blab to their friends the moment something good happens in life?

That said, Key does have a point about their approach to life. The girls could certainly benefit from having a little more tact and perhaps refrain from shouting in the bar about their sex lives. Key’s icy words might be just the thing that Rinko needs in order to change her outlook on life.

TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1 and The Quest for Love

Rinko’s quest for the perfect husband also takes a stab at the age-old question: what is love (and the equally age-old question of whether or not anyone can ask that question without singing it). Rinko herself struggles to grasp what love really is, judging from her fruitless attempts to nab a husband by improving her looks.

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On the other hand, Key challenges Rinko’s views. He opens her eyes to her own actions, getting her to think about why her pursuits fail. Key makes us think about why Rinko’s chasing after this cliché love story and what a real relationship should be like. And, most importantly, if a relationship is really as important and life-defining as Rinko believes.

I’m excited to see how Key’s critiques and comments help lead Rinko in a new direction and what conclusions she might draw. Will Rinko find the love she’s looking for? Will she find real love that isn’t artificial? Or will she decide to stand strong on her own two feet? Whatever path Rinko chooses, I’m excited to see her character grow and develop alongside Key and her friends.

Blending Rinko’s Crisis with Humor

The perfect balance of comedy and delicate topics makes TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1 an excellent manga. It highlights Rinko’s efforts in a comedic way but knows when to be serious (unlike Rinko herself). It tackles issues like Rinko’s maturity and the already-discussed societal challenges. None of these heavy topics feel out of place alongside the goofy facial expressions and amusing antics. The fact that I can get a good laugh out of Rinko’s suffering while still thinking deeply about the impact of her story and character is a good indicator of this balance.

Rinko, Kaori, and Koyuki meet in the pub after Rinko's disastrous date in TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1.
Rinko skips out on her disastrous date and assembles the squad. | Image: Kodansha Comics

Rinko’s mid-mid-life crisis (I’m sure we can all relate) provides TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS with loads of relatable and hilarious content for the reader to enjoy and laugh at. Akiko Higashimura guides the reader seamlessly through her struggles with charismatic art. The vivid expressions and excellent pacing make the manga’s humor stand out.

While watching Key spoil Rinko’s fun is entertaining, what really makes the manga funny is the unexpected twists. Good comedy, in my experience, takes a sharp turn and surprises the audience with a hilarious and outrageous punchline. TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS is that good comedy. Just when you think Rinko is going to have a perfect night out with a great guy, that great guy turns out to be a creepy dude who’s crushing on a 19-year-old girl. Don’t worry, Rinko, there are better fish in the sea.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Akiko Higashimura has done a marvelous job with TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1. Its humor is lighthearted and fun while still dealing with heavier topics that challenge the way both main character and reader alike think. Rinko and Key are both personalities who pose different challenges to ideas and concepts while providing a playful comedy that anyone can enjoy.

Rinko drowns her sorrows with an expensive bottle of sake in TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1.
Rinko takes “treat yourself” a little too seriously… | Image: Kodansha Comics

The concept of a spinster trying to find love isn’t new or unique, but Akiko pulled off that concept stupendously. It’s the presentation that makes a story its own rather than the concept and Akiko has done just that. TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS’s unique and bubbly art style, coupled with Akiko’s humor, makes for one wholly enjoyable romantic comedy manga.

TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 1 is now available.

Featured image courtesy of Kodansha Comics.

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