“I spent all my time wondering ‘what if,’ then one day I woke up and I was 33,” main character Rinko says on the first page of Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Rinko and her close friends Kaori and Koyuki are all 33 and single, with past loves and painful regrets. They meet regularly to drink in Koyuki’s family-run pub, celebrating successes and drowning their sorrows, still aiming for the same personal and professional dreams. However, from the day a young stranger in the pub tells them to quiet down, Rinko’s luck seems to go downhill—or is she just facing up to the reality of her situation at last?
Author Akiko Higashimura of Princess Jellyfish fame wrote Tokyo Tarareba Girls as her exasperated response to a very specific phenomenon: her single female friends, on hearing the announcement that Tokyo will host the Olympics in 2020, panicking that they would still be unmarried by then. While Higashimura makes clear in editorial notes that she personally doesn’t value marriage very highly, she also notes that reaction to Tokyo Tarareba Girls has been “intense,” with some calling it a horror story. Fair warning, older readers: whether you’re in Rinko’s position or not, her musings about the passing of time are all too real, a punch to the gut for anyone past their 20s.
However, the silver lining to this truth-telling is one of the most fleshed-out representations of thirtysomething women in any manga around. Tokyo Tarareba Girls is, above all, a tribute to female friendship. The main trio compliment, commiserate, fight, play wingwoman and, of course, drink together. The support they give each other is constant, and even the most cutting of jibes is quickly forgotten as they face their next crisis together. The male characters, meanwhile, are a parade of Mr. Wrongs, and whether or not the women should settle for them is a recurring theme. Anyone who enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Diary or Sex and the City is likely to find this manga irresistible.
Fortunately, Tokyo Tarareba Girls balances out the frequent bittersweet content with easy comedy. Higashimura is unafraid to make her women look ugly or to put them in cringeworthy social situations. Yes, the result sometimes feels a little harsh, but no harsher than real life, and always more entertaining. In a landscape of stories about teens, it’s almost a relief to see a warts-and-all view of adult women of this age. Recommended.
story and art: Akiko Higashimura