Rinko Kamata dreams of the perfect romance, but relationships are almost never like fairy tales. TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 2 perfectly illustrates the bittersweetness of adulthood as Rinko struggles to find love.
Rinko and her friends, Koyuki and Kaori, spend countless nights out drinking their sorrows away and gossiping about old exes. At 33, these three girls have yet to find their true love and worry that they never will. They fret over “what-ifs” and “should-haves”, giving them the nickname “what if girls” from another patron of the bar, Key. Key, for reasons unbeknownst to our protagonist, decides to chastise Rinko and her friends. His constant nagging is a wake-up call for the spinsters as they begin to realize that their own thoughts and actions are the root of it all.
TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 2 combines goofy, relatable humor with the woes and anxiety of adulthood. It’s the perfect coming-of-age story that pokes fun at Rinko’s struggle while still handling serious topics of maturity and self-reflection. In this volume, Rinko’s quest for romance takes a turn for the worse after she and Key share one drunken night together. With the realization of the gravity of her actions, Rinko falls into a pit of self-deprecation and anxiety while her friends struggle to handle their own romantic ventures.
Growing Older, But Not Up
Rinko’s antics and Key’s criticism are the backbones of TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS’ comedy. Her naïveté is amusing, especially when she goes to lengths to avoid Key, and it’s fun to watch Key tease her. TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 2 amps up the humor, providing drastic contrasts and unpredictable punchlines. Kaori’s reunion with her ex and Koyuki’s encounter with a married man are hilarious twists that blindside the reader.
The themes of maturity and immaturity adopt a humorous tone as well. Key’s run-in with Rinko and the Squad’s emergency meeting at a café provide moments of hilarity and character development. In the café, the girls are interrupted by the cheers of three younger girls at the table next to them. Rinko and her friends share a rare moment of self-reflection when they see these girls who mirror them almost perfectly. For a split second, they reflect on their actions and decide to leave the café and talk somewhere more appropriate for mature discussion.
The moment hardly lasts, however, as mere moments later, Key chastises them for shouting in the streets about their sex lives. Here, Akiko Higashimura showcases her ability to quickly change the manga’s tone without it feeling out of place. The girls go from chipper, gossiping friends to mature older women and back to giggling high school girls in a mere few panels. This mastery over the story’s tone and overall flow truly makes TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 2 stand out as a romantic comedy manga.
However, the humor is very bittersweet. While it’s entertaining to watch Rinko devour a jumbo-size bucket of popcorn to cope with reality, it’s also heartbreaking to watch the girls come to depressing conclusions about their love lives.
When Food Becomes Your Biggest Critic
While there’s still plenty of Akiko Higashimura’s playful comedy present, humor takes a backseat as Vol. 2 turns its attention to Rinko’s inner thoughts. Whenever Rinko gets drunk, her food comes to life and taunts her with negative “what ifs.” The “what ifs” start as tiny, reasonable worries, but quickly spiral into colossal fears of being washed up and alone for life. They’re amusing little scenes that portray her psyche, and they’re relatable to anyone who’s had brushes with anxiety. However, while these scenes are usually humorous, they take a darker turn this volume.
Rinko’s hallucinations become increasingly self-deprecating. By the end of the volume, her thoughts about their romantic adventures are more depressing than usual — an impressive feat for someone who spends most days wallowing in self-pity. Kaori and Koyuki share that feeling of hopelessness, and Kaori even starts seeing the same hallucinations as Rinko — only hers are much worse. Instead of bouncing back with a goofy, energetic reaction like Rinko, Kaori falls victim to the harsh words of her imaginary food critics.
Since there’s so much emphasis on their emotions, Vol. 2 is a little slow. The hallucinations and Key’s criticism get brutally real this issue and the girls take it pretty hard. With the added negativity, volume two leaves me uneasy about their futures. TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS is always unpredictable; it’s hard to guess what choices Rinko and her friends will make. The bitter note the last chapter leaves us on only adds to the uncertainty. Can Rinko and her friends learn more about themselves and find happiness? Will they settle for something less just because society has told them they’re washed up? I’m burning with curiosity to see what kinds of twists and turns this hilarious yet heartbreakingly real rom-com takes.
TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 2 Changes Course
TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 2 adjusts its structure slightly and shifts its focus to Kaori and Koyuki. Each girl gets their own chapter this volume, which makes them feel a lot more fleshed out and relatable as characters. In each of their respective chapters, both Kaori and Koyuki find romance. Unfortunately, both girls discover that their lovers are already in relationships. Despite knowing they were entering affairs, Kaori and Koyuki both give in and date the men they meet. It seems like the girls are stepping aside to make way for Rinko to shine as they become more accepting of fate. At this point, Koyuki and Kaori both seem to be arriving at the conclusion that their time is up and they should take what they can get. Kaori even remarks that Rinko can’t make the same mistakes as her and let love slip through her fingers.
Akiko does an excellent job with characterization this volume. Kaori and Koyuki both receive some well-deserved screen time and depth to their personalities. Koyuki might seem stoic and uncaring, but she is just as enthusiastic as Rinko beneath the surface. Kaori seems bubbly and aloof, but she regrets her past relationships and now accepts that being single might be karma.
Still, these characters haven’t changed — much. They still gossip and drink whenever they encounter an obstacle in life. Rinko’s growth stagnates since her story is put on hold while this volume turns its attention to her friends. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The deep thinking illustrates the girls’ characters nicely, giving them depth and just a little growth. They’ve taken a slight dip in their journey, and that’s how it should be. You have to get worse before you get better, after all.
Too Many Metaphors
Throughout her journey for true love, Rinko constantly compares herself and her friends to others. She compares herself to her assistant, Mami-chan, and to other younger girls they see on the street. In these moments of self-analysis, Rinko often makes up metaphors for herself and her friends. So far, Rinko has compared the Spinster Squad to baseball players, soldiers, and now, in Vol. 2, boxers.
At first, they’re imaginative and cute, but they quickly become repetitive, cliché, and dry. She uses different examples in her comparisons, but they all say the same thing. Love is war, a battlefield, and a competition, and the Spinster Squad is on the losing side. Instead of comparing herself to others and treating romance like it’s some sort of victory, perhaps Rinko should consider why she keeps losing, and why she thinks it’s a battle. There’s no way to tell what kind of conclusion Rinko will draw from her life experiences, but I hope she does eventually learn that love isn’t just another obstacle to be conquered (and to be more creative with her metaphors).
Anticipating the Future
The chapters devoted to Kaori and Koyuki make the characters and the story overall feel so much more real. The rawness of their emotions and thought processes are like a punch in the gut. The characters and the story becomes that much more relatable and bittersweet. Even though volume two isn’t as lighthearted as its predecessor, it’s every bit as enjoyable. The story is compelling and the realness hooks you in completely. By the end of the issue, the girls seem so stuck in their rut that even the reader worries about where the next chapter might lead. It’s a good strategy for keeping readers hooked on a story, and Akiko Higashimura executes it flawlessly.
Akiko Higashimura’s concept is simple, but she does wonders with it. The characters continue to impress with their colorful personalities, amusing antics, and overall unpredictability. TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS Vol. 2 is a wonderful manga that will make you laugh and sniffle sadly at the same time. Vol. 1 of TOKYO TARAREBA GIRLS was a delight to read, and it’s good to see that this second volume follows through.
Featured image courtesy of Kodansha Comics.