Looking at oneself in the mirror can garner different experiences. For some, it’s a chance to reaffirm their self-confidence. For others, it’s an opportunity to make sure one is presentable to the outside world. But for many, staring at one’s reflection can be the hardest thing in the world, as it means confronting one’s fears and doubts, deeply buried in the psyche and surfacing through the eyes. To this effect, Tokyo Tarareba Girls by Higashimura Akiko (Princess Jellyfish) acts as a magical mirror. Its narrative, about 30-something women dealing with Japanese societal expectations, can be both compassionate and unforgiving in the same breath. It highlights the successes and failures of love while asking, “Which ones are which?”
Tokyo Tarareba Girls is about three female friends who moved to Tokyo as college students ready to take on the world, only to one day find themselves 33 and still single. Where once they were were seen as youthful and energetic, they can’t but help feel old. In a collective panic over their waning chances for finding love, they make a pledge to get married by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The core characters—TV writer Rinko, stylist Kaori, and restaurant chef Koyuki—are all beautifully complex and flawed characters. Their regrets are many, particularly when it comes to men they once rejected, only to see them turn into hunks over the years. They fear sitting on the sidelines, but they also fear messing up everything good in their lives, unsure of whether their actions should reflect youthful indiscretion or the wisdom of maturity. And throughout all this, the manga keeps asking the readers to interpret those decisions through the lens of their own experiences. There’s rarely a preaching of right or wrong, except for maybe the idea that women shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking they “need” to get married.
While single, 30-something women are the target audience for Tokyo Tarareba Girls, I believe that anyone who’s had to deal with pressure about when certain things “should” happen in life can connect with this story. You were “supposed” to lose your virginity by this point. You were “supposed” to have a career by this age. You were “supposed” to grow out of your childish hobbies at this age. What Tokyo Tarareba Girls does is encourage readers to consider those statements more thoroughly, think about how or why those expectations exist. And like the mirror it is, each person can come away from Tokyo Tarareba Girls with different ideas of both the manga and life in general.