Ep. 33: Tokyo Tarareba Girls Vol. 1-3, by Akiko Higashimura

What’s this? Is it the first time we’ve covered two different books by the same author on Mangasplaining? It certainly is, and it should be no surprise that the awesome Akiko Higashimura is the recipient of this honor! This week we cover her masterwork Tokyo Tarareba Girls, and we hope you’ll check it out and read along with us!

Powered by RedCircle

This episode:
00:00 Tokyo Tarareba Girls Vol. 1-3
1:09:55 The Break
1:10:20 Picking the next books!

Tokyo Tarareba Girls Vol 1-3
By Akiko Higashimura
Translated by Steven LeCroy
Lettering by Rina Mapa
Edited by Sarah Tilson
Published by Kodansha (Print/Digital)

00:00 Before We Get Started

First up: The name of the book. Tokyo Tarareba Girls has great alliteration, but it is a bit weird to see a book for an older audience like this leave a very-unfamiliar, untranslated word in its title. Well tarareba is basically the Japanese language way of saying “What If…?” which, as you may know, would be difficult or impossible to use on this manga due to Marvel Comics copyrighting and trademarking “What If?” as a comic book title. The phrase “What If?” is used a ton in the book itself, and the characters are referred to (and even refer to themselves) as “What If Women” frequently. It’s sort of at the core of the story. Knowing this will change how you read the series so we wanted to tell you about it up-front, particularly as I think it probably would’ve been called “Tokyo What-If Women?” if it weren’t for Marvel.

Fun-fact, Chip actually wrote some What If…? comics recently! So you can safely blame him.

There’s another meaning to the title, having to do with the Japanese pub-snacks Codfish Milt and Liver, but we’ll get into that a little further down in the notes. We’ll let you discover that one “organically”. 😉

Next, Here’s a biography of Akiko Higashimura! We updated it to add in all of the Tokyo Tarareba Girls info now.

Born in Miyazaki Prefecture, (the setting of previous Mangasplaining read Blank Canvas), Akiko Higashimura made her professional debut at 24 years old with the shojo manga Fruits Komori. She released a number of popular titles in Japan, but rose to prominence in the 2010s with a series of hit manga which included Princess Jellyfish, Blank Canvas, and Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Her work spans many genres, including the historical seinen action hit series Yukibana no Tora/ Snowflake Tiger, though only her josei manga work has been translated into English so far.

Even by Japanese manga creator standards, Higashimura has a reputation as being a workhorse, usually working on at least a weekly series AND a monthly series at any given time. Although the last time I checked, she was actually doing three series, plus a one-shot or two.

Her work has received numerous awards, including 2010 Kodansha Manga Award for Best Shojo Manga for Princess Jellyfish. In 2015, she took home the Manga Taisho (Manga Grand Prize) Award and the Grand Prize at the 19th Japan Media Arts Awards for Blank Canvas (a.k.a. Kakukaku Shikajika). She took home the Eisner Award in 2019 for Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Several of her manga series have been adapted as live action and animated TV shows and feature films.

When it comes to Tokyo Tarareba Girls, the series is clearly her biggest hit! She’s actually done a spin-off of the series, a sequel, and a whole new ‘season’ with all new girls! 

  1. Tokyo Tarare-Bar – A one shot manga featuring the two imaginary characters “codfish and liver” giving no-holds-barred relationship advice. Spinning off of the relationship advice bits from the bonus material in each volume of TTG. Not available in English.
  2. Tokyo Tarareba Girls Returns – A legit sequel featuring the same characters, set just before the olympics. 1 volume, released in October 2020. Available in English from the good folks at Kodansha.
  3. Tokyo Tarareba Girls Season 2 – A new cast of characters, serializing now, 4 volumes released so far! Unfortunately there’s been no news of an English edition, so far as I can tell. I’ll update this if this changes…

Finally, although this isn’t a spoiler-heavy series, we do discuss this book pretty thoroughly, with spoilers throughout. 

01:30 Here’s that back-of-the-book description.

“Rinko has done everything right. She hustled her way through her 20s to make it as a screenwriter, renting her own office in a trendy Tokyo neighborhood. Everything should have gone according to plan … So at 33, she can’t help but lament the fact that her career’s plateaued, she’s still painfully single, and she spends most of her nights drinking with her two best friends in their favorite pub. One night, drunk and delusional, Rinko swears to get married by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around in 2020. But finding a man—and love—may be a cutthroat, dirty job for a romantic at heart.”


01:45 EPISODE 33 and RINKO IS 33! LOOK AT WHAT WE DID THERE! Actually I’d like to say that was on purpose, but I had no idea until re-listening to the episode just now. Lol.

6:06 Here’s two of the gags that David mentions that really stuck with him. In true Mangasplaining style, though, they’re both from volume 4. So, we’re spoiling books we didn’t even say we were spoiling. First up, there’s the Gundam “Hail Zeon” gag. 🙂

Followed by that devastating joke about not just The Dark Knight Returns, but all American superhero movies.

God, I wish I’d made Chip read 4 volumes instead of 3, just to get him to deal with that joke. 

07:20 Quick shout out to our first josei title on Mangasplaining, Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki! In the josei manga sphere we’ve also covered sorta-josei sorta-shoujo series Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa, and the excellent Even Though We’re Adults by Takako Shimura. More, though. We need more.

11:10 “This is a horror manga!” The backups in this book, the omake or “free talk” or “backmatter”, expands dramatically as the series goes on. In volume 1, it’s just a quick autobio explainer from Higashimura-sensei about how she came up with the concept for TTG. In volume 2, things ramp up a bit with the first bits of reaction from her friends, editors, and office-workers, to the first volume. It’s… intense!

But then we get to the bit we’re talking about here, where the first person actually writes into the comic, with a “Dear Abby,” A friend of Higashimura’s, and a shojo mangaka, and… Higashimura tears her to bits (hilariously). 

…and just like Higashimura, lets give her a little publicity. That manga creator is Takumi Ishida, author of the manga Kakafukaka, currently available in print and digital from Kodansha. It’s a josei love story that… well it’s weird but it’s also unlike any romance manga I’ve read before. It’s a whole thing. Check out the preview chapter for yourself, the book description really, really didn’t do it justice. https://kodansha.us/series/kakafukaka/

So, yeah, YEAH. This actually starts a trend with the back-up features, that really kicks into gear with volume 4, and we’ll talk about a little bit later.

11:40 This is the kind of episode where the gags are just so good that I’m torn between showing you them here, to explain why we’re all cracking up, and letting you discover them in the book when you read it. Because you really oughta read it, it’s great! So… because I appreciate you reading these show notes, here’s the first half of that joke.

It’s worth noting that this sequence is in the first-chapter preview that’s available on the Kodansha website. Why not go read it to see how this devastatingly hilarious sequence ends?

14:30 So we mention Sex and the City, the television show (and movie spin-offs, which become very relevant in volume 4). Based on the advice column (and books) by Candace Bushnell, the series follows a group of four female friends with different lives and different approaches to dating, sex, and settling down. Samantha is a sex positive lady who puts herself and her desires first, and doesn’t want to settle or compromise herself to be in a relationship… One of the themes of this book! There’s a lot more, a lot lot more, both good and bad, but the series is an incredibly resonant touchstone for a few generations of people (especially women), and you kind of can’t talk about TTG without mentioning this series. 

18:15 So yeah, this scene in particular is very good, and worth calling out, about opportunity and calamity and age.

22:05 There’s intense criticism AND self-criticism in TTG, it’s not just Higashimura-sensei dishing it out to ladies in their 30s about getting together. There’s a whole sequence, integral to the plot, about different aspects of shitty writing in romantic stories that need to be avoided if we’re going to have ‘honest’ romantic media. It’s a great sequence, and the fact that she put it in the mouth of the ‘mean’ character really does make it read as self-directed criticism.

I wonder if every single one of these actually happens in the book? I know a few of them actually do… Which is why Kaori is banging her head against a wall in panel 3.

24:30 The liver and the cod-milt. So, as mentioned on the podcast, several characters in this book have alcohol-induced hallucinations and dreams, where their favourite pub snacks come to life and start giving them brutally harsh advice. They’re half-way between a Greek chorus and very shitty internal dialogue / self-criticism that a good therapist would tell you how to stop listening to. Anyway, they’re often very funny too.

It’s worth noting that the names of these two items of food directly relate to the title of the series. As it says on page 23, “In Japanese, the name for codfish milt is tara shirako, and live is pronounced reba; when combined, the two form the word for ‘what if’: tarareba.” Here are the panels where that tidbit appears, as Rinko’s bar snacks come drunkenly to life.

26:54 The two panels Chip mentioned from his newsletter. Kind of a perfect reaction image, frankly.

27:25 David is right, love is a battlefield in this book. It’s also a race, a baseball game, a boxing ring, a roller-coaster, and a whole lot more…

28:00 Amazing that Higashimura-sensei has a character come up with a metaphor in the book, and then has the meanest character in the book compliment them on what a good metaphor it is–when Higashimura wrote both sides of the conversation. Amazing. 

28:33 The dugout/baseball metaphor is used extensively in the first book, and it’s very well done (speaking of good metaphors).

29:45 The conveyer belt sushi metaphor that begins this chapter of volume 2, leads into the “Do you get it now, asshole?” reveal that ends this chapter of volume 2. This is pure comics here: great metaphors, expertly visually realized. “A good man served up to me on a plate.”

32:30 This sequence is really good, where Koyuki falls for the “milquetoast dude.” It’s so gripping, especially when you get the reveal later that he’s married (though estranged from his wife) with kids. You’re rooting for these characters, even if they make mistakes; you want them to be happy.

33:00 So yeah, it’s not just the Rinko show! As we’ve sort of pointed out, Rinko’s best friends, Kaori (Nail Professional, Dating a Rock and Roll Star) & Koyuki (Restauranteur, Dating a Married Guy) also get fully developed. Since we’re already playing that game, it’s clear Rinko is the Carrie in this series, while Koyuki is the Miranda. I guess that leaves Kaori to be Charlotte…? There’s no Samantha in TTG though. So far. Wait, is Key supposed to be the “Samantha?” Christ I hope not…

34:30 We found a man! That whole sequence is hilarious. 

I thought about making this the out-of-context header graphic for this episode, but ultimately decided against it.

42:00 Let’s just stop for a moment to plug Just The Tips, by Matt Fraction and our own Chip Zdarsky. Spinning out of their back-up material in their series Sex Criminals, it’s a very ‘sexual’ guide, though I don’t know if I’d follow any of the advice inside.

43:00 Page 146, Volume 2. “I’m just a loser…” This is a powerful sentiment, “We just can’t quit being women.” These are the kinds of things I had a hard time accepting while reading, advice I didn’t want to take. But hearing how it resonated with Deb made me reexamine it. There’s a lot here to react to, though.

46:45 Please don’t copyright claim us.

47:20 “Why don’t you approach men yourselves?” These little cod sperm and liver critters are vicious.

“Because you’re old?” BRUTAL.

50:10 The sequence with the marriage party is also in the free preview linked above, you should go read it there. 😉

55:20 This is maybe a very good visual example of what Chip’s talking about. It’s not magical realism, not exactly, but it is exactly the sort of lovely ‘magical’ scene that you might see in a romantic comedy.

56:20 I feel like I could’ve been clearer here, but the thread I was trying to pick up is that finding the best way to tell a story, and working and reworking things, is a big part of comics, and we don’t always see it or hear about it. It was nice hearing Chip talk about how he’s trying to make things like that work, while he’s working on his comics. It’s really interesting!

Also, since we mention it, that old NHK documentary on Tezuka is on YouTube, and I feel bad linking it because it’s clearly like, not being released within the bounds of the copyright of the folks who made it, but it’s also an important doc on the then still-living documentary. 


59:30 Wow. I love Chip. 🙂

1:00:30 So yeah, this is the first time we’ve read two different books by a single manga creator. If you’ve read Blank Canvas, you’ll get what we’re saying here. If you haven’t… We strongly recommend going out and at least reading the first volume, it’s really good!

1:02:00 The shojo manga artist who writes in and obscures part of her name in volume 3, and then Higashimura completely selling her out on the next page. Such a good gag. (Covered at the beginning).

1:05:00 So Manben ([Deb:] I think it’s short for “manga benkyou” or “studying manga” but feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m off base here…) is a documentary series by Naoki Urasawa that has him featuring, or interviewing various comic creators. He has an episode on Higashimura, and it’s a great way of getting to see her draw. I’m watching it now and it just revealed that at time of filming she was ‘shouldering five serializations” Then right after that they go to a bar and she’s tending bar there, and that’s insane? She also tends bar sometimes?

Anyway in for a penny, in for a pound. You can watch it here, in the world’s highest-quality fan-sub and fan-site. 


1:05:20 Here we go! While drawing herself in comics, she draws herself in a track-suit (which she wears IRL)… the same sort of track-suit that her sensei wore in Blank Canvas! She truly has become her sensei!

1:09:55 THE BREAK! 

Sorry for the lack of Q&A this week, we ran long talking about this series that we loved so much! But we’re still reading your emails, your comments here on the blog, and on social media!

So we jump riiiight into picking the next round of books!

Christopher’s choice is Look Back, by Tatsuki Fujimoto, published digitally by VIZ Media/Shonen Jump. 

David’s choice is Raw Hero Vol 1, by Akira Hiramoto, published by Yen Press. That’s gonna be a heck of an episode.

Deb’s choice is Vinland Saga Vol 1, by Makoto Yukimura, published by Kodansha.

1:17:00 That censored word that Chip said was “f**king”. We’re trying to play nice with the algorithms here. 😉

That means that our upcoming reading slate looks like this:

  • Oct 26: BL Metamorphosis Vol 3, 4, & 5, by Kaori Tsurutani. Published by Seven Seas.
  • Nov 2: City Vol 1, by Keiichi Arawi. Published by Vertical/Kodansha.
  • Nov 9: DanDaDan Chapter 1-8, by Yukinobu Tatsu. Digital, from Shonen Jump/VIZ.
  • Nov 16: A Drunken Dream, by Moto Hagio. Published by Fantagraphics.
  • Nov 23: Raw Hero Vol 1, by Akira Hiramoto. Published by Yen Press.
  • Nov 30: Look Back, by Tatsuki Fujimoto. Digital, from Shonen Jump/VIZ.
  • Dec 7: Vinland Saga vol. 1, by Makoto Yukimura. Published by Kodansha.

Look for these books at your local comic or manga specialty shop. You can find one near you at comicshoplocator.com. You can also check your local library for digital and physical lending options!

Thanks to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment in this episode.

And thanks to you for reading! We’ll be back next week with the conclusion of BL Metamorphosis.

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. Lovely episode, as always! I used to be a big fan of Akiko Higashimura, but then I learned some things about her and her views that threw a spanner in that… Nowadays, I like her work in the same way I like, say, Ender’s Game: with a more critical eye, and a heaping spoon of “separate the art from the author”. I think anyone who’s big into Higashimura’s work should be aware, and it’s not very well known in the West, so allow me to share!

    In 2019, a new season of my favorite Japanese reality show, Ainori, came out. It’s a hybrid dating/travel show where seven people ride a minivan around the world and develop relationships, and although it’s not without its faults, it’s one of the more “real” reality shows. In season 2 of Ainori: Asian Journey, a young man named Isamu participates. Turns out, he’s an assistant to Higashimura! In episodes 1 through 4, you even get some footage of Higashimura and Isamu from within her studio! This is where my illusion was shattered, however: far from being encouraging, she derides him something fierce, from a highly regressive perspective. The show is on Western Netflix; you can watch it anytime – here are a few quotes of hers from it, translation courtesy of Netflix’s subtitles:
    • “It’s like all his genes responsible for love are dead.”
    • “His absence hasn’t had any impact on my work.”
    • “Your emotions? Even that ‘I’m sorry’ just now annoyed me.”
    • “If I were a young woman, I wouldn’t go to the trouble of dating him.”
    • “You won’t stand a chance [at getting a girlfriend] anyway!”
    • Apparently, she also tends to tell him “That’s why you’re a virgin.”

    I thought this spoke to some harmful views regarding gender, but then again, I thought, perhaps she just really despises this assistant? Then just recently, I learned something that sadly confirmed the former… In 2015, she started serializing a manga called Himozairu, ostensibly about men learning to be good house husbands. It was canceled after only two chapters after heavy criticism from progressive groups in Japan. This was for several reasons – it’s partly because the manga uses the term “himo” (lit. “leash”), which is a derogatory term for a “parasitic man” who lives off his wife’s earnings – and it also refers to the wife as the “himo” man’s “owner”. It’s also due to the manga’s core premise, which is that a man should only learn housekeeping skills if he’s enough of a “loser” to not get a sustainable job – so that he may attract a wife that can provide for him. It’s a highly troubling manga, and the Ainori clips from 2019 confirm that she holds on to some of those beliefs. (You can read about it in this summary of the debacle: http://www.robfahey.co.uk/blog/cries-of-misandry-didnt-sink-himozairu/ )

    There’s no doubt that Higashimura makes some great comics – but unfortunately, they don’t come without a significant asterisk. It puts those merciless izakaya foods in a bit of a different light!

  2. Miguel Corti says:

    I’m way behind in my reading (and my purchasing), so this is one of the few episodes I jumped in without reading first, using it more as an introduction to the work. It’s great to hear how all of you approached it differently but still got something out it. I was dying at Higashimura’s scathing insights into superhero movies and Japanese romance TV shows. I think she nailed every trope around that one. I’m old enough to remember when a certain male demographic in Japan was really into English soccer player David Beckham, and then graduated to the show 24. Now, it does seem like superhero films dominate the zeitgeist for men of certain ages, but that’s definitely not limited to Japan.

    For the record, codfish milt and anything related to the gametes of fish is nasty, and I would gladly starve before eating it. I had a friend tell me about a new posh Japanese restaurant the other day, and we she showed me pics of the food that was mostly of the milt variety, she quickly said, “Yeah, maybe this is not the place for you. The sake is good, though.”

    Thanks for the copious show notes. I think it will take me a week just to dig through all of them and the links you provided. Thank you for that! (Don’t know when I’ll find the time to catch up on Man Ben either!)

    • Haha, every time I link to Manben I’m like “Omg, what am I doing with my life that I’m not catching up on this show, it’s such a wealth of info!”

      And I’ll never forget walking into the Tsutaya in Shibuya and seeing two full floor-to-ceiling displays of ’24’ Rental DVDs, all completely rented out, back in the day. Amazing.

      – Christopher

  3. KC says:

    Yo I can’t believe Christopher just casually dropped that factoid about Kazu Kibuishi drawing 3x as many pages as he needed for Amulet and then just THROWING OUT the unused concepts! Like WHAT?? I’m so sad to hear that. That’s priceless art.

  4. Devon says:

    I’m a bit behind, but this was a great episode! I discovered that Look Back was released physically in French TODAY, so I’ll definitely be picking it up ASAP.

  1. October 23, 2021

    […] returned, as Christopher Butcher hosted this week’s edition, with a unanimous vote in favour of Akiko Higashimura’s Tokyo Tarareba Girls Volumes 1-3, and the tough life lessons contained […]

  2. November 16, 2021

    […] Anyway, we’re not gonna spoil the author’s note here, there’s already a lot of excerpts. Just go ahead and buy this book! It’s such a good book and we all loved it.[Deb:] In a bit of foreshadowing of later episodes, we go big on Akiko Higashimura with an episode on Blank Canvas followed by Tokyo Tarareba Girls! […]

  3. January 18, 2022

    […] If you love Tokyo Tarareba Girls and enjoy Kdramas, A Fake Affair is the perfect lovechild of both genres, full of romance, humor (a […]

  4. March 2, 2022

    […] Here’s that link I was talking about, regarding Akiko Higashimura’s stuff, from a commenter on the Tokyo Tarareba Girls […]

  5. April 12, 2022

    […] Akiko Higashimura’s Tokyo Tarareba Girls gets a shout-out! The subject of our thirty-third episode, Tokyo Tarareba Girls is maybe the best comic ever. Three women in their mid-thirties fall in love, […]

  6. July 27, 2022

    […] manga, citing our very successful suggestions that he check out Even Though We’re Adults and Tokyo Tarareba Girls. We should probably come back around and recommend him another josei sometime soon…? […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.