In a postholocaust wasteland, two young women with an unknown point of origin drive a Nazi bike to an unknown destination. The Kettenkrad, a bicycle-steered vehicle on motorized treads, is a perfect metaphor for Girls’ Last Tour, in which we see the juggernaut-like motive power of Chito and Yuuri to forge ahead, to forage in the bleak ruins for a survival that they eke out more through luck and their mechanized perseverance than through skill. Not that they could squat in a brownstone if they chose; the girls and their kettenkrad must continually move, like a shark, so that they can scrounge for canned goods in the ruins, as all animals died, and new food cannot be produced.
While they ascend through the strata of rubble, they crawl in circles around the bottom plateau of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as they do so, never rising above the requirements of the day, such as finding food and choosing a direction where they will find more food. Chito and Yuuri’s other drives are almost vestigial, as while Chito has a handful of books and a notebook of her own, she doesn’t understand them so much as treasure them as artifacts. And, in place of philosophical satisfaction or a spiritual life, the best respite the young women can hope for is a bath and an opportunity to wash their fatigues. Perhaps most importantly, when their society widens to include a man that they find in the ruins, they seem relieved when he leaves their acquaintance. Chito and Yuuri may not seem happy, but they’re too anxious to alter the terms of their day to day existence: four hands to do the work and two mouths to feed is just right for these two young women.
Many who have read Sartre or Beckett will think of these writers when reading Girls’ Last Tour, despite the fact that Girls’ Last Tour does not evolve the literature of despair but instead posts a reminder that despair requires a certain amount of material culture; without the trappings of civilization, an apocalyptic desolation may take its place, but denizens of the ruins don’t know despair so long as their main source of concern or satisfaction is whether their belly is empty or full. For that very reason, however, Girls’ Last Tour is a very existential tour for its readers, who saw a manga with two chibi shojo heroines on the cover, and were not paying attention to their stare, which is waiting for a reader to see them through to the end of a journey that has no exit.
While the title implies that they’re tourists of the ruins, they’re actually the readers’ tour guides through the narrative, which climbs with the Kettenkrad over the detritus of not one, but multiple, failed civilizations that are mortared one over the other. The Girls’ of the title may also be misleading, if you’re expecting a shojo tale, as Chito and Yuuri are driven less by camaraderie than by the specter of duty; the two women are not only clad in military fatigues, but their chibi-styled facial expressions become wrinkled with weariness. Chito and Yuuri are the opposite of magical girls; their biggest dilemma in volume one is whether they will risk poisoning themselves to eat a dead fish they found in a puddle. That they are able to eat and digest the fish seems to be the dismal moral of Girls’ Last Tour, a moral that is later codified when they make their way to a section of the ruins that is just as barren, but still has the lights on: “Even if it’s meaningless…sometimes, nice things happen.”
Girls’ Last Tour is a moral fable that many will find relevant today. Those that have a wide-eyed stare as they journey through the horrors of their social media feeds will enjoy blanking that out for a spell and instead empathizing with the survival tale of Chito and Yuuri. However, while Girls’ Last Tour is sparse on dialogue, lean on plot, and only an hours’ light reading, Chito and Yuuri’s journey, which appears free of not only consequences but viable futures for the two women, has heavy moral overtones. The idea that they journey through the residue of one apocalypse into the shattered remnants of another, fresher, cataclysm is particularly disturbing; I suspect the weird series of sandwiched disasters may be a metaphor for our times, as we live in not a culture, but an amalgam of cultures, including long dead paradigms that survived their own armageddons to prop up worldviews that may fall into entropy in our lifetime. Or perhaps it has already fallen into entropy, and we’re just like these two girls, scavenging through what Jean Baudrillard called the Anorexic Ruins for bits of personal meaning?
Girls’ Last Tour Volume 1 is must-read manga. It arrives in bookstores on May 23rd, 2017, and you can preorder it through this link.
Yen Press sent the review copy.