Here’s something I haven’t really experienced for a while – a series where I really enjoyed the characters, the setting and the individual stories, but deeply disliked the message.
Now, whether I’m actually correct about the message – is there a message at all? – or whether I’m wrong, might certainly be up for debate.
I would like to be wrong actually…
Hatarki Man (2006)
In any event, here’s the premise (as per Wikipedia):
Hiroko Matsukata is a woman who works for a magazine company. She puts all she has into her work, and is known as a strong, straightforward working girl, who can at will turn herself into Hataraki man (working man) mode. Despite Hiroko’s success at work, her life lacks romance. Even though a hard worker, she would leave early anytime to go on a date. Too bad her boyfriend is an even bigger workaholic than Hiroko.
Okay, so what makes the anime work for me?
Well, aside from the almost ‘too-close’ character design of Hiroko (that was nevertheless compelling), I think it is the characters themselves. They’re all stronger than their flaws, and more, they’re able to reflect. And there is variety in both their look and personalities, their problems and the solutions they come up with. I wish it had a been longer anime.
For fans of episodic + overarching plot lines, Hataraki Man should satisfy too. And if you’re like me, with little idea of how print publishing works(ed) in Japan, then you’ll probably learn a few interesting things about the industry too – especially in the ‘Reward Man’ episode.
Throughout, the writing verged on dark comedy, but overall it’s a work-drama. And while I could very easily relate to some of the central struggles both Hiroko and Shinji faced, especially when they were doubting the value of their work, this point brings me to my problem with the message or theme (at least, as I see it).
And it seems to be something like “work is more important than anything else”.
Again, maybe I’m performing a bit of a shallow reading of the text here – I’m very curious to see if anyone else has seen the anime/read the manga?
Soon, I’ll finally present my ‘evidence’ as it were, but first I want to note that I’m basing a large part of my response on the final episode especially, and two moments in particular. (Okay, and a quote from the author, but I’ll include that at the bottom).
Okay okay again, I’m also basing it on a few other general things I’ll outline now:
That ‘work above all else’ thing that I keep harping on about in this review seems to be echoed in just about every character onscreen, since so few seem permitted to/able to make time for anything but work, and if they do, it is not shown to us very often.
More, the main long-term romantic relationship in the anime decays week by week in favour of work, and meaningful conversations between characters usually happen jammed in between other events or during periods of exhaustion.
The one character in the office who dares to draw a line between work and the rest of his life is scorned by our main character, and management is so void of compassion that even a water leak that destroys the MC’s apartment doesn’t seem to be relevant. (Of course, folks like that are a dime a dozen in management, but it’s always sad and ridiculous to see someone fight so hard for a company that will immediately discard and replace them the second they burn out).
And burn-out is a vital theme in the anime, and one that I reckon is handled really well too. I could probably recommend Hataraki Man for that aspect alone.
But at last, the notion of burn-out leads me to the concluding episode.
When finally Hiroko and Shinji drift apart enough to call it quits (initiated by Shinji who seems to have given up on the relationship first) Hiroko is stunned into something of walking-coma. Of course, she’s unequipped to process her emotions, but gets some advice from a colleague, which seems to boil down to “it wasn’t your fault you put work before your relationship”.
Which is not true. Both Hiroko and Shinji absolutely put work first, and that’s why everything falls apart for them.
The ending of the episode basically lets Hiroko snap out of her depression thanks to work, and Hiroko’s voice-over even tells us that she will be okay… because she has a job.
Now, obviously after something deeply painful, pouring yourself into another facet of your life can be great – necessary even.
But for every scene of Hiroko working until 2am or slumped over her coffee table in her day-clothes after having stumbled home from work, every time she rang to cancel a date, or was stuck at the office long after others left, it was clear this work ethic left her with nothing else, not even a fun hobby – especially since by end of the series, Hiroko doesn’t even had a boyfriend anymore either.
Once again, maybe I’m being somewhat unfair – many times the series is committed to show us the awfulness of a ‘work is everything style’ culture, yet after I finished the anime, I stumbled across this quote from the creator of the manga, Moyoco Anno:
“The traditional virtue of Japan was that people took everything very seriously. As those traditions have been eroded, the quality of Japanese work has been downgraded.”
The full quote contextualises the comment more around accusations of laziness, which struck me as rather thoughtless when I apply it to Anno’s own industry, one that seems rife with creators working themselves into the ground etc.
I have to note that it’s obviously incredibly risky for me to take one quote (or even a full passage) and use it as evidence of ‘what the anime was saying’.
Even supposedly saying.
And it’s also risky of me to claim the quote as evidence that the anime conformed to more than it critiqued the dominant attitudes toward work that I tried to identify above. Again, I’d like to be wrong.
Because in the end of course, I obviously don’t (and couldn’t possibly) have a handle on what’s going in Japan right now, nor when the manga was written for that matter, or the anime aired, but the stories about burn-out that do reach me today certainly don’t fill me with happiness.
Obviously, overwork is a problem that’s not going away (not just in Japan but anywhere in the world) without radical change – and this rant from me won’t make any difference. Even so, I enjoyed getting it onto paper, as it were.
So… to crawl back to the review itself at long last, I still really liked this anime.
In fact, I love that it gave me pause and made me think. And I will definitely watch it again one day, but I find myself wondering now, weeks later, am I supposed to be happy for Hiroko at the end of the series, or worried that she’ll work herself to death, just like her poor interview subject from episode 9: “Full-Fledged Hataraki Man”?