3am Dangerous Zone and Working With Pride

Momoko, Youko Nemu, 3am Dangerous Zone manga

My father lost his job this past January, coincidentally while I was paying my parents a short visit. It did not come as a surprise to him and – although I wouldn’t put it past him to hesitate discussing his emotions with his daughter – he seems pretty happy about retiring for good, puttering around the house playing Myst or Riven for the 15th time or reading The Hunger Games.

One of the reasons he cited for being fairly happy was that he hadn’t liked how his workload had continued to increase in the latter part of his career. He had felt pressure to be on-call at hours outside of his scheduled work time, and had seen others’ personal lives slowly assimilate into their office lives until they were nearly one and the same. Specifically, he had seen this in his younger peers, and assumed that they would hire a younger person to replace him, who would be willing to do all of these things.

I pushed back, citing that in such a poor economy, companies know that they can get away with overworking younger individuals, often in ways that are significantly detrimental to their physical and emotional health, because said individuals don’t have a choice. The job market is so poor that they will push themselves in lieu of having any social life or significant relationships, because they need the money. Companies know this and take advantage of it. It is not simply that they want to push older workers out in favor of younger, fresher talent, it’s that they additionally want the largest amount of work done for as little money invested as possible.

momoko, 3am dangerous zone, manga, youko nemu

3am Dangerous Zone is a charming manga by Youko Nemu that follows design school graduate Momoko as she attempts to navigate her first job and life after school. With ambitions of becoming an illustrator, Momoko is instead working at an office that designs pachinko parlors. It is hardly her dream job, and her woes are compounded by the fact that she is expected to do a large amount of work, sometimes related to design but often not, be on call nearly all hours of the day and often spend whole nights in the office. In her first month, she is introduced to the location of the shampoo and soap by a fellow coworker washing his hair in the sink. The implication is that there will come a time when Momoko will have to use them herself.

momoko, momoko declares she's quitting, 3am dangerous zone

This past summer, I took on a project at my workplace that required me to work about 90 hours a week, up from my previous 50. I ate, lived, breathed, and slept my job, quite literally, as I did once take a nap on site – having spent the previous 20 hours at work – and kept a change of clothes there. These specifics were not expected of me; however, it was heavily implied that I was to do everything possible within reason, and reason was often blurred. It was a very successful project for which I received little to no recognition outside of the wonderful staff that I had hired, who worked equally tirelessly the moment they came on-board. Had we done less, it would have been seen as lacking effort and laziness. Currently, it’s doubtful that anyone in the company remembers these efforts at all.

Regardless of knowing that the company took advantage of our dedication, there was always a sense of pride that we had about our job. We could stand outside our location, look in, and feel amazing about what we had accomplished, even without recognition from our superiors. It was a bittersweet feeling.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be an illustrator and chasing your dreams, but don’t look down on your work.”

-Doumoto to Momoko, 3am Dangerous Zone, Vol1 Ch3

Uncertain of her personal career goals and the massive workload of her new position, Momoko writes a letter of resignation. Due to circumstance, she keeps it in her desk drawer, never turning it in. Goaded into declaring that she’ll quit one day, a coworker Doumoto confiscates the notice, telling Momoko that it’s high time she made up her mind on whether she truly wants to leave the company. In straddling the line between quitting and committing, Momoko is doing a disservice to herself and unintentionally looking down on her coworkers. They all know that they are being taken advantage of in regards to the workload they are given, but they own it and manage to take pride in it on their own terms, without validation from the higher-ups. Business and personal are one in the same, and the assimilation of the two becomes a dangerous benchmark of dedication. Momoko should take personal pride in her work, and that of her fellow designers; however, pride shouldn’t be packaged with the complete loss of a life outside of the office.

For someone like my father, mingling one’s personal activities with business is still a fairly appalling idea. Even when he brought work home, there was still a clear distinction between home and the office. For Momoko, they become one in the same very quickly with everything between her romantic life and daily ablutions taking place at the office. She loses the boyfriend that she enters the job dating only to fall for another guy in a nearby office. Their dates include hanging out on the rooftop of their building in between shifts and going across the street for lunch during their breaks. Everything about their relationship, and everything in Momoko’s life, is influenced by her job. Her lifestyle further blurs the line between personal and business as a modern extension of the 1970s-80s salaryman.

It is bittersweet when Momoko finds her footing within the company. She acquiesces to the long hours, sleeping in the office, and even washing her hair in the sink. Going beyond the social requirements of after-hours office drink-ups, golf games, or mahjong matches that plagued the salaryman, all of Momoko’s social interactions are at work. Additionally, they are impossible to untangle from her professional life, calling to mind the massive amount of work often expected of those in the recent economic climate. 3am Dangerous Zone refrains from commenting outright, but the undercurrent of today’s economy is inseverable from Momoko’s growth within the series, much like the aforementioned impossible separation of home and office.


    1. Thanks! I think Youko Nemu really wrote something that a lot of people can relate to. Additionally, the art is very stylish and modern. If you end up reading it, I hope you like it. ^ ^

  1. Wow, this piece really resounds with my current way of life at the moment: the long hours at work + commute time, trying to keep work and personal lives separated, preserving my romantic relationship and trying to get it to flourish. What is the tone like at the end of this work, with Momoko entrenching herself further into her career, hopeless, or accepting?

    1. The tone definitely turns more towards the romantic, and Momoko’s budding new relationship. I can’t say how it ends, as there’s still another volume and a half or so to be translated, but her life progresses to the point where she accepts that there will be very little distinguishing her personal life from her job. In fact, there is additionally a secondary relationship that also reflects this within her office. Momoko and company pretty much make their working environment their home, for better or for worse. That being said, it’s very hopeful in that their acceptance leads them to move forward in their lives even with the enormous workload.

      I hope you do read it. Additionally, best of luck with everything. ^ ^

  2. That feeling of owning one’s own footing within a company, it is one that is indeed bittersweet, yet also a mixed blessing at best. The amount of character building required in order to reach these sorts of “low heights” in the workplace really speaks out to me, as I myself have recently come into that sort of footing at work. I consider myself a salaryman in this sense, and the corporate ladder is both an obstacle and an opportunity for personal growth.

    One of the great parts about this piece is that it speaks out to a generation that often appears to the rest of society as slackers. The ongoing feud between millenials and, uh, for a lack of better term, perennials, is something that I can feel reflected both within the story as well as the post itself. Too many times, both groups argue as to which side is “doing more,” as if one side ever actually gets to benefit from winning the argument; at the end of the day, the working conditions that affect one group affect the other as well. Nobody ever truly benefits from a poor economy.

    The social undercurrents portrayed in 3am was brought to life in this post through a fine portrait painted of two generations with Emily and her father, and how both of them ultimately suffered from the effects of the economy in this world. Thanks to this post, I feel like I truly am living in the world of 3am; there’s hardly any difference between the two, and that’s what makes the manga (and this post) so well-done.

    Keep it up, Em. You’ve come such a long way, both in your writing as well as your career. You can go even further. I believe in and root for you every single opportunity that I am afforded.

    (Sent from my blackberry)

    1. I was doing a bit of thinking while writing this. Currently only a few people I know of from university are actually working in a career that resembles their degree. Most are in other “lesser” jobs, as I myself am, and all have an enormous workload on their hands. None of them would ever say anything about it, because everyone is going through something similar, and no one wants to lose their job. Jobs are too precious nowadays, more precious than a personal life if one has to choose between the two. Yet society, and to some extent my own father, would rather paint them as lazy.

      There’s not as much of a sense of that generational strife, as the majority of workers in this series are young (20s and 30s), but rather the inner struggle of just how valuable having “a job” is even if it’s not “the job” one wants.

      Blackberries are old, man. Get with the times. ^ ^

      Thank you for your continued support.

  3. “These specifics were not expected of me; however, it was heavily implied that I was to do everything possible within reason, and reason was often blurred.”

    Yep. I’m one of those young people who, if I stay in an office environment, pretty much have this to look forward to forever, barring some seismic shift in culture.

    It’s not that anybody tells you to work 18 or 24-hour days. They warn you that you might have to sometimes. And then make pretty clear, without saying so, that if this or that project isn’t done by its due date, you’re basically toast. A dozen or a hundred other people have no job and would kill for yours.

    You know, say the supervisors, this company gives pretty good health insurance.

    It’s a weird position to be in. You come off looking like you want to work 90-hour weeks. You start to convince yourself that there’s something satisfying about working 90-hour weeks. You start to feel like a machine, and life is reduced to input/output. Such an odd sensation. And in my position, at least, it’s not as if my output changes the course of history or anything. It ends up in a bunch of dumpsters behind the headquarters of a bunch of federal agencies. In 20 years there may well be an application that can do what I do. God knows the start-ups are trying.

    And time hurtles by, and you tumble toward death. But at least you’re fed, clothed, and sheltered?

    tl;dr I’ll have to check this one out. I suspect it might make me kinda sad, in a good way.

    1. “It’s a weird position to be in. You come off looking like you want to work 90-hour weeks. You start to convince yourself that there’s something satisfying about working 90-hour weeks.”

      Exactly. Additionally, 3am Dangerous Zone paints the all-nighters as something that brings the employees together. The, “We’re all a happy family!” and “Take pride in your work!” platitudes become half-truths. in my experience, my staff and I were exceptionally close by the end of our specific project. We took an immense amount of pride in what we were able to accomplish. That being said, the fact that we all had to work 90 hours a week, that it was expected of us, and additionally that we received no recognition for it leaves a sour taste in my mouth if I think overly long on it. Socially, I am still very worthless in the grand scheme of things.

      I’d be interested to see your thoughts on it. 3am does shift into Momoko’s attempt at a personal life in its latest translated chapters, with the working situation simply becoming a known backdrop. It’s as if the manga accepts the work environment as reality and moves forward with Momoko finding her bearings.

  4. I have in my brain some ideas floating around about how in the military work and private life are virtually the same thing often, as well as how this is definitely like rolling back to the industrial revolution (Japan’s corporations do have company housing and so did a lot of the mills and mines of the 19th century), but its not really gelling in my brain currently. I just felt like noting that it did spur some ideas.

    My current civilian job is seriously low on the social totem pole and I know a lot of people look down on me and it (including some of my own friends, helpfully enough!), but I’m thankful that at least the hours aren’t bad and its basically impossible for them to become bad due to the nature of the position where I work (what the hell can a receptionist do if the clinic is shut? no one to check in!).

  5. I’m a little bit worried that this might happen when I get my first “real” job. Where I am now, I feel like I’m always fighting for hours and losing that battle too.

  6. My old job was a little like that but I made them pay out a lot of extra money for it. The more you do for free the more they’ll take advantage of you

  7. A great piece. It reminds me what is important and what is not. Working for the man is to give you the ability to have money coming in to pay bills. But working like a slave is just slavery with no life for yourself. It is abhorant and abusive.

  8. i would love to read this manga (if i had time) this is a very good review highlighting both the interesting parts of the manga as well as connecting it to your own life, i think we can all relate to this manga and even to this review on a great extent. Cheers !

  9. Yes, I agree with your ideas about the job market. But I find that things are always better than they seem and when I stay optimistic, things always tend to work out right. When I get pessimistic i start acting in ways that bring problems.

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