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.
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.
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.