While the spring season blossoms with new anime, I’m still frozen in winter wonderland with Hataraki Man. This is another show that, for whatever superficial reasoning, I had managed to avoid until this past weekend. Fate conspired to bring us together. These are my thoughts so far, but be warned, Hataraki Man is a (rather nutritious) slice of life anime; a genre that I’m well aware inspires as much boredom as it does admiration.
Adapted from an original manga by Moyoco Anno (wife of Gunbuster’s deranged genius Hideaki Anno), the main character is 28-year-old Matsukata, a sex-starved weekly-magazine editor who devotes 99.99999% of her life to slaving away on her next big feature. Between the long hours spent writing, interviewing ungrateful celebrities and hanging around with the office crowd, her social life and relationships have faded. The conflict central to Hataraki Man is Matsukata’s constant striving for a so called “normal” home life when she desperately craves success as a writer too. She could just take it easy, turn up at the office and work a regular joe 9 to 5 shift, but she wants to create something special; something to be remembered by.
Matsukata’s lofty ambitions are nothing new (especially to us Shonen Jump enthusiasts!), but to be a fiery female in modern day Japan (where the still-prevalent gender roles for a woman of her age dictate she should be a house-wife) gifts Hataraki Man a refreshing sense of gender role reversal. Indeed, even the title is an ironic twisting of words, given the “Hataraki Man” is actually a woman.
I’m making an issue of the sex politics, but the truth is that this is simply where Matsukata as a character is either coming from or fighting against, the show itself is tightly laced with the kind of sharp tongued and bitter sweet humour that wouldn’t feel out of place in your average sitcom.
Of course, there is more than one character — in fact, most episodes are scattered glimpses into the fractured lives of Matsukata’s colourful co-workers – take for example Fumiya Sugawara, a pissed off 30 something photographer who’s job it is to track down the dirt on celebrities and capture their scandals on camera. The man hates his job, is paranoid about people looking down on him and so, in his spare time, takes to snapping beautiful sun-lit landscapes. Despite his apparently shady and hectic job, that he still has the chance to capture something so calm, natural and endless is enough to keep him going.
Since it’s inception in 2005, the noitaminA anime block in Japan has set out to push the boundaries of TV anime beyond the teenage (boy) audience. As a twenty-something male, I can confirm they have succeeded. With the likes of Honey & Clover, Paradise Kiss and now Hataraki Man, noitaminA have more than proved themselves capable of deftly producing affecting adult drama that, while occasionally romantic, raises questions relevant in a young adult’s life. I think that’s why I’m enjoying Hataraki Man— being early 20s myself, anime is mostly a visual experience, I may enjoy something like Naruto because of the action, but when I find a show with characters I can empathise with on such a tangible level, it means that much more to me.