I had been interested in this series for a while. It probably started when I learned a little about it after seeing some of the artwork displayed at Kinokuniya.
Hiroko Matsukata is an editor at the entertainment magazine Weekly JIDAI. She is a workaholic that tends to even unnerve the other workaholics at her office. When she is facing a near impossible deadline she has been know to go into Hataraki (Working Man) mode and is able to do three times the work by blocking out everything else out and just working. Her love life seems to be on life support as she has a boyfriend, but they hardly ever seem to connect anymore due to their jobs. Hiroko is of course surrounded by a very colorful but extremely realistic cast of characters. This is the story of a hard working ambitious woman and the trials and tribulation of her career.
And while the show is about her, some of the episodes focus on one character that is surrounding her. So you get a lot of insight into the many people she encounters on a daily basis.
The Hataraki Man manga ran in the working man friendly seinen magazine Morning but most people categorize the manga and the anime as being josei. I have to say that it clearly has an appeal to both genders. I feel it leans towards josei if only for its strong, well written, female lead. Hataraki Man still retains a strong seinen feeling because although the story never ignores Hiroko’s romantic life it also never focuses on it more than any other part of her life as well.
My first question when I found out it ran in seinen magazine was, “Did a man write this?” Hiro is so well written, that I was going to have to pay major praise to the guy. She comes off as determined and competent without becoming a major bitch. However, that is not the case. A woman does write it and she is great at capturing the underlying emotions of a career oriented woman.
I feel this balance is what is what made this series so popular among women. A female lead who competes and succeeds in a male dominated workplace. As we mentioned in the post on shojo manga, much of shojo focuses primarily on the romance aspect and most josei is no different. But in focusing on Hiroko’s career we get a different type of manga that really fills a void. A salary-man manga for women who need a hero and role-model in a workplace that is not accustom to women taking positions of authority or power. There was even an article in the UK paper The Times about the manga’s effect on the Japanese work force.
Well, what I think is drawing is although we see Hiroko mostly through her pursuit of stories, you never feel that is the plot of what is going on. We learn about who Hiro is through her trials and tribulations at work but the series is in no way about the work, it is about the woman. I also like that she is not vilified for making her job the most important thing to her. Often times we see a story about a working woman but how her life is unfufilled in some way. Hataraki Man is telling a simple story about a woman who loves having a career and how that fills up her life.
Hiroko Matsukata is an excellent and well realized character but her coworkers are just as interesting and play off of Hiroko well. The chief editor of weekly JIDAI mostly acts as a comic relief character but has serious moments. Kimio Narita takes on several roles: friend, mentor, and a hard ass boss as his job and his personality require him to be. Fumiya Sugawara is the gruff paparazzi who often clashes with Hiroko. Her fellow female editors Maiko Kaji and Yumi Nogawa are both interesting looks into how you can be a successful woman in the industry while following alternative paths and philosophies to the one Hiroko Matsukata has taken. Her friend and coworker, Mayu Nagisa, represents a more stereotypical look at a female worker in an office environment. The newest editor Kunio Tanaka acts as a her greatest irritant by being Hiroko’s complete opposite in working philosophy. We also get to know several other people who work at the magazine and others outside of work. Each character gives us some insight into who Hiroko is while often having complete stories in their own right.
I have to say Tanaka represents the opposite of the Japanese work ethic and it is pure comedy gold seeing Hiro freaking out about it. Of course he is mostly oblivious. The stirking contrast gives good depth to them. In fact, all the characters in the office are distinctly different in the way they look, act, and view the world. I found myself intensely interested in a number of them and wished there was a little more time to get to know them.
I also feel the story telling is very organic. Stories started in one episode don’t necessarily have to be 100% concluded in the episode they start in. In the first episode for example, Hiroko writes a story uncovering a corrupt politician. The episode ends with a strong a definite conclusion but that does not mean that that story is never spoken of again. We later see other peoples’ reaction to the article, articles in other magazines about the politician, and follow subsequent articles being written about the politician throughout the series. This gives Hataraki Man a rich mature flavor that sets it apart and makes Hiroko’s life seem more realistic. Too often such a series would lend itself to each episode being very standalone and only certain key plot points every being ever carried over. Hataraki Man rises above that and gives you something to sink your teeth into.
This series is quite short (only 11 episodes) which, in my opinion, is a shame. It is the type of show that could go on and on with the way the stories are told. You tune in weekly for a little bit of Hataraki Man. You really only get a small piece of the pie. This could be attributed to the manga series being on hold, however since I haven’t read it I couldn’t really say. But Hiroko is the type of character you want to watch succeed and grow and change without having a real expectations of where she is going to end up.
I do find the place where the series ends very unusually. It ends on a very monuments event but not the type of event that a series of its type would normally. A manga would end on a big promotion, the completion of a monumental article, the conclusion of a major showdown, or the start of a new relationship. Instead the series ends on a personal tragedy and only begins to show how Hiroko beings to recover from it. Part of me wonders how much of the end is intentional and how much of the end is due to the fact that the author has placed the series on hold. Either way it gives the series a sense that no matter what happens Hiroko’s life and career go on. It shows us no matter what life throws at Hiroko she is always the Hataraki Man.