It’s not very often that I partake in “Josei” manga. I wanted something short and sweet to read before the impending Summer of Anime starting tomorrow, and 3am Dangerous Zone is just that: short and sweet.
It follows the tale of Momoko, a girl who’s placed herself in a run-down environment of tiring, thankless work that requires not only complete and total focus in order to avoid mistakes, but a lot of time, so that she can get everything done prior to strictly-placed deadlines. It’s a story of self-growth and finding oneself in a reality that doesn’t pull any punches, with constant hurdles and a variety of miscues littered along the way. Whether it’s staying in the office until 3 A.M. or trying to get close to an older co-worker next door, Momoko’s life is a constant struggle, one she hopes will resolve itself with time.
Time is the central concept here, or at least the one I identified. Time is a factor that comes up time and time again. Time to get used to the work at hand. Time to build relationships with people. Time to think about what you really want to be or really want to do. When the concept of time isn’t being used as a tool to develop plot or characters, it’s used as the plot itself. Deadlines, lunch dates, age, present struggles, past events, and future uncertainty; all of these and more are explored within this story, and I feel it presents them smoothly enough to make it effective. It also places importance on the use of time. Not in the sense that it encourages “yolo,” but that putting something off or rushing into things isn’t indicative of what one truly wants, which I think is true in most cases. There’s a line within the manga that goes something like “If you really wanted to, you would’ve done something about it already.” It’s a simple phrase, but one I can identify with without hesitation, which only adds to my enjoyment with this story.
What’s funny about this importance of time is that I also think it’s Dangerous Zone‘s biggest flaw. Beginning with the first chapter, the reader is immediately thrown into the action. No build-up to the synopsis or anything of the sort, Momoko is already at her job and has been working for an undetermined length of time. This felt a little disorienting for me, though I admit this may have been intentional considering the workplace, as a reader to try and pick up everything all at once. At first, the workplace seemed weird just to be weird, but as the chapters went along, motivations began to occur behind the insanity and characters began to act more “normal,” or their own interpretations of it. I can understand setting the scene, but the pacing of the story within the first five chapters seems all over the place, with Momoko trying to find the “right way” to quit her job while also having the other members of her job seem kooky or bizarre in the process. The only reason she ends up not quitting is because she “gets used to it,” which coincides with the co-workers suddenly being less weird. So, in a sense, it feels like a cop-out from the first few pages of the first chapter, which paints them all in a strangely negative light. Not only that, but once it reaches the point where Momoko finds herself a potential romantic partner, the importance on her job and how she views it screeches to a halt. It feels somewhat disjointed to have focuses jump all over without any proper transition, which I feel this story doesn’t do a good job of.
Speaking of potential romantic partners, the focus on romance in this manga is also something I find to be lukewarm at best. It is within this section of the story that I feel relies most on clichés and romantic tropes. While I feel the end of the process was handled maturely enough, I don’t care for the inclusion of the “jealous character” who tells the main character cryptic shit to throw her off and create self-doubted drama. It irks me even more when said jealous character only ever shows up to either make the main character even more confused or try and sweet talk the person of their affection. This mainly goes for two characters, but one is simply “the ex-boyfriend” of Momoko who wants her back and doesn’t do anything more than try and impress her with material shit. Not to mention, instead of communicating with one another, whenever trouble begins to unfold for Momoko and Tagaya, the aforementioned partner, Momoko pouts and cries and avoids him at all costs, with Tagaya doing much of the same. It’s really irritating when people don’t talk. I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned that.
While the message is pungent and the story back-and-forth, the bodies that dance among its pages are also somewhat hit-and-miss. Momoko is a nicely-refreshing character and the one most developed. She represents the embodiment of a child growing into a productive member of society and her transition is entertaining to follow, if nothing else. Tayaga is likable, too, though his entire personality is painted to be perfect except one vital flaw, which is exploited for drama. Have I mentioned I don’t care for such characters? The rest of the cast begins to blur under the fog of the plot’s thick purposes. There are those that begin to receive minimal development, but are then left aside for more major characters. Then, there are characters that receive next to none whatsoever, but show compassion in the form of breaking character. While it wouldn’t be true to say that there are characters who receive no attention, a few receive so little that it may as well not matter. By story’s end, readers will likely find themselves relating to Momoko, and perhaps Tayaga, but others will receive attention only for their aesthetics or single-personalities.
Whatever colorful representation the cover above shows doesn’t much translate to the story of Dangerous Zone. The drawings of each character are pretty standard, without a lot of visual splendor to make the story any more spirited or exaggerated. There are occasional extra dialogue lines that lay around dialogue boxes, but nothing more than that immediately comes to mind, aside from a dream sequence in the later chapters. It’s nothing very spectacular when all’s said and done, with a lot of attention dedicated to being practical. It’s a story that doesn’t convey much across the boundaries of reality, but perhaps that’s to the strength of the themes this story presents. There was one segment where it showed Momoko’s bare backside. After seeing it, I didn’t really care that it didn’t take many artistic leaps.
I find that a story such as this isn’t a particularly exciting one, but one that can at least stimulate some thought into the position of one’s mental mindset and maturity. It gives a nice stigma of thought to the weight of time and how one processes their own priorities relative to it. While not the most emotional or original piece, it’s something that’s worth a read for anyone, especially those going through puberty or trying to find their way through life. I only hope the optimism in the story don’t lead people into thinking life is really so easy as the coincidences that pile on as life goes on.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.