This article features mild spoilers for The Helpful Fox Senko-san. Caution advised.
Despite being a big fan of Japanese media and a frequent attendee of conventions celebrating Japanese culture, I actually have very little interest in the country itself. Sure, I’ve had that phase of my anime addiction where I wanted to move to Japan, but that was over real quick. Heck, nowadays I don’t even have any desire to visit the country for vacation, much less actually live there.
I have many reasons to explain this lack of interest in the country, but if I had to cite my #1 argument against living there, it would be the abusive corporate culture that permeates the life of many a Japanese salaryman. Shows like Aggretsuko and Black Lagoon famously mock this part of Japanese society and I went into The Helpful Fox Senko-san expecting it to follow a similar path. After all, its protagonist Kuroto Nakano is a victim of exactly this problem.
He used to be a lively and happy young man who hoped to make a new life for himself in the big city, until he became a programmer for a corporation that sucked the life out of him. Days start early and end whenever the company says so, even if that leaves it literally impossible for employees to return home by public transport. Overtime is expected, yet goes largely unpaid. Days off are rare and can be retracted at a whim. He is shouted at, constantly guilt-tripped into working even more, and he is clearly not as respected as he should be.
To have a magical fox deity appear in his life to help set things right is adorable and comedic, but I was mildly disappointed that the anime never gets to the root of Nakano’s problems. Senko can try everything in her power to make Nakano’s life more pleasant, except changing his work conditions. No matter how much she cares or advises him, he’ll still wake up the next morning to catch an early train to work and won’t be back again long after the sun has gone down.
Another day of stress, blaming, vitriol, and overtime.
Black Lagoon took its depiction of Japan’s corporate culture a step further, with protagonist Rokuro being forced to bow for his superiors at every turn, until he denounced it. When the job betrayed him at the drop of a hat, he tore off his uniform and chose a life of freedom. I am not sure if Senko-san will see a continuation, but I don’t see how it could possibly conclude without a similar twist.
I consider myself lucky to live in a country where it’s normal to be relatively casual at work. Where I can wear T-shirts, my hours are flexible, and my compensation fair. Where superiors are part of the team and not authoritarian rulers. Call it a difference of culture, but if Nakano is any indication of what this lifestyle does to people, then it’s plain inhumane and I don’t want to be in a country where it’s considered acceptable.