Netflix’s Aggretsuko (Aggressive Retsuko) is a rare gem in animation: a show aimed towards an older demographic but doesn’t rely on raunchy humor or racial/sexist/homophobic stereotypes for laughs. It raises interesting points on the issues women, particularly Japanese women, face in the workplace while remaining lighthearted, funny, and genuinely entertaining. The characters are three-dimensional, and are allowed to have a full range of emotions. The show presents a world where women don’t hate each other solely based on their sex but rather for petty understandable shit like normal human being.
It’s a subversion of expectations. And I love it.
The 10 episode season focuses on 25-year-old Retsuko, a red panda working as an accountant at a large company in Tokyo. At work, she is quiet, never complains, and stays late to finish work that’s dumped on her by her literal sexist pig of a boss, Director Ton, as well as rude, gossipy or lazy co-workers.
Outside of work, or at least at the karaoke bar, she is a raging death metal singer.
Nobody knows her secret. Not even her friends Fenneko and Haida.
Fenneko, by the way, is probably the second greatest character on the show. She brings a lot of dark and sarcastic humor to the show.
Haida, a coworker with a crush on Retsuko, is full of personality.
We also see Retsuko dealing with the other struggles of millennial life: relationships troubles, work parties, weddings, and money.
Her life only begins to change when she is befriended by the company president’s secretary Miss Washimi and the director of marketing Miss Gori, who provide her with support, both in and out of work.
At no point does the show lead you to think that Washimi and Gori are going to betray Retsuko or that they’re using her, as would happen in many other shows. The show also goes out of its way to show the two dealing with insecurities of their own.
Similarly, Tsunoda, would often be classified as an antagonist due her brown-nosing, “flirting”, and feminine but childish personality isn’t a terrible person. Instead, her “act” at work is her way of avoiding Ton’s anger. She is very cunning and has a good understanding of how people work.
The similarities between her and Fenneko are fascinating. I hope this dynamic gets explored more in the second season.
A large part of the latter half of the show, focuses on Retsuko’s romance with Resasuke, another red panda. Resasuke…is not a terrible person, but is very socially inept, quiet, and dull. He has nothing in common with Retsuko, and there’s no chemistry. Yet, Retsuko doesn’t see him that way. At first.
It’s an oddly dark and realistic scenario. Rather than it being a matter of taste, Retsuko ignores his flaws, so she can rationalize the relationship and perhaps marry him. Marriage is the only way she feels she can leave the company.
It’s not quite the direction I expected the show to go based on previews but I admire the show for subverting those expectations. I thought the show would go the way of: “I don’t want to marry or become a housewife at all. I want to work and be my own woman, even if it comes at the expense of my social life.” So, it’s nice to show that a woman doesn’t have to sacrifice her personal life and that romantic relationships aren’t a bad thing.
And because it’s a cartoon, there are some great imaginative and exaggerated scenes that come about from Retsuko’s death metal performances. One of the best comes at a company party where a drunk Retsuko ends up in death metal/rap battle with her boss and proceeds to utterly decimate everyone.
It’s one of my favorite scenes out of the whole show.
I think part of what really helps the show, is the dissonance between the animation style and its themes. It’s very cutesy. One would think it’s aimed towards children on first glance but the subject matter is for an older crowd. It tackles some pretty complicated subjects and the use of animals in place of people allow it to tackle more absurd situations without seeming ridiculous, kind of like BoJack Horseman.
My one real complaint about the show is that the plot point regarding Retsuko’s friend Puko and her foreign good business doesn’t really go anywhere. It does affect the plot at large so it’s not strictly necessary. It seems a little pointless.
Otherwise, I love it. Despite the fact that the character was seemingly created to sell merchandise to the millennial crowd, Retsuko manages to be highly relatable. The show itself is very high quality.
Sanrio, likely, wouldn’t have needed to put so much effort into the show to sell the goods. And to be honest, now that I’ve watched the show, I’m actually interested in Aggretsuko products.
I really hope they make a second season. I want to see how Retsuko’s character and relationships grow, whether she’ll ever gain enough confidence to find another job or be able to indulge more in her true passion. It’ll be interesting to see how the other characters develop.
There’s plenty of subject matter for the show to explore, and if the reactions I’ve seen online are anything to go by…a lot of people share my feelings.
And that’s the scoop
Available on Netflix