Anime Review: Aggretsuko
English Title: Aggretsuko
Japanese Title: アグレッシブ烈子 [lit. Aggressive Retsuko]
Studio: Fanworks Released: 2018–2023
Runtime: 5 seasons at 10 episodes, ~25m each.
Starring: Kaolip, Kato Shingo, Inoue Rina, Arai Souta, Tsuruta Maki, Koiwasaki Komegumi, Takahashi Yuki
My Verdict: Red panda with her work and personal life problems. Vents by singing death metal. Relatable and amusing if you are into that type of humor.
Written and directed by Rarecho, what began as 100 one-minute episodes was later taken onboard by Netflix with five 10-episode seasons and a Christmas special between the first and second seasons.
Aggretsuko is not animated like so-called traditional anime. The animation is more sprite-like. One could simplistically describe it as a much cleaner version of South Park, with solid lines and colors, nice gradients and blurring away from the focal point, and more object detail than one realizes to give it a sleek and polished look.
All characters are anthropomorphic. Retsuko is a red panda. She is 25 years old, single and lives alone in an apartment in Tokyo. She works in the accounting department of a large firm, commuting by train. The series follows her daily routine and problems, professional and personal. She tries to keep her anger in her head, but she does vent by singing death metal whilst hiding in a toilet stall or a private room at karaoke. Occasionally, she lets it out. Either way, the audience sees it even if no other character does. My only complaint is that whilst Retsuko’s death metal rants are generally funny, I wish the accompanying guitar riff and drum pattern have more variation.
Retsuko is obviously Sanrio’s attempt at creating a relatable character in a relatable setting as part of their lineup—in this case, taking the “cute and angry” approach or, to put it differently, “wholesome but pushing it a little”.
The Netflix series presumably does not follow the same continuity as the original 100 episodes. Those short episodes are more like individual gags making fun of some typical life situation, like a comic that is released on a daily basis. There doesn’t even seem to be an arc, or enough of one to call a continuity, whereas the Netflix series actually has an arc.
On the surface, Aggretsuko may remind one of Dilbert. Whilst the office setting and satire are commonalities, Dilbert is more focused on corporate stupidities. The whole setup is geared for those kind of cynical jokes. (I use “cynical” in deference to how some people would describe it, whereas I think it is rather quite realistic.)
Aggretsuko, however, takes a broader and more personal approach. The series begins with Retsuko’s life in the office but, since it follows her as a character, her personal life is given more weight overall. Office satire is a part of it but it looks at clashes in personalities rather than merely the so-called politics.
The humor is sometimes literal, sometimes a little offbeat. For example, Retsuko is a real name and can be written in hiragana or katakana or kanji, but the kanji “retsu” (烈) in this case can mean “furious” or “severe”, amongst other things, which the real name obviously does not use; Ton is the antagonistic boss who is a big domestic pig and the name is the Chinese reading of the kanji for pork (豚); and quick cuts and close-ups of characters’ reactions are commonly used but to good effect.
If you are not into this type of humor, then you probably won’t enjoy the comedy. But, thankfully, the series is more than its comedy since there is actually some sort of story.
The series relies on an ensemble of characters to keep things fresh, not just for the sake of comedy but also to serve as agents to move the plot. Retsuko herself is somewhat timid and although not naïve, she tries to remain positive and often finds it difficult to say No. Some of her co-workers look out for her. Haida the hyena likes her whilst Fenneko the fox is somewhat cynical so her insights are often helpful. There are plenty of other characters, some appear more often than others.
Given a young female lead and, initially, an antagonistic male boss, some might roll their eyes and think this is another woke feminist show. Thankfully, it is not. To describe Ton as misogynistic is overly simplistic, he can be better described as chauvinistic (as in unpleasantly old-school). He doesn’t treat his own family or the middle-aged women in the office like he treats Retsuko. He doesn’t think much of the younger generation, particularly if her name is Retsuko. As for the other characters, there are all sorts to varying degrees of good and bad, whether male or female, so it is balanced and still realistic.
As expected, the first season’s plot is deliberately mundane. Retsuko and her co-workers are introduced and her issues are everyday issues. This is one of the strengths of the series, that it is relatable. Although the mundane cannot be repeated too much, some elements in subsequent seasons get a bit too “big”. That is arguably part of the absurdity but the plausibility is then diminished. [Potential Spoiler] Retsuko joining an idol group in season 3 is one example. In Japan, there are plenty of idol groups that come and go, so it’s not entirely implausible. And Retsuko’s journey to that decision is not sudden but it still seems a bit too much. Below is the setup for the five seasons.
Season 1: Retsuko deals with her toxic boss and co-workers, contemplates quitting and even meets another red panda. Meanwhile, Haida struggles with his feelings for Retusko.
Season 2: Retsuko deals with a passive-aggressive new hire and meets a laidback donkey named Tadano who is not what he appears to be.
Season 3: Retsuko comes to handle the finances of an idol group called OTM Girls. Not surprisingly, she later joins the group as the lead singer with all its consequences.
Season 4: The firm gets a new CEO and Haida is soon promoted. However, the new CEO is manipulative and ruthless in an urbane sort of way, which sees Haida following suit. Retsuko and her friends confront Haida.
Season 5: Partly due to Haida’s family connections, Retusko reluctantly agrees to be a candidate for the National Diet.
The pacing in each episode and across the seasons is generally handled well. The last season is probably the clumsiest in relative terms, but it is admittedly difficult to wrap up given the way things have developed.
Over five seasons, Retsuko as a person and her relationships do develop, even with her boss. Although that is good to see, some developments are too predictable. This is expected for a series that tries to be positive (despite the rage and darker elements which it does not shy away from) but it would be better if some take a less predictable turn, whether realistic or absurd.
Aside from the central problem or conflict for that season, the plot also tends to default to Retsuko’s romantic problems. Romance is fine in itself and it is not handled poorly but non-romantic problems to give it more variation would enhance the series. And on a related note, there are also a few minor characters that get a little neglected in terms of development. For example, Fenneko appears throughout the five seasons and for a character that isn’t insignificant, she doesn’t truly develop.
All that being the case, and Netflix’s English subtitles do at least occasionally suck, Aggretsuko is still a fine series with good production and decent writing which makes it a mostly satisfying viewing.
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