So I wasn’t sure what to expect when watching the first episode of Aggretsuko on Netflix. After all, it’s created by Sanrio, a company which people often have an automatic love/hate reaction to, due to its “Hello Kitty,” fame.
In Aggretsuko, Sanrio’s taken all of their famed chibi-animal-design skills and really put them to work, by inventing a whole cast of cats, dogs, pigs, gators, parrots– or in the case of our main character– a mild-spoken red panda, who all work at a run-of-the-mill office job. And Retsuko, our main character, often gets taken advantage of horribly by this zoo of co-workers. She’s belittled by her boss, crapped on by her supervisor, and ignored or worse by some of her other colleagues.
Or at least that’s where the series starts out. To be honest, I found the first episode uncomfortable. Retsuko is basically a door mat for everyone else who works in the office, too afraid to speak out because she’s a newer employee and she fears she might lose her job. She has no seniority, her immediate supervisor dumps her own work off on Retsuko, and Retsuko’s boss is more concerned with improving his golf swing than doing anything useful in the office. I’ve unfortunately had irresponsible bosses like that in the past, and the best thing you can do is start looking for a new job. But Retsuko doesn’t do that. Instead she bottles all her rage, stuffing it down, and stomping on it, until she’s become a highly-pressurized vessel by the end of the day.
She walks out of the door of the office, calmly walks down the street, and buys herself a solo-session at a karaoke booth. She then releases all her frustration, screaming out death metal alone, with lyrics about how much she hates her life and all of her co-workers. When she’s done, she rearranges her jacket, straightens her shoulders, and then heads out– prim and proper– to do it all again the next day.
If the series had stayed with that status-quo very long, I honestly wouldn’t have been able to watch it. After all, I think that’s probably an extremely unhealthy way to live your life. I mean, at least she’s found an outlet for all that frustration, but it’s not like she’s actually doing anything to proactively solve her situation.
However, that being said, if you can persevere through that awkward first episode and into the second, the series begins to take off after that. Retsuko slowly starts taking ownership of her life, and making small decisions to try to better herself and find her way in the world. She still sings a lot of death metal while doing it, hence her nickname and the name of the show, “Aggretsuko.”
Honestly, when I started watching the series, I was worried that, “Hey look guys! We took this uber-cute red panda, and made her hard-core metal, isn’t that hilarious?” would be the show’s one-and-only gimmick. And that juxtaposition between “work-Retsuko” and “Aggretsuko is definitely striking.” But thankfully the show is alot more than that. Tthis show’s also a sitcom about figuring out who you are, what you want from your life, from your work, from your social circle, and how to do it without becoming a total asshole like her boss or supervisor. I ended episode two thinking, “Maybe this show will be ok; we’ll see,” and then ended up spreeing through the rest of the season within a matter of days. Retsuko and her friends grew on me before I even knew what happened. Even now I think the show ends up being way more fun than it has any right to be from just the art or the soundtrack. And that’s because they’ve managed to hook me into wanting to know more about Retsuko, and how she grows as a result of this shitty job that’s she’s just not willing to give up, no matter how much it sucks.
And that’s a theme that resonates with me, and I think many in my generation, because you need the work you can find and will pay the bills, not necessarily the work you dreamed of or thought you would have when you were first a starry-eyed, new member of the workforce, with your brand-new, shiny degree and nothing more than a bunch of dreams and ideals. And even if you are doing something good and worthwhile, it’s still hard to go into work some days. This show uses that fact that I’m watching cute anthropomorphic characters to make me think about some of the almost-unconscious decisions I make everyday, and whether at the end of it all it’s worth it, or if, in reality, I’m just waiting and locking frustrations away a sound-proof box every day, until I can finally go scream where no one else can hear. Obviously, that’s a bit of exaggeration, but the show gets away with that exaggeration because it’s cute and animated, but the underlying themes are serious. Including things like Retsuko constantly getting looked down on for being tiny and female.
And the series is bloody cute while it’s making me think about all society’s injustices and weirdnesses too. So hats off to Sanrio, this is a great show that may look shallow at first glance, but ends up being surprising deep. I’d go so far as to call it a hidden gem. I am looking forward to seeing more of Retsuko in season 2, and how she manages to grow and empower herself while dealing with what is, essentially, just everyday-life bullshit, like the rest of us.