Oh, man…am I glad I started Aggretsuko late, because now I know there’s a second season coming, and that eases the torment of this show ending way too soon for my liking. That alone should tell you I loved this series. I’d seen in a couple other reviews that it was very melancholy, but that wasn’t my experience with it. I laughed until I hurt during most episodes except for the last and the Christmas Special (Which I’ll also cover in this review.)
Also, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can avoid spoilers for this one, so if you want to go into the show clean, just stop now.
Also, this is my first exposure to the cast, as I never saw the 100 one-minute episodes that originally set up the story. So any experts who note mistakes in my review, please, keep your snickering to respectable levels.
With that out of the way, Aggretsuko is a Sanrio show for adults. The main character is Retsuko, a red panda who works as an OL (office lady) for a big company. She’s part of the accounting department, and after five years working in the same dead end position, she’s a bundle of raw nerves that seek release through singing death metal. That’s the whole premise in a nutshell, and it’s what drew me in, the curiosity to see where that angle would go.
Retsuko is a woman of two distinct halves, one shown to the public because shes believes it is what’s expected of her, while the other is her wild side, one she hides until it is later discovered by some distant co-workers. The more public side is too afraid of conflict, which is what leads to her being put upon by her pig boss Director Ton, and by her Komodo dragon senior, Tsubone. Overworked and often insulted and demeaned, Retsuko frequently seeks escape into a karaoke bar to scream out her anger, usually while drinking heavily. In short, a typical weekend plan of someone in their mid-twenties working in a job they despise.
When I put it like that, yeah, the show does sound very melancholy. But the tone is frequently buoyed by Restsuko’s reactions to situations, or by the wide cast of co-workers surrounding her. There’s flighty gazelle Tsunoda, an “Instagram girl” who uses flirting with the boss to lighten her workload. She acts ditzy, but reveals later on that she knows exactly what she’s doing, and that she’s aware of the hatred her co-workers feel for her. She also doesn’t care, because if she can use her looks and charm while she still has them, why the hell not do it? (And I can totally respect that once she lays it out so honestly.)
Ms. Washimi and Ms. Gori are an eagle and gorilla who work in upper management jobs, making them idols in the eyes of Retsuko. What she doesn’t know is that they notice her, and they have their own misconceptions about her. These two end up becoming her closest confidantes out of the office thanks to a bonkers Yoga instructor, and are the only ones who know about her death metal persona. Ms. Washimi is very reserved, but also very easy to anger, while Ms. Gori is highly excitable, though prone to disastrous romantic relationships.
Then there’s Fennko, a fox who spies on everyone and is something of a social media police officer. She’s the closest thing Retsuko has to a best friend, and when she’s needed, she never fails to be there. (Even if sometimes her protective efforts don’t always work out.)
Next is Haida, a hyena who has a crush on Retsuko. I fully admit, I started shipping these two late in the season when I realized Haida is into punk and metal. This is part of what makes him perfect for her because like her, he’s very much mild-mannered in the office, but he has that hidden wild side. The Christmas special expanded on this further, but when the credits rolled, I shouted, “No, you fool, take him to the karaoke bar! It can’t end like this!”
But then one of the themes frequently explored by the series is how so many dreams end up falling by the wayside as we simply try to press on in the here and now. Retsuko first dreams of working with Puko, a long-time friend who has plans to set up an import shop. But that falls through, and so she latches onto the idea of marrying some guy to become a housewife, thus escaping the job. Problem is, Retsuko is more discerning about who she wants to live with, and even after she tries to convince herself she’s found true love, she can only keep the act up for so long before she has to give up on the fantasy.
I think one of the best moments in the series comes during this fantasy phase, but first I have to backtrack. Several episodes before, Retsuko was called out by Director Ton during a company outing. Drunk and enraged, Ton drops a battle rap insulting Retsuko, who initially stays in her meek public mode before suddenly snapping and going full death metal on him. (This scene is comically explosive, sending the rest of their co-workers flying around the room and leaving Ton’s clothing shredded as he collapses to his knees. Now that’s an epic rant, y’all.) The next day Ton claims to have no memory of the fight, and yet, during a lecture about Retsuko’s mistakes due to her “love blindness,” Ton abruptly says, “I know you don’t like too long lectures from the shitty boss.” That’s what Retsuko screamed at him in the song, and I think he claimed to forget so they could both get back to their jobs. He calls her short-timer and claims he wants her gone, but in truth, she may be one of his best employees if his pride would ever let him admit it.
That’s what the series does best, presenting these people as stereotypes, and then peeling back layers of caricature to show little hints of who they really are. Tsunoda isn’t as shallow as she pretends to be, and for all his bluster, Ton…no, Ton is still an asshole, but like Shrek, he’s an ogre with layers. Haida isn’t as meek as he comes across, and Fenneko isn’t really a cynic. Even Retsuko’s short-term boyfriend Resasuke ends up revealing something of himself beyond his space-case behavior at work. He isn’t right for Retsuko, but he’s not a bad guy. In fact, getting to know what distracts him makes him a bit more charming, even he is still a bit of a weirdo.
The Christmas special sees Retsuko pursuing yet another fantasy, this time attempting to learn how to be an Instagram girl from Tsunoda. Things begin to fall apart on Christmas Eve because she can’t find anything interesting to snap pictures of. She’s overthought the problem for too long, and as such has nowhere to be. Because she chooses to remain in the office, of course Director Ton gifts her with more work.
Haida has plans to throw a small party for friends, but because he fears rejection, he ends up not inviting Retsuko. Seeing her Instagram dinner, he slips into depression, but Fenneko notes it’s all an illusion, and she’s actually still in the office.
Meanwhile the hot dates Ms. Washimi and Ms. Gori had both turn out to be busts, and they round up Retsuko and drag her out of the office for a Christmas dinner at a standing room only Soba bar. Which is where Haida finds her, and Washimi smartly assesses the situation and drags Gori away. And cue me shouting about when not to end a Christmas special.
I would love to gush about individual scenes and characters for a lot longer, but I’ve already spoiled enough. I’ll stop myself and give Aggretsuko 5 stars. I can’t wait for season 2 to arrive, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough to anyone who know the truth, that work is a four letter word.