You may have noticed a red panda gracing social media lately, sometimes with her generic, cute smile, and frequently mimicking a death metal scream. Retsuko is the latest Sanrio mascot who rose to popularity thanks to two animated series and her intense relatability among adult viewers. It wasn’t until I saw several fans on Twitter singing Aggretsuko praises that I went to see what the hype was all about. Trust me, this a show you need to watch.
Sanrio has always have a strong hand on social media and anime, with juggernauts like Hello Kitty and recent cameos of other mascots on series like Sanrio Boys. The bulk of these characters are cute and mild-mannered. The one exception I can think of is Bad Badtz-Maru, a penguin targeted towards both boys and girls who enjoys teasing others. Aggretsuko, in turn, targets an older demographic with her age and occupation: a 25-year old accountant in a trade firm. She internalizes her frustrations through the day, and releases her frustrations in the evening with death metal karaoke.
Aggretsuko the series first found its footing in 2016 with 100 1-minute shorts, then more recently in 2018 with a 10 15-minute episodes. U.S. viewers have the convenience of watching the 2018 Fanworks series on Netflix. I couldn’t have watched the series at a better time, as I saw it while in Austin for the Babymetal World Tour. Both Aggretsuko and Babymetal combine cute and hardcore to create powerful results. A recent Aggretsuko exhibit at the Sanrio Japanese Village in Los Angeles also revealed Retsuko as a Babymetal fan!
There’s a lot about the series that connects its characters and themes to adult viewers, not of least is Retsuko’s workplace environment. Even if you have never worked in an office, many of the experiences with coworkers and the workload translates easily to other professions.
As a middling accountant, Retsuko embodies the Japanese work ethic and anyone else who has ever felt overworked and underappreciated. Her superiors consistently push off tasks to those below them, and while distribution of work is expected for higher-ups, taking the extra time for personal hobbies like golfing and slacking outside of designated breaks destroys any credibility they might have.
Then there are the male bosses who both sexually discriminate against female employees as well as overlook power harassment complaints. The show perfectly captures the casual approach some take towards putting others down, or when confronted with it, the desire to pretend like it doesn’t exist. We even see the victim treated like the one in the wrong like happens so often in reality.
While most of the injustices are instigated by men, there are women like Tsubone who delight in belittling Retsuko and anyone else who comes into their sights. Aggretsuko does a fair job of providing examples from both male and female viewpoints. Another duo are Tsunoda and Komiya, both of whom bend over backwards to please their superiors, even if it means trampling on their coworkers. Granted, Tsunoda takes a more manipulative stance, even admitting to using her personality and looks to get what she wants; Komiya seems to genuinely admire Ton, even joining him in reprimanding Retsuko. Examples such as these show how easy it is for viewers to find the character most like them—there are already quizzes out there to identify your character (I got Puko, somehow, while my husband ended up with Kabae—THAT was a sad day for him). I would have loved to get Fenneko the fennec fox with her sharp observations and blunt statements.
A couple of my other favorites are Gori and Washimi, two women in Retsuko’s company with both capability and confidence. They command respect and, in Washimi’s case, refuse to put up with any nonsense from anyone, including the company president and Retsuko’s superior, Ton. Their friendship helps our red panda feel more comfortable in who she is and what she wants for her future.
If there’s one area of this show I did not love, it was the arc featuring another red panda: Resasuke from Sales. While Retsuko is externally diligent and internally restless, Resasuke gives off nothing whatsoever. He isn’t a bad boy, or a good guy; he’s oatmeal devoid of apple and cinnamon. Their forced relationship serves its purpose as a way to pull Retsuko away from her frustrations and, as a result, death metal. While this may sound like a good thing, her loss of karaoke means her negative emotions no longer have anywhere to go.
This arc also conveniently addressed her ideas of love and marriage. She originally planned to find someone well off enough to support a family, so she could finally leave the company and become a housewife. Retsuko’s infatuation with Resasuke doesn’t even fulfill these initial parameters, as flawed as they are. It isn’t until repeated instances of his inattention and misunderstanding that she realizes he and everything he represents is not what she wants or needs.
Now, this might sound like a nice, character-building scenario, but in reality the relationship just felt like a redundant side step to a story that was already progressing well. I would have preferred more development at the end of the series for Ton; while I get the feeling that he and Retsuko have better leveled the playing field, he’s still a pig in need of a serious wash. But maybe that’s the point and we can look forward to more chapters in the future.
As short as this story is, the compact nature of its characters and plot are exactly what make Aggrestuko such a strong show and so easy to recommend to others, even if they don’t usually watch anime. The art, animation, and music are simple, yet consistent—perfectly relaying the emotions of each scene. Retsuko’s screaming face accompanied by her theme music occurs countless times throughout the ten episodes, yet never feels overdone. Her world is the irresistible spice of Sriracha that somehow goes well with everything and everyone.
Rating: 2 dango
Watch Aggretsuko on Netflix.
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.