Why You Should Watch Aggretsuko
Tanner McEveety ‘22 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Don’t be fooled. Aggretsuko may look like a Hello Kitty cartoon—after all, the main character was designed by Sanrio, the mascot company behind Hello Kitty—but Aggretsuko is no kids show. The cutesy aesthetic belies the show’s true nature: an intelligent workplace dramedy about the perils of adult life under late-stage capitalism.
Much like last year’s Odd Taxi, the anthropomorphic animal aesthetic is more metaphorical than literal, allowing for exaggerated, memorable character designs that emphasize the characters’ personalities. But the minimalist aesthetic is surprisingly effective at carrying emotion and finding comedy in movement. The bouncy, stop-and-start music lends the affair constant energy, and the humor is often wacky and even surreal. Just when that might become irritating, the subtle, effective scene direction, engrossing cinematography, and profound writing will pull audiences back in.
The show stars Retsuko, a red panda working a dull, grating office job in a monolithic Japanese trading firm. Her real passion and favorite hobby is also the show’s main gimmick: death metal. Her frustrations with her job and the difficulties of adult life are often presented by cutting from an otherwise mundane scene to a flaming wasteland where Retsuko screams her feelings and problems into a mic as guitars grind furiously in the background. It’s funny and charming almost every time.
Those problems with her job and adult life are the primary subject matter of the show, interwoven with personal drama between Retsuko and her quirky coworkers. It really is a cartoon for adults. The pacing, the comedy, and occasionally the dialogue are reminiscent of saturday morning staples, but the situations and plotlines will ring familiar for anyone in their 20s or 30s. Getting drunk at the office party, weird coworkers, the pressure to look good on social media, side hustles, and dealing with a decidedly old-fashioned boss are just some of the relatable troubles that Aggretsuko grapples with.
The best thing about Aggretsuko is that it’s startlingly anti-capitalist and anti-corporate. The stressful and droll life of borderline wage slavery that Retsuko and her coworkers lead is played for laughs just as often as it’s taken to task for being soul-sucking and inhumane. These themes are often explored through antagonists, but each of them is given depth. Whether it’s acknowledging the ways in which their faults are entirely human, highlighting their good qualities, or explaining where someone is coming from and that they had no choice, the blame is never on a single person or group of persons for the dystopian nature of modern society. The real antagonist is always the system.
Among all of that thematic exploration, the show even finds the time to interrogate problems of toxic masculinity and unhealthy expectations of love and infatuation. While it doesn’t always do a perfect job, it’s encouraging to see an anime take on the responsibility of having those serious conversations, considering how many others cling fiercely to dated norms or indulge in fantasies that pander to the male ego.
There’s four seasons of Aggretsuko out right now, with a fifth on the way. But excellent pacing, 15 minute long episodes, and 10 episode seasons make Aggretsuko highly bingeable. Plus, the way the show builds on the events and relationships established in earlier seasons is endlessly satisfying. There’s no reason not to give the show a try.