The world of work can be a hard place to navigate, no matter the job. In a given day, you can be subject to a rollercoaster of monumental highs and equally hopeless lows, and all that before the morning coffee break. From dealing with the often-overwhelming workloads, workplace politics and interpersonal relationships, there’s never a dull moment – be that for better or for worse. So, if you were to imagine an anime that tackles these workplace issues head on, I could almost guarantee that Sanrio, the company responsible for the iconic Hello Kitty, among many other beloved characters, would not be who you’d think would be willing to dive into these turbulent waters. With Sanrio’s recent ventures into more adult territories, including one of their most recent characters, the despondent Gudetama, the eggy embodiment of depression, becoming a beloved character both in Japan and beyond. It has to be said then that Sanrio has some good groundwork for exploring this area of adult life.
The question remains, then, how does an unassuming Netflix original anime, filled with cute, cuddly yet relatable animal characters, stand as one of the most potentially adult-relevant anime to appear in recent memory? Well, that’s what we’ll be looking at on this trip down the otaku rabbit hole. Get ready though, because this time, it’s going to get real!
The story opens with our titular protagonist Retsuko, the long-suffering red panda, stuck in an office job where she finds herself taken advantage of both by her co-workers and her literal chauvinistic pig of a boss. Now, instead of resigning or rebelling against the system that makes her suffer, she keeps on going day after day, fuelled by one thing and one thing only – her love of heavy metal and screaming down a microphone to vent her frustrations. This simple act of stress relief earns her the title of Aggressive Retsuko (Aggretsuko). This karaoke-filled safe haven is something precious and sacred to Retsuko that she keeps it locked away from all who know her, in fear of her one haven becoming tarnished.
As is the case with everyday life, our dear Retsuko faces a great many challenges throughout this 10-episode series. From the pursuit of love and marriage, to many broken dreams, Retsuko faces it all, all the while with microphone in hand. Along the way, she makes many great friends, some in surprising places, who help her make it through some of life’s great lessons, difficult as they may be.
As she flip-flops from positive life event to traumatic moment, she grows and learns through it all. These moments help paint Retsuko as a surprisingly effective embodiment of anyone stumbling through life, trying to find their way. Aggretsuko’s story can at times be a hard hitting look at the workplace, warts and all, but it’s always delivered with a comedic charm that makes these moments less horrifying, whilst simultaneously making Retsuko ever more endearing.
The art style of Aggretsuko can easily be defined as simple yet polished. Characters are vibrant, memorable and colourful, providing an often-stark contrast to the drab and mundane environments that they tend to inhabit. The characters are beautifully drawn and animated with masterfully nuanced designs capable of highlighting their personalities almost immediately.
One of the most incredible things with how these characters are designed comes from the use of specific animals to embody the entire spectrum of workplace personalities, from the gossip to the kiss up. The most exceptionally executed character in my opinion, and the character that really highlights this anime’s incredible design sense, is the Boss, a literal chauvinistic pig. From his overwhelmingly large frame to the sinister red eyes, this character cuts an imposing and intimidating figure. When compared to Retsuko, the small and cute red panda, it really drives home the imbalance of power in this environment in a delicately subtle way. These sorts of moments are far from uncommon in Aggretsuko and are truly fantastic to behold, more so when these expectations are turned on their head, often to great comedic effect.
A minimalist animation style is employed throughout Aggretsuko, allowing the story and narrative to take centre stage at all times. Most characters will have a unique animation or look that they will use multiple times throughout the series. While this does mean re-used assets between episodes, I never found this to be annoying, but instead found it endearing, further building the characters’ personalities. I must admit, the visuals in Aggretsuko often play a secondary role when compared to the messages and issues dealt with in the anime, meaning that you’re often treated to an emotionally charged subject that’s then made all the easier to swallow thanks in no small part to the cute and cuddly character designs.
The world also appears to warp and change as the anime progresses. The most notable example of this is in a later episode, where Retsuko finds herself in love, and the world is transformed into world of pink love hearts and rainbows. Whilst a funny moment in itself, it yet again does what the series does best – taking adult topics, such as first loves, and giving them the Sanrio treatment by giving it an adorable and far more appealing makeover than a more traditional anime seeking to tackle the same topics would.
The simple yet adorable, bubble-gum art style of Aggretsuko might not be to everyone’s taste but, personally, I found the visuals to be a beautiful and a perfect offset to the dull and drab everyday world, and was a pleasure to watch as a result.
Now, on to the more serious area and what Aggretsuko truly excels at – tackling difficult issues head on in a way that can be both comedic yet heart-breaking. The most immediate topic that springs to mind here would be that of workplace politics, and in particular, workplace bullying. While this is not a topic that will be relevant to everyone, the fact that Aggretsuko chooses to address this topic area at all is something that needs to be applauded. By taking a magnifying lens to the injustices that can plague the workplace, and in particular, how power can be easily abused to the detriment of those in less influential positions, this anime succeeds at something that very few anime even dare to attempt, that being an accurate portrayal of work and its influence on other aspects of our lives.
It’s quite common for people to try and keep their personal and professional lives separate, but this is seldom possible due to friendships and stresses translating between the realms of professional and personal, an aspect that this anime highlights remarkably. Workplace bullying and stress are no laughing matter and Aggretsuko handles these matters delicately, whilst also showing that sometimes it can be necessary to find joy in another part of life and that coping mechanisms, while different for everyone, are a vital part of life.
Remarkably enough, this anime at times also acts as an instructional manual of sorts, drawing attention to avenues and actions to help if you’re having issues, while also showing how things can improve (or worsen) if these situations are handled in a good or bad way. These moments showcase Aggretsuko as a humorous yet hard-hitting anime, unafraid of diving head first into the no man’s land that is the workplace, warts and all, something that is truly remarkable – especially for a red panda!
With episodes being only 15 minutes in length, Aggretsuko never outstays its welcome, and instead becomes an easily binged, bitesize anime that I would recommend to any anime fan. Despite its Japanese office setting, it has an easily translatable universal appeal, with a guarantee that you’ll find something you can apply to your daily life. With all of that said and considering everything, I give Aggretsuko…
With a new festive special having just been released on Netflix in time for the Christmas holidays, now is as good a time as any to try Aggretsuko for yourself and fall in love with the exploits of the poor little red panda in her world of work and death metal.
Thanks once again everyone for joining me on this trip down the otaku rabbit hole, I hope you guys enjoyed. Until next time, happy holidays and keep it weeby!