My latest review! This time I take a look at Netflix’s streaming release of Aggretsuko.
Aggretsuko (or Aggressive Retsuko) is one of those series that just appeared on Netflix one day, with very little fanfare, through it caused quite a stir. It follows the trials and tribulations of the titular Retsuko, an anthropomorphic red panda, who is the latest in a long line of achingly cute Sanrio characters… or is she? Well, no. Beyond her cute appearance Retsuko has almost nothing in common with Hello Kitty, the Sugarbunnies or any of the other super cute characters Sanrio are famous for. You see Retsuko is a seemingly mild-mannered 25 year old office worker, who hates the current direction of her life, her repetitive daily routine, dead-end job and terrible bosses. Retsuko’s only outlet in life is found during her solo visits to a local karaoke bar, where she sings Death Metal… Yes, you read that correctly! Away from the office, and behind closed doors, the seemingly mild-mannered Retsuko lets out her internal angst and proves to be a very angry little red panda indeed, one who drinks beer (sometimes tea) and vents her frustrations about life and work through a love of death-metal music and karaoke, and simultaneously it is both hilarious and heartwarming.
Joining Retsuko in the daily grind are a bunch of perfectly average office workers. There is Retsuko’s boss Director Ton, the main villain of the piece and cause of much of Retsuko’s misery. He is a pig in his behaviour as much as he is in appearance (he is literally a male chauvinist pig), the constant practicing of his golf swing at the office and misogynistic chanting of “cha” (tea - as in ‘make me some tea’) at poor Retsuko are enough to drive even the normally mild-mannered red panda into a frothing, eye twitching, death-metal screaming, rage. A little further down the pecking order is the reptilian Tsubone, who piles more and more work onto Retsuko and seemingly revels in setting her impossible tasks. Also adding to Retsuko’s righteous fury are the bosses favourites: the seemingly shallow, impossibly cute, almost universally despised and social media obsessed deer, Tsunoda. Who uses her looks and flattery to ingratiate herself with Director Ton. And then there is the office’s biggest suck-up Komiya, who is as utterly incompetent, transparent and infuriating as the real life office suck-ups everyone who has ever worked in an office will have come across at some point. Not forgetting, of course, the office gossip - a hippo with a penchant for spreading rumours, the juicier the better.
Thankfully for Retsuko she isn’t alone in her suffering, friends and colleagues help ease the pain for the most part, though as ever there are hiccups even there. First and foremost is the adorably cute Fenneko, the fennec fox. She is irrepressibly sarcastic, with a dry wit and deadpan delivery which helps her steal almost every scene she is in, especially with that monosyllabic laugh of hers: “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha”. Then there is Haida, the mild-mannered (no death metal secrets this time, at least not yet…) hyena who harbours a secret crush on Retsuko. The free spirited Puko is Retsuko’s oldest friend, her nature and life choices contrast wildly with Retsuko’s. Finally there is the executive power couple of Gori and Washimi, who strut around the office like they own the place and, initially at least, intimidate the awe-struck Retsuko. This executive duo star in some of the highlights in the latter half of the series, as what Resuko sees as intimidating confidence, experience and seniority gives way to kinship as they reveal they suffer, or have suffered, many of the same issues, and begin to offer advice based their own experiences.
You may have already gotten this impression, but Aggretsuko is a riot. The comic timing on display is impeccable and the content is utterly relatable to anyone who has ever worked in an office. Even events outside the office remain relatable as the series shines a lens on the realities of everyday life, such as Retsuko stressing over how much cash to give as a wedding gift for some old friends, or even becoming exasperated by overzealous shop staff. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments littered liberally throughout the series, but it also has another deeper side. Not only is the comedy razor sharp, but so is the social commentary. Retsuko is an incredibly sympathetic character and surrogate to anyone who feels downtrodden by, or lost in, the system. Despite its short 15 minute runtime the series manages to flesh out a cast of relatable, as well as surprisingly complex and nuanced, characters. Each character has their own coping mechanism for the pressures of life and work. Though perhaps the real joy of the series lies in Retsuko’s growth throughout the series as she begins to find her feet and find herself.
Aggretsuko is a charming, witty and cute series that will please anyone who loves good comedy, good characters and social commentary in spades. It is a series that could and should appeal broadly, even outside of the usual anime circles. Retsuko is the perfect protagonist for 2018: downtrodden, exhausted and under-appreciated but bristling with righteous indignation and looking to get on with life as best she can. Despite one or two hiccups en route the way she deals with the pressures of office politics, sexism and everyday life is something most of us can relate to in one way or another. The is fact that in ten 15 minute(ish) episodes Aggretsuko pack in more than many full length series. Hardly a moment is wasted as the series skips effortlessly from office politics to knockout comedy, and it is a joy to behold!
You can currently watch Aggretsuko in streaming form on Netflix
9 - Fresh, funny and relatable. Aggretsuko is life!