Sota AraiAggretsukoJapanese
Aggretsuko (2018)
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2018: A
Also known as: Aggressive Retsuko (2018)
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2018
Writer/director: Rareko
Actor: Kaolip, Komegumi Koiwasaki, Maki Tsuruta, Rarecho, Rina Inoue, Shingo Katou, Sota Arai, Yuki Takahashi
Keywords: Aggretsuko, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: Ten 15-minute episodes and an eleventh 22-minute Christmas special
Website category: Anime 2018
Review date: 12 March 2019
Aggressive Retsuko
It's a Flash-animated cartoon where all the cast are animals, from the company that makes Hello Kitty. A red panda (Retsuko) has an office job in accounting with a spotted hyena, a gorilla, a secretary bird, etc. Her chauvinist pig boss is literally a pig. However it's also a massively cynical and truthful look at what life's like for our working woman heroine, Retsuko. This show pretty much exploded on release, with shouts of "THAT'S ME!!" from people from all kinds of backgrounds, ages, cultures and genders. (It's actually a reworking of a 2016 TBS Television series, but that had 100 one-minute episodes and you'll get whiplash if you try to watch the two shows back-to-back. One-minute episodes are basically just one-shot gags and their Retsuko obviously has a much shorter fuse.)
It's not a comfortable watch. Often I'd be slightly dreading the next episode and I sure as hell wouldn't call it marathonable. (Others disagree.) You assume that nothing will ever go right for Retsuko, partly because that's her life and partly because her best efforts have a habit of backfiring painfully. However it's also funny and savagely accurate. I've seen internet articles by women who worked in Japan and South Korea, discussing everything this show nails harder than pretty much any show they'd ever watched before.
"I observed office workers who are at the centre of Japan's corporate culture and I could hear their heartfelt screams," said Aggretsuko?s designer.
Retsuko's a nice, quiet, well-meaning red panda who understands how to do the right social thing and not make a fuss. Unfortunately she's surrounded by people who are selfish, bitchy, full of obsessive spite, socially withdrawn to the point of being functionally retarded and/or just plain monstrous. "Incompetent women are annoying, but at least they're better than the competent ones!" Absolutely no one in this show is normal... or, to put it another way, everyone is. They're horrible or annoying in all the little ways you'll see every day in workplaces around the world. Interestingly, though, some of them are also likeable and some of them are a good deal better at handling reality than our heroine.
Japanese has the concepts of "honne" (what you really feel) and "tatemae" (the polite front you show to others). Retsuko would be a lot healthier if she weren't quite so good at tatemae, but fortunately she has a release valve. When she's annoyed, she rents a private karaoke room, transforms into a stripey-faced monster and sings death metal.
Director Ton getting told to fix his appalling behaviour in ep.7. The show's got some sharp and not very comforting things to say about that. Oh, and Ton Trying To Be Nice terrifies the whole office.
The entire cast, really. Tsunoda the gazelle, who's deliberately and shamelessly a bimbo. Everything she says and does is calculated with machine-like precision (and big googly eyes). Washimi and Gori-chan, the fearsome but secretly kind office ladies who have their own cool music. Fenneko the fennec fox, who's basically the office's Sherlock Holmes with a merciless attitude and a good heart.
Retsuko's occasional relationship with Puuko, her cool but selfish friend from college. Puuko's not necessarily a healthy person to be or know, but she's also honest and self-aware about it. She can analyse herself completely and just say it all.
The show's take on love and romance. In ep.4, Retsuko decides that marriage is a way out of the rat race. She practices how she'll deliver her resignation letter. She's drooling about it. She's overlooking the intermediate step of getting a boyfriend. This feels like the show sticking a poisoned stiletto in the assumptions of all anime ever, but this will then get subverted later. And double-subverted. And... bloody hell.
Ep.10, which surprisingly has character growth and our heroine learning important things that aren't what most shows would have done with that story arc. It's about her, not just him.
There's nothing lazy or half-arsed about this show at all. It's sharp and wince-inducingly funny. It's full of inequality, unfairness and cold-blooded, selfish thoughtlessness. Retsuko is one of the most relatable protagonists in anime, although she can be her own worst enemy. She's adorable, but full of screaming rage. Some of the show's coolest moments involve, of course, a microphone and a karaoke booth. I can't say I'd always be enjoying this show, but it's definitely impressive.