A Day In The Life Of Retsuko
A Good, Hard Working Girl
Walking Down the Aisle
The Out Of Pocket Prince
A Rosy World
The Dream Ends
If you took the innocence of Hello Kitty, mixed it with a heavy dose of death metal and sprinkled in a surprisingly empathetic view on societal pressure, you’ll likely find the newest Netflix animation, Aggretsuko. Most of the 10 episode story revolves around the life of Retsuko, a red panda at breaking point who frequently uses death metal as a way to vent about her stressful, work-dominated life. Her struggle is both easy to empathise with and instantly recognisable for anyone who’s ever worked in a high pressure office job. There’s a surprising amount of characterisation here too and every supporting character has enough personality to ride the wave of craziness right through to the satisfying, open ending that could pave the way for a second season.
The story begins with Retsuko, a frazzled red panda at breaking point in desperate need of some stimulation to break up her mundane life. As the episodes progress and we begin to understand just how and why Retsuko is the way she is, the later episodes see her take action and begin to make some positive changes in her life with some help from her newly acquired friends. Her literal pig of a boss perfectly personifies the despicable, archaic attitude of abusive managers and acts as the antagonist for vast stretches of the series. Even here though there are tiny glimmers of humanity as Aggretsuko takes the time to explore what drives each character and fleshes them out in a believable and realistic manner, whilst keeping the humour in check by exaggerating their character traits. There’s some basic character tropes adopted here – the loud gossiper, the social media addict, the fitness guru who proudly shouts “protein” repeatedly and more – all do a great job of humorously fleshing out the series with memorable characters.
Aggretsuko boasts a truly unique aesthetic too. Big, bold lines around each character are accompanied by a simple but bright colour palette making this an instantly recognisable animation. You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking this was an animation geared toward kids though give the art style but ironically this anime is maturely written and a deep reflection on societal pressures. Themes around love, dreams, regret and more are explored in a realistic manner with just enough over the top facial expressions and comedic exasperation to avoid this falling into a melodramatic slog.
It’s hard to state just how strange, different and unique Aggretsuko actually is. There really isn’t anything quite like it out there and its bold aesthetic coupled with a surprisingly mature writing style make this a really interesting look at working life in Japan. At first glance it would be easy to write this one off as a strange, quirky failure but behind the facade of goofy humour and generic slapstick in every episode is a deep reflection on establishing a healthy work/life balance and the impact this has on society as a whole through death-metal singing Retsuko. The short episode length and rapid finale is a little disappointing but toward the end of the series the familiar trend of Retsuko bottling her emotions before exploding with rage through the use of an amusing death metal song does become a little repetitive. For all of its bold uniqueness, Aggretsuko is likely to alienate some people but for those who can persevere with this one, there’s a surprisingly profound and maturely written animated title.