As an admirer of anime, I can still appreciate the many criticisms I often hear about the art form.
As an example, a lot of people have a hard time processing anime's no-holds-barred approach when it comes to storytelling. Unlike what we see in the west, the gatekeepers of Japanese media seem to be more concerned with the quality of the product and less with whether the project is "too different". This frees the creators of manga, anime, and other Japanese media to go to strange new places. And the novelty of these ideas becomes part of their appeal.
The idea that "nothing is original anymore" does not exist in Japan.
But in the west, a lot of people tend to think of anime as "weird", particularly in how it can nonchalantly blend cuteness into any genre. Whether it's cute sci-fi, cute fantasy, or even cute horror.
And then you've got Aggretsuko.
Which is something else entirely.
A Netflix Original (for Real this Time)
It's no secret that most of the anime listed under the "Netflix Original" banner is not original to Netflix. They may be Netflix-exclusive in North America, but most have been aired on broadcast TV in Japan.
Aggretsuko, on the other hand, is a true Netflix-original anime. It launched worldwide on the platform, and has one of the broadest language option selections of any Netflix offering.
This is a landmark moment for the Netflix platform and may open doors to future anime distributions through their service, which would only be good news for international anime fans.
My Language Pick
I watched the show with the original Japanese dubbing and English subtitles. Because the quality of the voice acting is so important to enjoying anime, I must reveal upfront that I have not listened to the English dub, and I cannot vouch for its quality.
That said, the series is short enough that you could easily watch it multiple times with multiple languages, if you so desire, within the space of a day. So you may want to find out for yourself how good each of the dubs may be.
With all that out of the way, lets dive in and talk about Aggretsuko. But to do that, we'll first have to talk about the company that made it.
Sanrio, the Great and Powerful
Once upon a time, there was a company that saw how animated characters, starring in cartoons, could be made into merchandising mascots.
This company then thought to itself, "What if we do that, only we skip the part where the characters star in cartoons." Thus, the Sanrio corporation was born. It's quest was to create merchandise-able mascots out of nothing.
Some thought they could not succeed. But they succeeded beyond even their own wildest expectations.
Since that day, the free peoples of the world have lived in fear, as cute characters whose only purpose is to advertise themselves have slipped into every facet of modern life, led by their beflowered feline commander.
But she shall never have ME.
You will never have me, Hello Kitty.
I will not give in to you.
I will resist you.
You do not control me, Hello Kitty. I will not love you.
I will not embrace you.
You have no power over me.
STOP IT! STOP IT NOW! I won't. I won't. I WON'T.
Whelp, looks like I lost that battle.
Now that Sanrio rules the world and controls the allegiance of every government, bank, and corporation, the question naturally arises: "Where do they go from here?"
The answer, interestingly enough, is "animated office drama".
And this is how we got Aggretsuko.
A Show for Adults (and the Adults who Love Them)
Aggretsuko is a strangely grown-up animated comic drama about the life of an office worker. People have gone so far as to call it an animated Office Space, and it features new and original Sanrio characters living out adult situations in present-day Tokyo.
The focus of the show is Retsuko, a red panda...who is yellow. (Y'know, one of them yellow red pandas). She works in the accounting office of a nameless trading firm, and after five years at the company, she has grown disillusioned with her work environment.
Her job is not particularly rewarding. She gets a lot of grief from her coworkers, who take advantage of her meek and pliable nature.
Worst of all is her direct supervisor, who deliberately mistreats her because he is a sexist pig.
He expects Retsuko to clean and arrange his office space and shows neither hesitation nor pity when "correcting" (or make that insulting) her.
And the pressures of her professional life are so colossal that they force themselves out of Retsuko in a most peculiar way.
Specifically, she takes out her frustrations through the time-honored medium of karaoke---death metal karaoke.
It's also implied that she's a heavy drinker.
And this nightly habit of hers is enough to get her through the day, for the most part.
But her whole world is about to change when a couple of senior office ladies decide to include her on a late night outing, and Retsuko, the company she works for, and all her friends and coworkers, will never be the same.
Being a character drama, most of Aggretsuko's merits come from the characters themselves, as well as their various relationships. To give you a better idea of what you're in for, lets explore a few of them in depth.
Retsuko, Fenneko, and Haida
The show's central trio. Retsuko is the frustrated doormat that everyone else treads upon. Haida is the office friend who secretly has a crush on her.
And Fenneko...well, I think Fenneko has that same thing Sherlock has.
She uses inductive reasoning to deduce any secret anyone tries to keep from her. She has little respect for boundaries, personal privacy, and even the law, and she laughs like she has no soul.
Y'know, cute Sanrio kind of stuff.
Washimi and Gori
Two senior office workers who command respect through displays of power and elegance.
Gori is the head of marketing. She's a little superstitious and can be a bit immature and needy, but she covers it up with an unbreakable air of professionalism until she leaves the office.
Washimi is secretary to the president of the company (fitting, since she is a secretary bird). She works by the book and does not tolerate nonsense from anyone, even the president himself.
A chance encounter at a Yoga studio causes these two ladies to befriend Retsuko and take her under their wing.
Director Ton and Komiya
Retsuko's supervisor, Ton, is a verbally abusive, harrasment-prone, nightmare of a boss. Depicted as a pig, he causes endless problems for Retsuko. He and his toady, Komiya, serve as the immediate antagonists of the show.
But an interesting thing about Aggretsuko is how it fleshes out its antagonists and develops them as characters. Where other shows would content themselves to simply label them as villains and work towards the ultimate goal of destroying or expelling them from the narrative, Aggretsuko opts instead to give them backstories and motivations. Ton is not just a chauvinist, he's also a hard worker and an asset to the company. And getting him fired is not Retsuko's goal nor part of her arc. He is still her boss at the end of the series, and is still a pig.
But though he changes little, Retsuko's perception of him is largely transformed, as she realizes that, of all the problems going on in her life, he's actually one of the smaller and more manageable ones. And she can even find uses for him, when push comes to shove.
Though perhaps the same can't be said for Komiya, who's slavish devotion to Ton is unchanged throughout the entire season, which I guess fits his personality, since he's...apparently some kind of meerkat. And as far as henchmen go, he ranks about...
Wait a minute.
Meerkat? Who works with a pig? Why does that sound so familiar?
No. No, it can't be.
NO. It's not true. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE.
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Retsuko's sexist boss is Pumbaa, from The Lion King. How could I not have seen it? Why is life so cruel and hopeless?
Aggretsuko is one of the best new shows on Netflix. It is also one of the shortest, at only ten episodes. And most of those are only fifteen minutes long apiece.
The mature themes and characters, though rendered as adorable cartoons, bear a strangely realistic resemblance to the ups and downs of modern adult life. A story that seems at first to have clear cut heroes and villains turns out, in the end to show a moral complexity that is not so easily judged. These are real people, not the caricatures we so often get from most forms of entertainment. And their individual struggles and triumphs hit home in ways rarely seen outside of anime.
I recommend it to all adults who have access to Netflix. A show like this doesn't come along every year.
Previous entries in the Netflixing series: