The cute anthropomorphic animal characters of Aggretsuko make the series instantly disarming to viewers. After all, Sanrio, the creators of the series as well as behind the internationally cherished character Hello Kitty, have decades of dealing in cute under their belts and ready to share with the world. When Aggretsuko, a series about office worker red panda named Retsuko who channels her everyday anger into rage metal karaoke, was announced for Netflix over a year ago, it was hard to tell what they could do with the series and what it would ultimately mean.
The first series was the expected Sanrio cute. Retsuko dislikes her menial office job and just wants to find contentment in her life. She struggles with that because she cannot meet the right man and her boss is generally – but not always! – pretty terrible. But along the way she meets new friends who accept her for who she is, especially the rage metal karaoke version of her. It’s a nice “feel good” series.
After the most recent series, I came to better understanding of the series that other no doubt realized far in advance. Sanrio, as I have repeatedly mentioned, just deal in cute. They do not deal in challenge or change. This becomes clear when Retsuko finds herself in a satisfying relationship with a rich AI developer who sees the world differently, wants to change the world, and wants to take her with him. He just doesn’t want to get married and have kids, as he thinks the former is a formality and the latter is just not something he has considered. Retsuko realizes she wants these things and breaks up with him when he is unwilling to change. While both of their views are presented as acceptable through character dialogue, the views of the boyfriend are implied to be less palatable due to this rigidity and the fact that he upsets our adorable lead so much. The series bolsters tradition and conservatism while not outright stating challenges to those thoughts are bad.
This also follows from the first half of the series in which Retsuko, and then a number of the named characters, are harassed by a fresh out of college young man who files complaints about their every action that upsets him. This was solved by a woman in the office choosing to coddle and mother him, because men aren’t supposed to be held accountability for their insecurity or lack of maturity but instead further infantilized to curb the inappropriate behaviors. Japan is a male-dominated culture, and the message of treating men nicer when they don’t deserve it is an upsetting one. But it all goes to show that Aggretsuko is a cute delivery system for upholding the status quo.
By the way, despite all of this, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the series. After all, what it does it does very well.