Netflix’s new anime, Aggretsuko, is based on a series of minute-long web shorts from a few years ago. When I first discovered her in 2016, the star was still Aggressive Retsuko, the Hello Kitty company’s adorable new red panda mascot who also sings death metal–and I was already sold on her. She’s cute and angry! She drinks beer! She hates her boss! Collectively, everyone who grew up loving Sanrio said “that’s literally me” and then maybe bought some stuff with her face on it (I have a hat and a tote bag). I really didn’t expect the full-length anime to be more than just dumb fun.
Like in the shorts, Retsuko’s rage builds as she endures one frustration after another, culminating in her singing death metal alone in a karaoke room. But from the first episode, it’s very clear that Netflix’s Aggretsuko isn’t just a series of jokes and skits. In just 10 15-minute episodes, the show manages to cover an impressive variety of modern workplace frustrations, teach a lesson about relationships, and get you invested in its characters, all while being a relatable and silly office comedy at its core.
Retsuko is a 25-year-old office lady who works in the accounting department of a trading firm, and her boss is a pig named Director Ton who makes derogatory comments about women. (Get it? He’s a chauvinist pig.) She has to bite her tongue when he insults her and hide her frustration as he loudly practices golf in the office while everyone else is busy. Nothing she does is ever correct or good enough, but Ton of course loves a younger female employee, Tsunoda, who sucks up to him all day. By the time Retsuko sings the first song of the show all about her “sh***y boss,” you’re either cheering her on or relating to her really, really hard.
To round out the office, Retsuko has her friendly coworkers–a laidback hyena named Haida and a calculating fennec fox named Fenneko–and the annoying ones, which include the suckup Tsunoda, a gossipy hippo, and Ton’s smarmy yes-man. There are also mysterious businesswomen, Gori and Washimi, who work in a different department and always look impossibly put-together. If you’ve had a job for any amount of time, there’s at least one person you’ve worked with in the lineup.
Finally, Retsuko is up against the soul-crushing reality of having to earn money to live. In the second episode, Fenneko tells Retsuko she’s a corporate slave destined to overwork herself to death. Darker than the sexist boss or the lazy supervisors is the knowledge that she can’t just quit the job she hates because she hates it; she needs a way to survive, whether it’s in a different career or by marrying a rich husband. Her schemes make for some great sitcom antics, but they’re also central to why the show works so well.
Generally, Retsuko’s plans backfire. When she acts too happy, her supervisors get suspicious. When she tries to find common ground with her boss, she ends up angering him more. But at every stage, Retsuko can always use karaoke to control her emotions when she can’t control her environment. Singing death metal isn’t just a funny coping mechanism; it’s her favorite form of self-expression and the way she stays connected to her identity, even when she’s forced to be a corporate drone. It’s both her way to vent and her way to remain Retsuko.
Aggretsuko is both silly and serious, its characters both outlandish and relatable. But most brilliantly, it offers lessons in coping for when you feel powerless against everything wrong in your life. While that’s more than a lot of people might have expected, it’s what a lot of us really need more of.