The second half of Aggretsuko gives us a deeper look at the characters that we’ve already gotten a decent picture of. Retsuko continues to be a shy red panda woman who constantly lets people walk all over her, take advantage of her and use her as a source of labor (mostly manual but emotional as well).
Luckily, some of the best supporting characters, Gori and Washimi who are all “above” Retsuko in the workplace become yoga buddies and try to back her up. Although Retsuko already had friends in the form of Hida and Fenneko. But neither of them were giving her the serious support she needed to take on her boss (a literal sexist pig named Ton).
I do want to quickly note that I’m not a fan of the “sexist pig” iconography, wordplay and the use of associating weight with sexism. I think the general idea of associating weight with greed (especially corporate greed), sexism and other negative stereotypes has helped perpetuate the violence and persecution of folks who are overweight.
Regardless, Ton is an asshole and although there’s a brief moment where we may tear up (not that I did!) and think he might be an OK guy, well, it doesn’t go as smoothly as you may want it to. Retsuko’s boss isn’t a great guy and that continues in this next five episodes. Mostly in episodes 5-7 where it climaxes into a new 3 part love arc, as I’ll call it.
The love arc is…pretty forgettable, honestly. There’s some decent commentary about how people can hide themselves in relationships and pretend like things are fine when they aren’t. But for me, this is old news and not something particularly in need of addressing. I would have preferred more workplace drama or working on Hida and Retsuko’s dynamic.
On the other hand this video shows the pluses of this arc and I think it’s generally right. I wasn’t super impressed mostly because Resasuke is a boring character except when he can talk through text. If the relationship had continued through text more I may have felt invested in it but it generally just felt DOA and while there’s nice lessons it’s not entertaining.
One thing I found interesting was the character named Tsunoda who massages the ego of her and Retsuko’s boss Ton all of the time. She says she does that to try and make him happier so he won’t be such an asshole. She reasons that if he’s not a jerk to everyone on a given day where she kisses butt isn’t that a win for everyone?
But Tsunoda must know that the kissing up only ever benefits her. She gets all of the privileges from doing that and when Retsuko gets talked to by Ton before or after being kissed up to, he’s a jerk to Retsuko anyways. Instead of placating Ton in any meaningful way it’s just a way to make Ton feel reassured that he’s a great boss and being mean is fine.
For as cute as this show is, I do want to warn anyone who wants to watch it that it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending. Retsuko does change as a character and other characters around her are clearly affected by her throughout her personal journey, but the series doesn’t (spoilers) end with her quitting the job.
The series doesn’t end with Retsuko finding a man who will take all of her problems away by being rich. There’s no easy out for Retsuko. Only the sad and existentially horrifying realization that, at least for now, working for a shitty boss but with co-workers she really enjoys and a hobby that she loves (death metal karaoke) is enough for her.
And she doesn’t need to pretend to be more. She doesn’t have to subdue herself into the girlfriend role and settle for a blank slate when she could do so much better. She can have good friends and outside hobbies like singing but also yoga and do it for herself and even interact with her co-workers and have it go well.
The show doesn’t hold back its punches in the last few episodes that focus narrowly on work (5-7). There are big confrontations between Ton and Retsuko, personality changes, reveals of motives and explanations for why characters are acting in certain ways. It’s not enough to excuse anyone but it makes everyone a bit more real and interesting.
Aggretsuko was, at the end of the day, a charming anime that tackles problems that so often anime never touches. It’s especially relevant when many workers in Japan are so overworked that some end up dying from it.
And it’s not just Japan that feels the strain of work in the 21st century of course, I’ve talked almost endlessly about the past and present issues here in the US. Where workers wages are often becoming stagnant and they get less hours or are getting more hours but it’s not adding up the way it used to be.
There are plenty of funny and relatable moments in Aggretsuko. Even when the CEO of the company takes a notice of the way Ton treats his employees it doesn’t last very long. And Aggretsuko doesn’t have the heart or guts to go on social media and say much about it and risk being blackmailed by the company.
The themes of feminism continue, mostly through the love arc. There’s lots of good points about putting your identity down just because you’ve found a guy who you can sorta get along with and enjoy yourself with. There’s a lot of moments where it’s clear that Aggretsuko really needed friends like Gori and Washimi who will support her but never push.
Love can be a great deterrent for all of the things in life we hate but it can also blind us. Love can make us think we have everything solved and that we’re suddenly fulfilled. But when those afterglow effects fizzle between you and your new crush, you’ll usually realize that your other problems haven’t been solved, they just don’t hurt as much.
In finishing Aggretsuko I want to double my previous recommendation. It’s not a perfect show but it’s a solid one that handles a wide array of topics with grace and style. It handles issues of gendered expectations, workplace hierarchy, romance, what a healthy relationship can or can’t look like and more.
It’s a pretty short show at under 3 hours total (10 episodes, 15 minutes or so each) so at least give the first half a shot before you dismiss the cutesy anime style. Although it seemingly ends with a positive message about work or at least a little more neutral than it did before (and perhaps gives Ton too much credit), I have a feeling season 2 is gonna dive deeper into what makes the workplace in Japan so terrible.
Also, can we please get Aggretsuko in a band in season 2?
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