Aggretsuko – Anime Review
Synopsis: Frustrated with her thankless office job, Retsuko the Red Panda copes with her daily struggles by belting out death metal karaoke after work. (Official Netflix Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Aggretsuko is unlike any of the other Netflix exclusive anime titles to come out over the last few months. From Devilman Crybaby, to Violet Evergarden, every title has either be wrapped in intense drama, or overly violent action, like SwordGai the Animation. Aggretsuko sits far apart from the other titles, presenting itself with a far cutesier, comedy driven art style. Aggretsuko is actually part of the Sanrio brand, more popularly known for their Hello Kitty products. Aggretsuko, or Retsuko and Co., are characters and product lines more aimed at an older audience. This series, despite its cutesy nature, is squarely aimed at adults, working joes and janes in their mid to late twenties run down by the rigours of a tough work day and impossibly frustrating bosses. Aggretsuko takes the harsh work conditions of Japan, particularly what women face in the day to day, and tries to turn it into a comedy adults can appreciate for its satirical view of the fevered 9-5 workplace.
Aggretsuko is largely hit or miss though. While the series cutesy Sanrio character style lends itself well to the hard shift to Retsuko’s aggressively death metal persona, this joke starts to run cold. While the series is only composed of ten fifteen minute episodes, it doesn’t take long before you’ve by and large seen how Retsuko’s death metal persona will be featured near every episode. Retsuko suffers frustration, it mounts to impossible levels, and she needs to let it all out via her death metal screeching.
Thankfully the show is a bit more robust than that one gag. We’re treated to a plethora of characters, from Retsuko and her closest friends/workmates, to one-off gag characters who help to liven up an episode here or there. By and large Retsuko works as a lead. While her death metal persona shift grows tired, she remains a relatable, down-trodden lead who you can sympathize with, particularly if you’ve felt the sting of a overbearing boss or the pressures of a mounting work load. I imagine some of the sexism she faces straddles a line between ‘it’s funny cause it’s true’ and ‘this is too real.’
Past Retsuko though, characters become hit or miss like I was talking about before. Some additional cast members like Fenneko, the office troll yet insightful observer, stand out, in part thanks to the voice acting, both in Japanese and English. Other characters, like Kaba Megumi, an overly friendly hippo, are less memorable and more grating, her flowery personality more irksome than enjoyable. (Although there’s a great gag late in the series that capitalizes on this character.) The expanded cast is generally hit or miss, and while there’s potential for everyone to find someone to latch onto, it can make certain sequences drag if you don’t particularly appreciate the featured characters’ brand of comedy. Sometimes that brand is severely lazy, having them repeat a catch phrase over and over, only gradually varying up their comedy later on.
While the comedy can be weak here or there, it’s Retsuko’s personal journey of self-discovery and being honest with the kind of woman she is, that makes Aggretsuko really pick up steam. There’s initially an early arc that doesn’t feel all that enthralling, focused on Retsuko perhaps looking to abandon the harsh work environment in favor of another, start up job. But later arcs, more squarely aimed at exploring who Retsuko is, forging new friendships, and the pitfalls of love, help to flesh out her character and add in some drama that helps you to become invested in the series whether the comedy is flagging or not.
What really helps Aggretsuko remain engaging however is the excellent voice work and translation for the English dub. The subtitle for the Japanese voice track are by and large lifeless, subdued, underdone and lacking in punch. While normally not one enthused when dubs take greater license with rewriting anime, Aggretsuko’s dub manages to find a balance between remaining truthful to the intent of the original and offering up a much punchier script. The writers should be applauded for taking rather ho-hum dialogue and punching up the comedy as much as they can. Certain jokes work so much better, written with far more weight behind the delivery and phrasing. The voice actors themselves also add a lot of life to these characters, managing to make everyone feel alive and quirky. It’s definitely one of the stronger Netflix dubs, if not of the whole English anime release slate of the last couple years.
Overall Aggretsuko is a generally good short-form series. I don’t think it’s particularly amazing, and some of its core ideas grow tired. At 15 minutes an episode I still found myself sometimes feeling like they went on too long, a sign that the show wasn’t really as clever and engaging as it really needed to be. That said, thanks to the narrative through-line, following Retsuko’s self-exploration and acceptance of who she is, I became attached to her and other members of the cast, needing to see just how things ultimately ended up. The comedy, while improved in the dub, is still never quite as funny as it really could be, but remains a marked improvement from the original Japanese. In the end I find myself willing to recommend the series, reminding potential viewers that it does start slow, but gradually improves, ending things on a high note with a touching finale.
Aggretsuko is available for streaming via Netflix.