On April 20, 2018, a rather striking Netflix Original Series joined the streaming platform. Aggretsuko, a 10-episode series based on the Sanrio character Aggressive Retsuko, made its debut. It is notable, since it is a real push for the character to gain more relevance outside of Japan and is yet another Sanrio series geared toward an older audience, like Show by Rock!! and Sanrio Boys. But, it is also important for the development characters within the series. Instead of just being cute or offering situational comedy, we see actual character growth, story arcs and a sense of progression that would not only make people appreciate Retsuko more, but love the rest of the cast as well.
Netflix’s first season of Aggretsuko is not the first animated adaptation. From 2016 to 2018, Rarecho and Fanworks, the same person and studio behind these ten episodes, released a whole series of shorts that were usually around two minutes long. These did not do much to really explore characters and their personalities. It helped us get to know Retsuko and understand the situation she was in, but mainly served as briefly amusing moments. With the 15-minute episodes, there is an opportunity to do more, and it is seized. So much so, that I would say both the English dub is as good as the original Japanese with English subtitles. It also feels like a series where more happens in each episode than you realize.
Aggretsuko acts as an origin story and begins Aggretsuko with her graduating and joining a company at 20, optimistic and hoping for the best. It immediately jumps forward five years, showing her as a member of an accounting department under a chauvinistic pig boss named Ton, an actual pig. She has two friends in her department, the devious Fenneko and occasionally trying-too-hard Haida, with the three supporting each other as they deal with a slimey lizard named Tsubone, a gossiping hippo named Kabae and suck-ups named Komiya and Tsunoda. As the show finds its footing in these early moments, it allows us to focus on these stereotypical traits as we get to know each of these characters, before building to something more while making us laugh and think.
Retsuko receives the most development, with the woman at the end being a slightly different, stronger one than the one we meet in this first episode. When we meet her, she is looking for an out. Maybe it is a new job. Perhaps it is marrying a man who would support her so she can stay at home. She is passive in her daily life, trying to work too hard to please everyone and do everything right. She would be more likely to secretly sneak away to karaoke to belt out heavy metal as stress relief or head home alone than go out with work friends. But with each episode, it can feel like something is changing. She is maturing as a person, making different decisions and finding herself in situations that show she is willing to take more chances. As an example, when Puko, a visiting friend from high school, suggests going into business together, she ends up being willing to take that possible leap by the end of the episode. When trying to find new ways to deal with people in the office, she has dinner with Tsunoda and learns more about what makes the deer tick.
Eventually, other characters begin to show their different sides. Tsunoda is one of them. In the first episode, we see her comment on Retsuko’s rather unorthodox footwear. (She accidentally wore her Crocs instead of her flats.) In that moment, she is definitely taking a dig. But it comes across as more harsh, due to Fenneko pointing out that Tsunoda’s social media feed is filled with selfies, pictures of latte art or food and an occasional thigh picture to make herself more attractive in the next scene and us watching Tsunoda flatter and flirt with Ton to stay on his good side. When Retsuko has dinner with Tsunoda, we see the methods to the deer’s madness. Her actions are self serving, but not malicious, and she is aware of the image she presents. In another encounter, she invites both Retsuko and Fenneko on an outing, even though Fenneko is certainly more chilly to her.
Fenneko is another example of a character that grows. She is clearly on Retsuko’s side in Aggretsuko, and the two have a positive relationship. But like Kabae and Tsunoda, she does not make the best first impression. Her introduction paints her as a gossip like Kabae, since she is stalking Tsunoda’s social media and dishing on all her activities with Retsuko. Like Tsunoda, she has a bit of a mask up, but in her case the blunt and dry personality can mask exactly how much she cares about Retsuko and Haida. It was not until about the third that her actions and commentary began to really show how much she cares about Retsuko and that she is constantly supporting her. Sometimes, it is a push to make sure the red panda shines up her spine. Other times, it can be keeping an eye on her at an event. Maybe it is even a bit of jealousy when she finds out what Retsuko is doing outside of work without her. Someone who seems a bit chilly can gradually become softer.
My favorite development has to be that of Washimi, the CEO’s Personal Assistant, and Gori, the Director of Marketing. These are the two upper level women in Retsuko’s company. When we first meet them, they are essentially figureheads. They have their power walk through the hallways and are legendary figures for people like Retsuko and Fenneko. This Netflix adaptation gradually makes them human. When they are out of sight, Gori comments on how maintaining that walk can be downright painful, but they keep it up. While it seems like they take no notice of these lower level employees, we see in another episode Gori was glad to pass Retsuko, because yellow was her lucky color that day.
Further episodes continue to humanize them, showing that they may have more experience and hold higher positions, but this does not mean people like Retsuko should not approach them. And, in that way, it is almost like a moral for viewers as well. It is fine to respect people and want to be them, but we should try not to put them on a pedestal or have an idealized view of them in our minds. Just like the character development with Tsunoda and Fenneko show that people are more than they appear to be. We can not get caught up in appearances or shut people out without giving them a chance. Or that of Retsuko herself, as she accepts different sides of herself and matures.
Keep in mind, I have only generally gone over development of a few of Aggretsuko’s most prominent characters in its first three or four episodes. There is so much to unpack here. Retsuko evolves in some wonderful ways. Fenneko, Gori, Tsunoda and Washimi, show they are “human” and not flat, one-note characters. Every episode has all of these great comedic moments, but there is also this depth to the situation. It is constantly resonating with its audience by having these growing characters in identifiable situations. One can only hope it will get a second season, so we can see where Retsuko, her friends and her coworkers will go.
Aggretsuko season one is now streaming on Netflix.