Who knew a story about an anthropomorphic red panda could be so relatable?
“Aggretsuko” is the story of a 25-year-old, single red panda woman named Retsuko who works thanklessly as an accountant for a large firm in Japan and releases her frustrations by singing death metal at a karaoke bar after work. The ten-episode series chronicles her frustrations as she seeks to find a way out of her drudge life and opens herself to form new relationships along the way that sometimes make her life better, and other times, make her life worse.
According to Wikipedia, the franchise began its life as a series of animated shorts by Fanworks which aired on TBS Television between April 2016 and March 2018. The comedic series premiered worldwide on Netflix on April 20, 2018. I watched all ten episodes in the past two days, and all I can say is that I can’t wait to see more.
“Aggretsuko” is a great show for many reasons, but I will narrow these reasons down to three for the sake of time, or technically-speaking, one.
Primarily, “Aggretsuko” succeeds because of the strength of its writing. The writing succeeds because the comedy, the characters, and the story are too good to look away.
The comedy is aided a great deal by the animation. The animation does a great deal to defy expectations and help the comedy stand out. That is remarkable because, at face value, “Aggretsuko” doesn’t look like something that should work as well as it does with its cutesy designs and low movement animation.
With that said, that is also why the comedy in this show is so excellent. Despite feeling cheap in places, specifically when it comes to lip movements, the animation is stylized comedically so that the movements are mostly minimal putting most of the focus on the comedic dialogue. Then it stands out more when characters do have over-the-top reactions and movements.
In addition, the cutesy designs work to its comedic advantage. The animation and character designs in “Aggretsuko” look, at least to Western audiences, like something that would show in a show for small children. If someone clicked to watch this show without any context, that would be what they would expect. That makes it all the funnier when these cute characters spout such clever, funny, adult dialogue and catch the audience off-guard.
Furthermore, the characters are all quirky, relatable, and well-written enough to be funny. Each of the characters at Retsuko’s job where the show is primarily set is a stereotypical office trope that thankfully translates well despite coming from a Japanese culture, but most of these trope characters are given more depth and personality to make them funny and more interesting.
Our main character Retsuko, for instance, is supposed to be an everyman. She is a lonely woman who is just trying to maintain her mild-mannered persona at work, so she can get through the day and hold in all the deep anger and frustration bubbling under the surface. Retsuko deals with her feelings through singing death metal, but even if you’re not a fan of that genre, she is someone most people can relate to.
Retsuko grows as a person during the series and becomes more interesting as she develops new relationships, starts coming out of her shell, and finds ways to make her life more bearable. Although none of the other characters have as much growth, they still become more interesting and/or funny as you learn more about them, too. Even Retsuko’s pig boss, Ton, who is a despicable chauvinist most of the time and arguably the worst character on the show, has moments when he is more vulnerable, and you can almost believe that he is not as bad as he seems.
That common humanity and relatability is the glue that holds the writing together and gives the story its clever comedy. The viewer will laugh at the situations Retsuko and her colleagues find themselves in, because they have been in similar situations themselves. The viewer will cheer for them when they succeed because they can relate to them, or at least, know people like them.
Furthermore, the character’s common humanity and relatability support the show’s underlying message of unity and community support, that despite our differences, truthfully, we’re all just humans trying to make our way in this crazy world. There’s no reason we can’t come together to support each other and make our lives just a bit more bearable.
In conclusion, if you have ever worked a job you didn’t like and have struggled to find a reason to keep going, give this show a watch. You won’t regret it.