Cute as Hell
“Aggretsuko” on Netflix
The world (or at least the internet part of it) has found a new spirit animal in a repressed red panda from Japan. The oddball “Aggretsuko” is the creation of famed Japanese “mascot” company Sanrio. Famed for Hello Kitty and other kawaii kiddie creations, Sanrio steps out of the box for this new cartoon series, aimed way above the heads of the usual elementary school sticker crowd.
The show centers on Retsuko, an introverted college grad (and anthropomorphic red panda) in Tokyo who gets a job at a prestigious trading firm. Five years later she’s still there, stuck behind a desk slaving away in the firm’s accounting department. Every day she’s confronted by annoying coworkers who shove cell phone pictures in her face and a sexist pig of a boss. (This being Sanrio, that last one is both literal and figurative.) Polite, smiling and shy like a good Japanese girl is supposed to be, Retsuko bottles up her anger and only lets it loose at night when she’s off the clock, getting drunk and screaming death metal tunes at a karaoke bar. This, to put it mildly, ain’t your mother’s Sanrio.
Like its title (a portmanteau of “aggressive” and “Retsuko”), “Aggretsuko” is like some mad mash-up of the cutie feminist fantasia of “Ally McBeal” and the full-volume animated mayhem of Adult Swim’s “Metalocalypse.” While her boss loafs around all day practicing his golf swing, Retsuko calms herself with internal mantras (“On the count of 10, I will be a responsible human being”) and the occasional microburst of death metal lyrics while locked in the office bathroom. (The self-explanatory tune “Shitty Boss” tells you, once again, this isn’t aimed at kids.)
The animation style is simple, employing a slightly thicker line style than the usual Sanrio imagery; but it evokes the cubicle-choked world of the modern workplace perfectly. The show’s 15-minute episodes are jammed with jokes and storylines. And the 10-episode first season has a surprisingly solid narrative arc, carrying its pent-up protagonist though a series of personal and professional ups and downs. Over the season Retsuko plots her emancipation from corporate hell, exposes her raw-throated hobby, grows closer to a pair of female executives and even drifts toward romance.
If you’re an adult fan of Sanrio, “Aggretsuko” is the perfect opportunity to proclaim it loud and proud. But even if you don’t know your Cinnamoroll from your Pompompurin, “Aggretsuko” is worth a look, ranking as one of the best workplace sitcoms on TV right now, animated or otherwise.