Meet Retsuko, the main character of Netflix’s newest anime show: Aggretsuko, voiced by the wildly talented Erica Mendez. As an avid fan of anime myself, I was curious to check out this show. Typically, I watch both popular and lesser-known anime shows, like Psycho-Pass, Attack on Titan, Fate/Zero, Aijin, and Knight Of Sidonia. In these shows, the themes are epic action and high-stakes. With Aggretsuko, I knew I was in for a different experience, and it was not only a highly-entertaining series, but also a culturally relevant story with relevant themes.
Life is a pattern. You wake up, you commute, you go to work, you deal with work, you deal with the duties of work, you handle the stress of work, you clock out, commute home – maybe stop for a bite to eat – then rest and relax until it is time to prepare for tomorrow and go to bed. Humans have a tenacity for sticking to a pattern, but we also need a mechanism to recharge and reset from the mundane. For me, it’s movies, video games, and hanging with college friends that I consider family. For a 25-year old anthropomorphic red panda, it’s screaming death-metal at a karaoke bar.
Take Disney’s Zootopia, throw it into present-day Tokyo, and add a work culture setting. That is the initial setup of Aggretsuko. The protagonist, Retsuko is a 25-year-old female red panda who is single, a Scorpio, and has with type-A blood. She works long hours for a company in one of Tokyo’s towering office buildings. There is Fenneko, the insightful fennec fox, Hiada, the silly but composed male best friend, and then Ton, her chauvinistic, unfriendly boss. After five years working at the same company, Rettsuko finds herself incredibly distressed.
Her insincere bosses continuously single her out and pile on work, and the smallest of grievances absolutely annoy her. her other co-workers include those that are blindly loyal to Mr. Ton, his iron-fisted komodo dragon secretary, a Hippo who spreads gossip, and a cute-looking deer that kisses up to the boss by reporting everything that happens in the office. Each day, she passed by Washimi, a female eagle, and Gori, a female Gorilla, both of whom work higher up in the company. Restuko envies them as they strut their stuff with unyielding confidence. Life is intolerable for Restuko, but with the microphone, she keeps in her purse she escapes every night to an unknown karaoke bar. Here, she screams all her anger into amusing death metal lyrics that highlight her struggles from the day. Restuko clearly embraces her jaded, wild side, with her appearance changing from cute to unhinged.
Aggretsuko touches on important topics in a fun and comedic way. Workplace bullying, gender-based harassment, misogyny, dating, insecurity, bro-culture, over-focusing, acceptance, responsibility, and even personal fears. It is astounding how they were able to make these serious subjects work so well in an in Aggretsuko the deceptively appears to be made for small children. Weaving these themes into a world with anthropomorphic creatures bears the same story-telling weight as the praised Zootopia. In using different creatures and forming physical representations of personalities, Aggretsuko is able to decipher and translate story elements and themes to the viewer. Plus, you can tell that the voice actors had fun with their roles every line is delivered with dynamic enthusiasm.
One of the themes that really resonated with me the theme of being responsible to a fault – as well as the cracks that form after setting high expectations of yourself. Now of course, I’m a 29-year-old single man, Virgo, with type-O blood and I cannot possibly relate to a woman and what her experience is on a daily basis. No, I don’t carry a mic everywhere – but I do carry a PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS. But when it comes to Aggretsuko, I can admit that I am someone that doesn’t walk out of a store without buying something and I am a fish on the hook when it comes to rewards programs – traits highlighted in one of the episodes.
As a young man coming out of college, I couldn’t help but relate to Aggretsuko on several levels. Shortly after graduation from Stockton University, I was on the job hunt. After 7 years, three unpaid internships, and a wide range of volunteering and writing, I received an Associate’s degree in graphic design from Brookdale Community College, and a Graphic Design BFA with a digital literacy minor in 2015. After two unfair rejections, my first job was a weekend docent at a children’s museum. The staff was friendly and I felt I was making a great difference, teaching kids the wonders of astronomy and communicating. They even let me handle the social media. It was a good role for two years. However, the job had extreme difficulties and upon realizing the direction the museum was taking, tough choices had to be made.
Feces and throw-ups were just some of the fluids I had to clean. Kids were rampant with irresponsible parents, very often destroying the donation library, kids art studio, and nearly destroying thousands of dollars worth of actual art in the gallery. In fact, the parents were even worse, treating docents like they were inferiors. The friendly leadership was ignorant to improvements and never attended weekends. We were understaffed and under-resourced. It was a tiring affair, but once they randomly removed me from social media in favor of two unpaid interns, I was done with the museum for the most part. I can safely say that I got through all of this, thanks to writing for military charity Stack Up Dot Org, and my enthusiasm for video games.
In a sense, the video games were my death metal. I played everything from small indies to AAA titles. And while there are games that I have unforgivably haven’t started yet, the feeling of playing something different and new every week was fantastic. Especially when you could connect to the people behind them. I’d go home and play on my PlayStation 4, and I would always bring my hybrid of PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS with me everywhere. I’d play during lunch or whenever it was quiet. I’d sneak in a level or two in some corners when we weren’t busy.
Games like Fire Emblem: Echoes, StarFox 64, Volume, Hitman Go, Frozen Synapse Prime, Axiom Verge, and many others were just some of the games I played. Friday nights were the best, no one would arrive to the museum for around four hours, leaving me and two other people to pass the time. I would write, play games, and get an episode of Game Of Thrones in. I had a good flow, but as time went on, I knew that changes had to be made. Gaming would be as important as ever.
By the end of 2016, things were incredibly demoralizing. I had applied to other jobs and nothing materialized. The museum removed me from being a part of social media. I was forced to take a second job as a lifeguard, which proved to be one of the greatest pains I had ever felt, but also, one of the best things that could have happened.
Much like Retsuko, I had my heart and dreams dead-set on making it in radio, graphic design, or writing. But, plans would fall through, opportunities would be denied, and some people would simply not even reply to you. I took the job as a lifeguard to work during the week. I was promised the potential opportunity to work full time or maybe find an opportunity int he multimedia department. As it turns out, the lifeguard role wasn’t very good either. Shortly after being hired, the manager disappeared. With no leadership, the lifeguard became another loathsome position, and for a time, I was working two Part-time jobs between the museum and the life guarding. But, that was the very beginning.
Incompetent guards, 3am openers, racist, entitled swimmers, no leadership, no bathroom breaks, a psychopathic fill-in manager, and the fact that some genius constructed the lifeguard stand next to the 104 degree hot tub made the job loathsome. I survived through the summer, with cons and games and friends, but when the Fall began, I was borderline broken. Like being targeted in Retsuko’s workplace, I was targeted for working every opening shift Monday through Friday. This meant getting up at 3am to work at 5am, with hardly any sleep and not even a pay increase, and a complete sacrifice to my daily life. I was breaking my back for nothing and I could feel myself falling into despair. Some of these cracks were already forming. I had the luxury of going to these conventions, which felt like small slices of heaven and truthfully, where I feel where I am truly myself. But in between, I was swarmed with the intolerable attributes of both these jobs. And the longer it went on, the longer I could feel myself mentally sinking.
I felt rage and crushing disappointment. Seven years of school, all the internships, hard work, and volunteering boiled to this immense failure in my life. Friends of mine are getting married and moving onto careers, and here I was, a 29 year-old with an extinct dating life being barked at and scrubbing dirt off of pool tiles. All of these goals and ambitions that I had, had never materialized. My attitude and behavior changed. I felt embarrassed to even be a part of my friends or family. Then, one day I broke. After a dispute one evening with my family, I drove to a parking lot and cried my guts out. I absolutely hated my life at that point. I felt like I had really screwed up somewhere and there was no way out. But something miraculous happened.
As I accepted this failing, I realized that I could really take charge of my life, and change something that was there. I owed nothing to these jobs. I could leave and pursue my passsions. I could do what made me happy. Sure, it would take awhile to find another job, but I could be free to find what makes me happy. I shouldn’t have to make myself miserable to be happy, or make money. I should be happy doing what I am doing. Fortunately, I called some friends and managed to climb back up from the bottom. I wouldn’t have done without them, much like how Retsuko took charge after meeting Washi and Gori. From that point on, I picked up the pieces I retook the reigns in my life.
I resigned from the museum and kept plugging into Indeed. After two months of searching and four job interviews, I landed a much better job as a tech support agent. Most importantly, I accepted the notion that life never happens as you plan, but the best person is to be is the one you choose to become. The identity that rings in your heart. This identity for me was being a gamer. Now, my goal is to make it into the gaming industry somehow. I cannot program and I never went to design school but I can write. Whether it’s writing game news or a script for a video game, I realized at my lowest point that this is the industry I want to join.
It’s always fascinating how a show about cartoon characters can tap into something very human, especially when it’s something that comes from the same company that made Hello Kitty. Aggretsuko demonstrates once again how anime is an art form, that utilizes its vivid imagination to tell profound stories.
As for me, It has given me a sense of togetherness. It’s let me know what I want though isn’t exclusive and that this happens to a lot of people. But it also reaffirmed that having a little rage mingle with being at peace isn’t something bad. it reminds you that you have to get mad to pursue what you want, but also to find the life that you seek. Friends can come in from unexpected places, and if you have that, pursuing the life you want may not be such a difficult pursuit. Thanks Aggretsuko.