Reviewby James Beckett,
Aggretsuko Season 3 Streaming
Another year has brought us another chapter in the wonderfully (and painfully) relatable life of Aggretsuko, and in this season, everyone's favorite millennial Red Panda finds herself struggling with two crises that any twenty-something person living in these here capitalist wastelands can empathize with: A broken heart and a busted bank account. After a post-breakup dating sim obsession leaves Retsuko's wallet smarting from all of those pesky micro-transactions, a terribly times fender bender has her reeling on the brink of destitution. The leopard who owns the van that Retsuko hits is named Hyodo, who just so happens to be a hot-tempered manager of an underground idol group. When he offers her a part-time gig as their accountant/gofer, Retsuko has no idea all of the strange turns her life is about to take, and all the while her friends and co-workers find themselves caught up in the web of surprisingly spicy drama that is beginning unfold all around her.
I loved Aggretsuko's surprisingly heartfelt and sometimes depressingly relevant first season when it premiered on Netflix back in the long ago age of 2018, and while I liked Season 2 quite a bit, it often felt like Retsuko's story was being stretched in too many directions all at once. Her quest for love and desire to become an independent young woman still rang very true for me and viewers all over, but the squabbling and uncertain character arcs given to the likes of Washimi, Gori, and Haida didn't much go anywhere, and Retsuko's relationship with the preposterously rich Tadano felt maybe a teensy bit out of touch compared to the grounded happenings of Season 1. In my opinion, Aggretsuko is at its best when it's more fantastical, cartoonish trappings are couched in Retsuko's experiences as a woman who is just trying to get by, and in how she comes to depend on the friends and loved ones she meets along the way.
At first, I was unsure about the direction Season 3 was headed in, because while the opening episodes' focus on Retsuko's addiction to a comically expensive VR dating sim was just rooted in reality enough for me to find it charming, I was nowhere near as sold on Retsuko literally stumbling into the world of idol music and low-level internet fame as a “Death Voice” coach. This, to me, smacked of the same wish-fulfillment vibes that I got from Retsuko's fling with Tadano in Season 2, and both ideas are rife with comedic and satirical potential, but they also strip away those precious layers of relatable experiences that made me fall in love with the cast and characters in the first place. Plus, the first half of Season 3 has almost no death metal karaoke at all, and that's one of the highlights of the whole Aggretsuko experience! That said, when the metal does come back into play, and it comes back in full force, the season ends up going in some surprisingly and satisfying directions.
In time, though, I came to really appreciate what the show tries to do, even though I think it still fumbles the ball in key areas. Its story and overall tone are much more well put together this time around, for one thing, and the side characters' plots are much more clearly connected to the fabric of the whole season. Gori has a side gig developing a dating app that becomes surprisingly useful late in the season, and Haida has a pretty good season long arc involving a new romantic interest named Inui that gets predictably complicated by the torch he's been holding for Retsuko all of these years. The new characters introduced by Retsuko's arrival in the amateur idol business are excellent additions to the series, too, especially Hyodo and the bristly Manaka. The only downside to the increased focus on the supporting cast's more meaningful roles in the story is that there's a lot less of them overall. Basically every other member of the extended cast get little more than cameos this season, and some favorites, like Puko, don't even show up at all.
It's a natural byproduct of Aggretsuko learning how to widen its ambitions while narrowing its focus, but the result is a season that somehow feels small, despite going in so many new directions. This is also possibly because a lot of the growth that the characters experience gets really compressed or unevenly stretched out, depending on the show's whims. The biggest example of this is how Haida's blossoming relationship with Inui is barely given the chance to gesture in the direction of a love triangle over ten episodes before a very sudden and abrupt dramatic turn in the finale forces a lot of change in both he and Retsuko's lives very quickly. It's both one of the most overtly dramatic moves Aggretsuko has ever made, and also an event that ends up feeling kind of brushed off by the end of the season. The audience still isn't allowed to know quite where either Haida or Retsuko are at in terms of their lives' directions, or their feelings for each other. It's a bold move, and one that might end up paying off for real if and when we get a Season 4. For now, I can't help but wish the show was given just a few more episodes to let its story breathe properly.
One area where the show is making unqualified improvements is in the dub, which has become even more confident in its localization choices, which I am fully embracing by this point. Sub purists will no doubt get frustrated with how a good many of the dubbed scenes will have characters saying literally the opposite of what the translated subtitles read, and yet I'm just impressed with how they consistently manage to communicate the meaning and feelings of the scene just right. This is probably the most (and best) work that Ben Diskin has ever gotten to do as Haida, and SungWon Cho's performance as Hyodo alternates between being perfectly deadpan and hilariously over-the-top, proving that his status as a comic internet personality should by no means overshadow is considerable talent as a voice actor.
So if you were wondering if there was still gold to be mined from the Aggretsuko concept in its third year running as a Netflix staple: Yes, absolutely. Whatever issues I might have with the show's pacing or inconsistent focus are small potatoes into how utterly delightful and comforting it can be. Here's a series that is out to tell even the most bitter and cynical young survivors of these nightmarish modern days that, so long as you find passion in your life and the friends who can help see you through the rougher times, everything will be okay in the end. We need that sense of spiteful optimism now more than ever, so please, bust out those karaoke microphones, warm up your vocal chords, and get ready to let out some hellacious death screams for all of the Retsukos out there who need to hear them.
Overall : B+
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Takes Retsuko's story in surprising and satisfying directions, gives side characters a lot of great material, ends up incorporating metal soundtrack in delightful new ways
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