Reviewby James Beckett,
Episodes 1-10 streaming
Apart from being a red panda in a world populated by anthropomorphic animals, Retsuko's life isn't all that different from your average Japanese "office lady". She struggles to stay motivated at her mind-numbing accounting job, she and her friends deal with all sorts of oddball coworkers, and her boss is literally a chauvinist pig that doles out power abuse and sexist insults daily. But unlike her peers, the normally meek and mild Retsuko has a secret method of venting her frustrations to get through the daily grind: screaming along to killer death metal. Retsuko's motto may be “Metal til I die!”, but she still has to figure out how to survive balancing her secret hobby, her love life, and even trying new experiences, all while navigating the hellish world of working 9-to-5.
I'm not normally one to go crazy over Sanrio characters, but from the moment the credits rolled on the first of Aggretsuko's ten 15-minute episodes, I knew I had found in Retsuko the ideal mascot for perpetually exhausted millennials like myself. Not only do I personally relate to the humor and pathos of this little Red Panda's struggles, but when you look past Aggretsuko's charming animation and delightful characters, there is a sharp and socially conscious edge to its story that makes it a perfect watch for anyone who feels beat down by The System in some way, especially if you can also indulge in some death metal screams and blast beats in the process.
The secret to Aggretsuko's success is its characters, and not just because they're unbearably cute. What makes this web series stand out from so many other workplace comedy anime is that it takes such care to humanize its cavalcade of cartoon animals, and the nuanced chemistry that so many of these characters share is too powerful to resist. Retsuko is such a sympathetic protagonist that it's almost painful sometimes. From her introduction where she must overcome the daunting task of waking up early enough to leave on time for a job she hates to her futile efforts to avoid That One Coworker Who Makes Every Conversation Awkwardly Personal, Retsuko's daily fight for dignity and a modicum of happiness is honest and affecting, not to mention frequently hilarious.
It helps that Aggretsuko's supporting cast is more than up to the task of matching Retsuko's energy. The protective yet mischievous Fennec fox, Fenneko, will be an easy candidate for fan favorite, and her contentious friendship with Retsuko is a constant source of excellent gags. Mr. Ton is the literal chauvinist pig who serves as the series' primary antagonist, and while he makes for an appropriately awful representation of the worst kind of boss, it's a testament to Aggretsuko's quality of storytelling that even its most unlikable character is afforded some unexpected dimension and humanity. The series excels by never excusing his awful behavior, but it does allow him occasional lapses into decency that make him more complex.
I should also talk about Aggretsuko's central gimmick, which is Retsuko's penchant for breaking out into death metal screaming when she needs a cathartic release. While a couple of these interludes felt forced, they still lend the show a dramatic musical flair that helps it stand out from the crowd. If anything, I didn't mind the repetition of the music so much as I did the tediousness of the accompanying visuals. While a couple of Retsuko's metal moments make some creative choices, most of them rely on the same recycled faces and body poses set to generic backgrounds, which was disappointing. Frankly, the show's simplistic Flash animation is its greatest weakness overall, since the show's compositions tend to verge on safe instead of taking advantage of the medium's stylistic possibilities.
As far as Netflix's English dub goes, it's pretty great provided you aren't looking for an especially faithful script. Its adaptive script leans heavily on swapping the original dialogue for something that might cater to more Western sensibilities, with many lines being changed completely to add an offhand gag or a more casual/flippant delivery. For example, one scene of Fenneko and Haida studying a coworker's yoga selfie is changed from “Don't you think the person in the background looks a lot like Retsuko?” to “And there, in the background? Retsuko booty.” This is just one of many examples of loose translation, and some viewers may understandably bristle at these changes depending on the context.
I'm much more forgiving of these changes myself, especially when the results are funny, and in this case nearly every English voice actor nails their respective roles. Erica Mendez perfectly captures Retsuko's timidity and endearing personality, Katelyn Gault is a pitch-perfect Fenneko, and Tara Platt and G.K. Bowes both work wonders as Washimi and Gori respectively. One of my favorite aspects of the English dub is Jamison Boaz's contributions to the musical interludes as Death-Metal Retsuko. The original Japanese versions of the songs are funny enough, but Boaz's vocal style plays more familiarly to my understanding of Western death-metal, so the humor landed more for me as a result. Of course, the English dub loses some of the quintessential Japanese flavor that feels vital to the series' subtext, especially when Aggretsuko goes to great lengths to address the specifics of life as a Japanese woman in the workforce. Still, there's something to be said for accessibility, and I think VSI Los Angeles's work on Aggretsuko's localization makes a worthy effort in that regard.
Aggretsuko is an excellent series that anyone who loves good comedy and great characters can enjoy, even if they're not necessarily an anime fan. This perpetually exhausted red panda is the perfect heroine for anyone who's had to deal with stupidity, stubbornness, and rampant sexism in their quest just to earn enough to keep a roof over their heads. Aggretsuko is remarkable in that it accomplishes in ten short episodes what many full-length shows never manage. It tells a story about quintessentially Japanese issues in a way that evokes universal emotions, and an achievement this rare is worth checking out.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : A-
+ Equal parts hilarious, adorable, and poignant, Retsuko is an all time great character, fun songs
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