This Week in Anime
Aggretsuko's Second Season is Less Fiery than the First

by Michelle Liu & Andy Pfeiffer,

Aggretsuko returns to Netflix with more workplace madness, misbegotten romance, and millennial ennui, but this second season takes on a more gloomy tone than the first. This week, Micchy and Andy discuss the parts of Retsuko's journey they liked and the moments that rubbed them the wrong way.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Micchy
Hey Andy, I dunno about you, but being a young adult in today's day and age can get pretty grating. Crappy coworkers, lousy bosses, helicopter parents, you name it. In the face of all that, do you ever just wanna like
Andy
Oh boy do I! The problem is cleaning up after all the fire damage, so the most I ever actually do is
I'm glad we're both on the same page as Retsuko, everyone's favorite metal-screaming millennial red panda! While I don't think the second season was quite as sharp as the first, Aggretsuko is back!
Netflix has finally released season 2 from their special anime jail and oh boy...
While season one was more directly steeped in Retsuko's relationship with her job, season two is a bit less focused. Her relationship with karaoke as a rage outlet is actually gone for most of the season, since Retsuko figured out how to balance her work life in a more healthy way by the end of the first season.
Yeah, that's probably the most striking difference between these two seasons. Early on, Aggretsuko's gimmick was the disconnect between Retsuko's goody two-shoes days and metal karaoke nights. In comparison, season 2 sees her venting her frustrations in far more subdued ways, rarely channeling the "aggressive" part of the title.
Passivetsuko just doesn't have that same kick.
Ironically, the more comfortable Retsuko gets with her life, the less she lives up to the punk attitude that made her so distinctive in the first place. That's the weakest aspect of this season for me. The first season felt so liberating because Retsuko was unrelentingly angry about power harassment and obnoxious social mores. But season 2 Retsuko gradually resigns herself to being an average office lady, which kinda sucks.
Retsuko's overbearing mother is actually the first person to drive Retsuko to escape to karaoke in the middle of the night. But comparing that habit to a childish escape after we've learned to appreciate it as a comforting part of how Retsuko releases stress kinda felt unfair.

Storming out of your apartment in the middle of the night isn't how a "proper" adult should act, but Aggretsuko used to be about how being a proper adult blows and how traditional work hierarchies are breeding grounds for abuse. So framing Retsuko's anger as childish rebellion is pretty weird, and overall this season feels more conservative than the first in ways that I didn't like.
Both seasons are largely about Retsuko trying to be comfortable with her average life in a system that doesn't value her, even though she values her place in it. Season 1 was more focused on pressures from above in the corporate system, and the difficulties of balancing your own needs and relationships while being a working adult. Season 2 expands the corporate plot to difficulties with underlings and then spends more time fleshing out the romance stuff.
At least the series retains its strong
NO POTATOES stance.
The first half of the season focuses on Retsuko's relationship with a new hire, Anai. Now, it could be interesting to tackle how Retsuko handles her new position of power over him while still resisting the cycle of workplace abuse that Ton suggests she's bound to perpetuate. Initially, she tries to be as helpful as possible, but unfortunately, Anai is a hyper-sensitive millennial strawman who screams "power harassment" at every opportunity.
It's strange how he makes some reasonable assertions (he should not be required to do work he's not paid for), but he somehow gets portrayed as this huge pill who goes off at the slightest offense.
It seems dismissive to treat his reactions as general millennial entitlement and not the kind of selfishness that plagues men his age specifically, but also because unlike Retsuko's heavy metal side, Anai's creepy Ren and Stimpy faces wouldn't be relatable to millennial viewers of any gender.
Putting forth a nice face while aggressively texting in over-the-top exacting speech is exactly the kind of stuff you see from all kinds of terrible guys, and while treating it as a child acting out isn't exactly wrong, I think it also dismisses a lot of Retsuko's justified fear of the guy.
Crappy underlings do exist, but it seems irresponsible to designate the youngest character as the kvetcher, villainizing him because he's the only one to rock the boat, especially when Retsuko's big arc in the first season involved learning to stand up for herself. And you're right, Anai's neuroses are more distinctive of sheltered men who can't stand being told that they're wrong about anything, but he's framed as this annoying underling whose complaints are always unjustified, which veers uncomfortably close to the implication that all young worker complaints are just that.
There's definitely a tone of "you should want to help your co-workers" that comes through, but I respect that more on the level of "corporate hates you all, so do what you can to make each others lives easier". Anai's turn on Haida feels like a deliberate choice to emphasize that he's not attacking Retsuko just because she's a woman in a position of power above him, but as far as I'm concerned, the fact that Anai starts his crusade with Retsuko and is only pacified by a literal mother figure still says more than enough. That actually encapsulates a lot of season 2's storytelling problems. They start out trying to say one thing, but may end up saying something else entirely.Conditions that are "bad for everyone" are usually even worse for those already dealing with more problems because of marginalization, and the past season did more than enough to explore how everyday sexism affects its characters.
I think the thing that rubs me the wrong way about Anai's arc is how it's resolved when Kabae steps in to help him. It's cool that Aggretsuko has endless empathy for even the kid who lashes out at his superiors out of fear of adulthood, but it never really addresses how distinctly sexist it is that the mom character has to baby Anai for him to stop being an ass.
The whole subplot ends up with him being praised for his hidden talents, and then his earlier actions are completely dropped. "Just validate him and he'll stop being a creep!" isn't the message I expected or wanted. I get that part of Retsuko's deal is learning to live with the fact that people like Ton and Anai will never face serious consequences, but it feels bad to watch.
That said, I mostly wish Anai wasn't such a creep so I could enjoy the silly house music segment
while he cooks.
This show's so adept at depicting everyday sexism at work, but it doesn't often follow through on the issues it raises, which is kind of a bummer.
Anai's arc comes off like seeing a cute clip of a Twitch streamer you already know had a heated gaming moment. On the sadder side of realism, I think Aggretsuko prefers to take the stance that the ability to fight through unfairness is a sort of strength, which gives me all kinds of sad vibes for Japanese businesswomen. Retsuko was created specifically for that demographic, so it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the resolutions to her struggles are blunted because the series doesn't want to depict unrealistic ends.
And if that's the case...
Maybe you're right. Guys like Anai rarely get punished for their behavior, so I suppose it might be too optimistic to expect him to get comeuppance for his entitlement. That said, it would've been nice if somebody actually chewed him out. At the very least, don't wrap up his arc with "and then after one (1) breakthrough, he was chill with everyone!" because that's not how it works.
I was especially disappointed that Gori or Washimi didn't find a way to step in like they did in season 1 against Ton, but the fact that Ton got humanized and still continues to be a shitty boss is probably the more relevant takeaway.
And even though it sucked that she was used to give Anai an easy resolution, I did appreciate more development for the office blabbermouth! Kabae is a gossip, but she's also a good mom who works hard and married a husband who loves her for who she is.
Speaking of husbands and marriage, how about Retsuko's love life?
Ah yes, the other major theme of the season.
Good news: Retsuko's graduated from potato men! Bad news: she still doesn't have very good taste.
It doesn't help when your mom is setting up arranged marriages with her Reigen Arataka skills.
I think it's supposed to be a positive that Retsuko finds a man on her own, even though the person she picks appears to be a literal hobo that bums around the driver's ed school.
I'm not sure the truth that he's a billionaire techbro is much of an improvement.
He's endlessly portrayed as not caring about his wealth and status while also constantly flaunting it. Imagine going out for ramen and ending up in this:
I have mixed feelings on how the show handles Tadano. On one hand, he's got some interesting ideas about an automated society where people aren't defined by their productivity. On the other hand, he's a filthy rich techbro who drags Retsuko into his lifestyle on a whim. Like, I got strong Gone Girl vibes when he gets Retsuko to basically live in his limo.
I'm all for a society where we use technology to lift the burden off humans and use the revenue generated to provide for them. However, all we see him do is make a super-algorithm and sell it to corporations that will totally use it in a predatory manner. It also doesn't help that Tadano's belief that his AI can replace human effort isn't reflected by reality.
Sure, his driver seems perfectly happy to get paid to play his Vita...
...but he's still needed to figure out messy human problems like the traffic jam they find themselves in, because like Tadano, the AI can't always understand what's directly in front of it.

This all ties back to Tadano's own problems; he can't even pass the simple written portion of a driver's test, because he refuses to consider the actions of other people who share the road.
Tadano is too divorced from the realities of being average to truly understand what Retsuko is going through, but I'm a little iffy on how the show addresses this. I'm not sure I'm down with how strongly Aggretsuko draws a line between forward-thinking geniuses like Tadano and average joes like Retsuko. Just because Tadano lives on another plane of existence doesn't mean that Retsuko has to fully embrace a traditional life. This comes up when Retsuko and Tadano broach the subject of marriage. Tadano fully eschews the institution as pointless bullshit, rejecting the traditional narrative of getting married and having kids. Retsuko, on the other hand, does want that for herself because that's just what normal people do. While it's cool that she takes a firm stance on what she wants out of life, regardless of what her boyfriend might think, I'm not a fan of how "normal" matches up to "traditional" in this case. Fighting for your own happiness, no matter how small, might be a form of rebellion in a society that crushes you into a specific box, but it's a little weird to me that Aggressive Retsuko is so content to be part of the system. After all, she initially wanted to get married to get out of her crappy job.
I actually love the ending of this arc, but that's partially because I'm not reading Retsuko as a symbol of traditional values. We see her get swept up into Tadano's thinking because she places her own thoughts as secondary to his status, culminating in a decidedly not-Retsuko musical number. It's a straight-up traditional Disney ballad!

It's also the beginning of the end of her relationship. Retsuko's not actually being herself around Tadano, no matter how many times he tells her she's free to express that true self. To Tadano, Retsuko's choices should naturally coincide with his own. His ego doesn't allow for the possibility that she wants something else, and deep down she knows that he doesn't understand her. When he casually throws out that marriage and family are outdated concepts with no value, we know this isn't exactly true, because their absence from his life is important enough to leave Retsuko over them. If those things were really as meaningless to him as he says, then he should have no problem putting his ego aside to give them to the person he loves, but that's a compromise he isn't willing to make.
Retsuko isn't saying she wants to get married because of societal demands. She's saying that even in a society where these things don't matter, they would still be something she wants. She wants to get married to Tadano, and that's something he just won't do.

You know, I can see that. I do respect how Retsuko initiates a breakup because this relationship isn't giving her what she wants out of life. I'm just personally suspicious of anything framing marriage as "normal", so I'm probably being unfair.
There's totally a theme of balancing traditional desires with the demands of modern society in the show, and which side gets more weight at any moment can be questionable. That said, I do love the extremely heavy-handed way Retsuko takes control of the car and her relationship for the first time.

No more curling up in the backseat, baby, Retsuko's behind the wheel of her own life!
She may not know where she's going, but she's on her way. In the end, that's the biggest message I took away from the show. Find what you want out of life and work toward it as best you can while staying true to yourself. It's basic, but the show understands we're all basic on some level. You can't nail an image like this without understanding the struggle behind it.
I can get behind that. I may not love every decision Aggretsuko makes in its second season, but the general sentiment is a good one. And besides, where else can you find a secretary bird fancily sipping wine?

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