Our favorite red panda is back with a brand new season packed to the brim with ennui, workplace burnout, and the idol world fraught with demanding fans and haters. How will Retsuko survive this time?
This series is currently streaming on Netflix!
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Hey, Steve! I've got one question for you! Are you prepared to rock 'n roll with some wild cute furry animals?
Oh boy am I ever! You know, it's been a rough year for all of us, and I think the one thing we could all use right now is some nice fluffy escapism. Sounds like a delight.
I know, it's been such a long time since we've seen a new season of the Sanrio
-based band Idols, Show By Rock!!
Hmm, wait, they seem a little different?
No that all seems to be in order. You got the hypercute character designs. The bubblegum pop of the color layout. The screaming red panda at center stage.
Oh wait a minute.
It's rage time isn't it?
Yep! Toss your glowsticks cuz the only cheering you're gonna be doing is some headbanging. It's the return of everyone's favorite adorable screaming adult lady
After last year's second season full of tech bro donkey woes, Aggretsuko
is back once more to give us this year's dose of Millennial ennui wrapped in a (mostly) adorable exterior. And friends, the rage is as raw and real as ever.
This season is about as cute as the feeling of punching yourself in the gut repeatedly can get. No joke, even talking about it might be a little much for some people because of how real it gets, so please proceed to the rest of the article with due caution and remember to rage responsibly.
Yeah, real talk, the end of this season's arc goes into some straight-up Perfect Blue
territory and deals with stalking and violent harassment. Whether you're planning on diving into this season, this column, or both, take care of yourself first and foremost. And boy does it feel wild to have to give a content warning for the show whose characters look like this:
Under it's cute veneer, Aggretsuko
is a show about reality of being an adult in a cruel and uncaring world. Which is why, like all of us, at the start of the season Aggretsuko
says "Fuck, Reality" and ends up deep-diving into the virtual variety.
I guess you could say that she's pretty horny for her new 2D love-interest. huh?
I'm just saying, this is a No Shame zone. We're all doing what we need to do to survive. However objectively sad it may be.
Also did you SEE how good he looks in a knit turtleneck? Absolutely worth the 1100 points.
I can't disagree that the subject isn't close to home. whistles nonchalantly as I glance over at the mogstation
But it's a different story when you start feeling the actual impact on your wallet.
It's definitely more a setup for the inciting incident than anything Aggretsuko
explores too deeply, but it's still nice to see the absurdity of spending money on flashy jpegs weighed against the nevertheless valid mindsets that set us up to fall for these predatory schemes. Please do gacha responsibly tho. You don't want to survive on breadcrusts alone.
It's not like it's irrelevant to the situation though. While the season starts out with Aggretsuko
on one side of a somewhat unhealthy parasocial-relationship in order to spice up her everyday life, it ends with her having seen the other side of it as well, so she really gets to experience the positives and negatives of all of it. Unfortunately, that also includes seeing all the positives and negatives of her bank account after she accidentally rear-ends somebody late at night in a diner parking lot, putting her deep in the red.
All those money troubles make up the other big thematic concern of the season: side hustles and the gig economy. Because it turns out, a skyrocketing cost of living and decades of static wages mean that my generation is, more often than not, one unforeseen incident away from collapsing into debt. And yes, sometimes that incident involves a scary bespectacled leopard.
A scary bespectacled leopard who happens to be voiced by a viral internet voice actor no less. Boy is it a little jarring to hear the internet man actually be really intimidating, and that's a high compliment. The shady cat, Hyodo, is actually a little more lenient, and ends up giving Aggretsuko
an opportunity to work off her debt through a second job.
Though not until after he demands that she gets in his wrecked mini-van. God, that is terrifying.
Still not as terrifying as what that second job turns out to be though.
Idols. It's always idols.
Yup! She ends up as the accounting manager for a small and little known idol group called OTM Girls. Though, most of her initial work is really being a gopher and rifling through conbini receipts.
It's hard work but somebody's gotta do it. Sure would be a shame, though, if her manager were to stumble upon her secret life as a amateur death metal singer and fixate on making her the band's new center in a bid to make a name for the otherwise struggling ensemble. But that would be absurdly unlu—
And thus, Retsuko's chance encounter with the idol lifestyle turns into her new occupation and, surprisingly, passion. That's more or less the main line that this season's narrative follows, with the previously aimless red panda finally focusing on something she actually enjoys for once. Tho of course, it's not that simple.
It really isn't, the industry is pretty tough being forced into the spotlight, and the band's former lead, Manaka, wasn't really too happy about it either.
It's one thing to want to express yourself but not everyone wants or needs their hobbies to be productive, but in order to even survive, sometimes we end up making a choice of making love into labor. But, I think there's a counter-argument too, that in some ways, this work is also feels more rewarding or "earned" than that of a simple white collar job. Using your unique passions and experiences to your advantage is sometimes a risky but worthy alternative. As dourful as her situation begins, Retsuko actually enjoys some of the extra effort and has a lot of fun trying to make the scrappy group turn a real profit.
It's definitely tricky! Like, ideally Retsuko and the rest of us would be able to support ourselves by following our passions, but the reality of it is that most of us can't. Yet, there is a satisfaction in being professionally acknowledged and compensated for something we both enjoy and devote a lot of effort to. I mean, heck, that's why I'm still writing for ANN instead of exclusively keeping my bad anime jokes on Twitter.
It's all rough, relatable stuff, and Aggretsuko
doesn't really propose an answer beyond "we all gotta compromise ourselves and ideals to some extent if we're gonna survive." It's not a satisfying answer, but I also don't expect a cartoon about a talking red panda to solve thousands of years of human society and inequity. And at the very least, the show knows how to wallow in despair while still being funny. Like Gori lounging in her cool new place while extolling the bone chilling size of her mortgage.
Gori, who is the epitome of a "do-er", also brings up that she's also totally the kind of person who thrives under such kind of pressure. But if only all of us could be so motivated and not like, totally and utterly crushed by it all.
We just all gotta find that unique magic spark that drives us, like laughing at other people drives Fenneko.
We haven't actually talked that much about the side characters this time, but even though the show is mostly about Retsuko, we do get to peek at how the rest of the cast balances their private and personal lives in order to achieve a semblance of happiness. Surprisingly, Anai is actually able to do both quite well!
And unsurprisingly, Haida is a complete and unmitigated disaster.
Haida is such a good loser, lmao. He's always really enjoyable and charming when he's on screen. It's no wonder he's a fan-favorite. Though, what happens when someone else is able to see that kind of side of him, I wonder?
Warning: this season introduces a cute dog coworker, and she is into new wave.
I expect much fanart of her. Get on it, folks!!
I'm sure there's more than enough out there already. I know how these things work. But that aside, she's a good addition, if only because she puts all the screws towards Haida's chronic wishy-washiness. Both painfully and hilariously so.
Honestly tho my favorite Haida moments from this season are the surprise bro bonding outings between him and Tadano.
And Gori too! Who would've thought this would lead to a great business opportunity for Gori. Seeing the supporting cast play off each other in their concern for their friend and give advice to each other is great stuff.
Oh yeah! Across the board, the sitcom and romcom elements develop satisfyingly, if a little bit safely. But for a show in its third season, it definitely doesn't feel like it's phoning anything in, and all these characters feel as vibrant as ever. Especially in the consistently excellent and punched-up English dub.
Not to mention it completely understands both the visceral and emotional pain of trying to teach yourself guitar.
I got some deep senior year of highschool flashback from these images.
Tell me about it. F's in chat, fellas.
THE F CHORD REALLY DO BE LIKE THIS
Music is serious business.
But I do think there's a parallel between both Haida and Retsuko's stories in how they take and receive the advice they're given. When you're an adult you'd think some of the answers to these situations would be a no-brainer but as humans (or animals??) we are full of these things called our feelings which makes the kind of decisions like being able to choose what is practical vs the roads less traveled and trying to speak in general terms can only get you so far when the answer can only be decided by the individual.
Yeah ultimately there are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers. And even the act of a decision doesn't guarantee that everything will follow smoothly from that decision. Haida waffles perpetually between Retsuko and Inui throughout the season, whereas Retsuko does settle on being a death metal idol. And it works out for her! At first.
But not everything is sunshine and roses, while she enjoys the glamour of it for a short time, not everyone is happy with the change she brings to the group.
Even after photos of her address and her work start circulating online she simply continues to ignore any advice and attempts to be optimistic about it.
This is the aforementioned "heavy stuff" that goes down in the final episodes of this season, and it really does get upsetting. I appreciated, though, that Manaka at least understood the gravity of the situation and wasted no time going to bat for Retsuko. Literally.
She might be rude but that's one bunny you want on your side for sure.
I think she's supposed to be a chinchilla, actually.
Whatever she is, she did nothing wrong.
The fact that Manaka and Hyodo go from purely intimidating to doing everything in their power to protect our girl Retsy shows how good the series is at giving you the multifaceted aspects of people. Even so, Retsuko doesn't really take it all that seriously even when her very life is in danger. I think it draws back from what I said earlier about her not wanting to be a burden or being afraid of what people might think of her if she let herself rely on them. She doesn't say anything even when she's starving, she doesn't tell anyone about the situation she's in, and she makes excuses even when the threat looms over her.
Of all people, Manaka actually hits the nail on the head earlier in the season with this line.
Our girl gets in a place where she absolutely can't even take care of herself anymore. All seems pretty hopeless for her that she ends up totally turtling into her shell. Sometimes you just need someone to reach all the way in to the deepest part of yourself and pull you out.
I think both of their criticisms of each other are spot-on but also result of trying to get Retsuko to wrestle with her own insecurities. The world fucking sucks but it doesn't help to do nothing but ball up and cry about it by yourself. Other people do love and want to support you and knowing that makes life a lot more livable, and with that she's able to regain some stability in her life.
Which is good because for 10 fifteen minute episodes, this season sure covers a lot Aggretsuko
's lowest lows and highest highs, the return to normal feels like a sweet-relief.
Don't forget to include the periodic reminder to SCREW CAPITALISM!!
Oh no worries, I already scream that internally every day.
Life is rough. Debts are tough. Being an adult sucks. But I think like Aggretsuko
tells us, we'll all figure out a way to get through it, screaming together.
And that's the kind of energy I wanna bring to the rest of 2020!