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This Week in Anime
Aggretsuko Remains a Perfect Workplace Comedy

by Steve Jones & Monique Thomas,

Now in its fourth season (and a fifth officially announced), Aggretsuko shows it still has what it takes to bring side-splitting comedy with the hazards of a modern office workplace.

This series is streaming on Netflix

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 @mouse_inhouse @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Steve
The holidays are just around the corner, Nicky! So before we begin, let's throw the readers a treat and show them some rare behind-the-scenes footage of how we record an average “This Week in Anime” column. Behold:

Note that we will neither confirm nor deny which one of us is an anthropomorphic red panda.
Nicky
Pretty sure it looks more like this, but I wouldn't want to crush our readers' fantasies.
Look the important part is that, either way, we're both dead-inside cogs of the workforce being slowly worn down to tiny nubs by the large and beefy arms of capitalism. Speaking of which, have you heard there's a new season of Aggretsuko out?
You bet! Nothing melts all my pre-holiday stress more than some time with my favorite cartoon gal from accounting.
Yeah it's kinda nice this has become something of an annual event, when we can all commiserate around a cute death-metal-spitting Sanrio mascot. And somehow we are now four entire seasons into the adventures of Retsuko and friends!

Don't worry, they're all still disasters.
It's like getting a little treat, just getting a little bonus on top of garbage year 2021. Anime seasons will come and go but I'm glad to have a few shows that are constants in my life. These characters are almost family to me now. Though, I will admit returning to a drama about office life is pretty strange after almost two years of people not really being able to enter any offices. I'll suspend my disbelief just to be able to see these dorks again.
Well that's why Aggretsuko is here to remind us of all the great amenities of a communal office that everyone loves!

Seriously how do they manage to do this every single year in my building?
Pandemic aside, returning to the workplace feels like a good return to form for both Aggretsuko the show and the character. The past two seasons of her life have been a crazy ride with ups and downs where she didn't really have a sense of true normalcy. She even left the workplace several times so she could deal with some of that. A return to the status quo actually feels refreshing by comparison. Especially since we get to revisit some of the other characters that we weren't able to spend so much time with before.

Though, not to say that Retsuko is totally the same as she was in season 1. She's definitely picked up a lot of tools in order to better handle herself through the breadth of her experiences.
Literal, very dangerous tools.
Being stalked and doxed out of her last place wasn't fun but now, having moved to a new apartment and picked up some practical life skills, aka the ability to kick the shit out of anyone who tries to hurt her, she's ready to take on the world again. And also, maybe crush Haida under the weight of her sheer power in the process.
Haida definitely requires several kind of physical and figurative kickings. One of this season's main plotlines deals with his perpetually fraught attempts to woo Retsuko. After about 30 episodes of a will-they-won't-they impasse, even their friends are getting fed up with them.

Fenneko has absolutely killed a man before and she will do what needs to be done if Haida keeps waffling around.
I was a bit shocked they didn't just start dating right away after the confident ending to S3! But I'm also not surprised to see a man with such low self-esteem immediately go back on his bluff once he tries to comprehend what it means to become truly intimate with somebody. He starts by walking her home, but every time he comes to the threshold (literally a doorway), he just immediately chickens out and goes home. Talk about cold feet!


It's super frustrating to see him like this, and it's common for sitcoms to kinda waffle on making any big romantic decisions, but I couldn't say I was mad at the show for deciding to stew on those feelings a little more. Also, Fenneko and Tsunoda and all the other friends are there to just directly call out how stupid this is.
I also can't say I really mind Aggretsuko evolving to fit into a familiar, if furry, office sitcom format. But Retsuko and Haida's romance (or attempts at it) is the lamest part of the show for me, and I'd rather it focus on almost anything else instead. Fenneko and Tsunoda may be the saving grace, but even their contributions only go so far. The best character yelling at him ultimately doesn't amount to much when the series remains so stalwartly invested in making him Retsuko's beau.

I will admit he looks good with glasses tho.
I was more interested in how this season dealt with our little Retsuko's own feelings, something she hadn't explored much herself. We've explored a lot of Haida's emotions. I'm also glad that once she figures that out, it resolves (relatively) quickly, but it wouldn't if everyone else wasn't there to help her through it. Which again, makes it different from the other seasons where she sometimes felt like she was flying solo with her problems.
With friends like these...
Also, Manaka. I love Manaka.
Manaka is there because we all need someone who can and will immediately roll their eyes at our ridiculous drama.
She also gives some pretty good straight-up advice like how two obedient-types shouldn't really go together and will only lead to trouble. And that's surprisingly a theme?

Oh man, as a Retsuko-type myself, this speech hit me right in my solar plexus.
One of them needs to learn how to, how you say, "pick up the slack" for the other one from time to time. It doesn't always need to be the same person, but a relationship where both parties waffle all the time isn't gonna work. Last season, Haida did that for Retsuko which is why she fell for him. Now that Haida is back to his usual self, it might seem like all hope is lost. However, having spent several seasons with her, this reading of Retsuko isn't totally accurate. Retsuko may be anxious, but she's not actually a wuss. Even some of her friends mistake her kind and anxious personality for weakness. While to me, it seems more like a tendency when people are trained to feel helpless. I'm not just emphasizing this for the sake of her and Haida's romance though, whether someone is obedient and defiant is a crucial point in the actual story of this season. And again, once she does give him a kick in the pants, Haida gains some confidence back and it's smooth sailing, right?

Ha ha, Right?!
Not if one very debonair doggo has anything to say about it. The other (and imo more interesting) half of this season deals with the company's new CEO Himuro, who is young, ready to shake things up, and maybe down to commit a white collar crime or two.
So meanwhile, while all that was happening, the president of the company took a bad fall and elected a new up-and-coming handsome executive, Himuro, to take his place, much to the dismay of the older more yes-man type directors. The company is not in a good place. They didn't do well that fiscal year, so none of the employees in the tax department got their bonuses. The old president kept risking the company with all his dream projects and poor management, and nobody but Washimi was willing to tell him no. Himuro plans on fixing things the hard way, which includes cutting people.

So this is interesting because Aggretsuko hasn't exactly painted an idyllic portrait of its upper management up to this point. I mean, the crux of the first season was all about Ton harassing Retsuko! But now the conflict has shifted to the company's old guard standing their ground against a ruthless outsider who prioritizes profit over everything else. That's a neat, complicated direction for the series to take.
Part of what made Season 1 so good was that it made Ton a very complex character beyond being just a shitty boss. He clearly has some respectable qualities even if he is rude, demanding, and stubbornly old-fashioned. His mentalities hurt the company and his subordinates just as much as those musty old men on the board who don't do anything to push for radical change, but one thing he has over them is that he isn't afraid to be honest towards this new Big Man and he actually has a lot of faith in the people he works with, despite their flaws.


This stuff hit me in a very personal place as well. My mom has been accountant my whole life! And he's right that accounting really is the "pit crew" of any operating business, trying to cut there first is a foolish endeavor.
I mean I've worked in quality control too, and that gets the exact same attitude thrown at it. There's a lot to a business that might not directly contribute profit, but is paramount to ensuring that the business can function and doesn't end up killing people with its products. Note too that Himuro never brings up cutting any of the executives' salaries to save costs! I wonder what percentage they make up, hmmmmm.
Including his own salary.
This is also one example of Aggretsuko always stopping short of being as barbed as I would have liked. Like, "we're family" is kind of a notorious platitude touted by a lot of modern companies seeking to squeeze as much work out of its employees as possible. It just slides by uncommented on here. It might work in the scene, and in the context of their past bubble-era lavishness, but it hurts Aggretsuko's attempts to encapsulate the peculiarities of the "millennial experience."

I do love that Anai starts seething about their lack of organized labor tho. He's the first to identify that laying off the older employees affects everyone, and that they need to be a united front against management treating workers as expendable, replaceable parts. The kid is alright.

It worked for me because Ton was specifically talking about having survived the bubble-popping but you're right that workplaces will use your emotional connections as a means of getting more work out of you and prioritizing the companies survival over your own life and sanity. Also yeah, I was super shocked to see Anai be pretty in the right here. Whereas Haida tries to take a more "rational" but callous attitude about the whole thing. Part of that involves that Himuro isn't trying to fire people but rather wear them down until they "resign" so the company can scooch around the law. First by moving Ton to a new empty position via blackmail, and then by pressuring Kabae after she takes time to take care of her youngest kid. While he says it's for the company, it's really a strategy of trying to hammer all your nails in order to secure power for yourself, the man at the top.
Here I was expecting this to be the season where Kabae got really into QAnon, but instead she turns out to be a good mom and secret agent. I'll accept my L there.

Also I know Ton's situation is deeply tragic, but man, getting paid a managerial salary to do whatever I want in an empty unperturbed office for 40 hours a week sounds like my dream. I would make this work. I would get so much more writing done. If anyone is hiring for a Career Design Experience director, let me know.
I would also love to be paid to do absolutely nothing but my own tasks even if it meant moving to a shitty storage unit of an office in the middle of a hot construction zone. But I also can't fault him for feeling lost after he got pressured like that and having to stop doing the thing you felt you were good at after 30 years. What's more shocking and depressing is when he quits and has no choice but to start over working at a convenience store, a great inconvenience to Manaka, who also works there!
Ton tallying up people's orders with an abacus is an A+ gag. No notes.
We're caught up trying to examine the plot, but actually this season has been pretty funny while still having some real emotional stakes. Retsuko getting double ganged-up on by Ton's daughters was probs one of the moments I laughed at the hardest.
Retsuko's deadpan Mission Impossible schtick was a highlight for me.

Also Fenneko laughing about doxxing trolls online, but that's nothing new for her. Queen.
On that note, Ton's family is truly a gift (maybe to the detriment of Retsuko). Also Haida, please pick better passwords. You fool.
This is the man you're in love with, Retsuko. Let that sink in.
Sometimes love means accepting the person you love is a complete and total dumbass, and that's okay. It's an important process that I can speak on from a lot of experience.
I can attest to that as well, but you really also want to be making sure your partner isn't cooking the company books for his gym bro.
Haida makes a script to make accounting more efficient cuz apparently nobody uses the ones already built into Excel or whatever sheet program they use. He ends up being lifted from his drone position to the new director of his department. But that's mostly because Himuro identifies that he's incredibly easy to manipulate!

Even more so than usual now that he's landed the girl of his dreams, he gets full of himself, and suddenly feels the urge to put all his ducks in a row even if it means doing something not good and making Retsuko feel distant in the process. Despite the fact that he reasons that he's doing it for her.
It's understandable, but it's just another thing that contributes to Haida being extra shitty this season lol. That said, I think it owns that the writing leans hard into his misplaced masculinity and has him try to solve all his problems with arm wrestling. That is very endearingly stupid.
The show goes out of his way to show how garbage he's being even though he feels like he's doing the right thing. It's just another way I appreciate the show's nuanced character writing. They're real and recognizable problems I've often seen in young men reaching a certain point of their adulthood, and the show is clear that so much of him talking out of his ass and doing stupid shit is partially cuz he's so privileged as one. Also Inui comes back JUST to call him out. It's very satisfying.
Plus there's that great bit when Fenneko reveals that Haida has rich parents and that his laid-back attitude stems from that cushion of privilege he's always taken for granted. She's there to cause Problems, but she's perceptive as well.

Give us a Fenneko spinoff already, cowards.
Also, he has A Clockwork Orange poster in his apartment that I didn't notice before.
LOL I missed that too. What a dude. Nothing a little Resty Slap can't help fix, tho.
I super liked this cuz in the previous seasons it was always Retsuko being put in the compromising situations. Now, as Retsuko couldn't rely on Haida to solve her problems, she ends up using her own talents and her own network to try and save the dignity of her boyfriend and the company. She starts managing her growing YouTube channel again, she brings in Tadano to help and understand metrics, Ton to do the accounting, and Ton's daughters for extra support. And all of her other friends pitch in, too. It shows the special power Retsuko herself has, that Haida admires and also fears. But deep down she's still just a person, and she engages with him as such in the confines of that familiar karaoke room.


Another note: since Haida uses stupid passwords, the safe password for the Important USB Stick was actually a karaoke code.
Speaking of special powers, I'm looking forward to Retsuko's fighting game debut.

Like, I think the season wraps up a bit too quickly and neatly given everything that's going on, but I can't complain about Retsuko using beam tech to put some corpo bros in their place.
Yeah, it's actually a lot to pack in with just 10 episodes with an average length of 16 minutes. But that light package still packs a hellavuh punch when it wants to. I get more out of a few episodes of Aggretsuko more than I do most anime in an entire season. All while still reminding me how much I dearly love the characters existing within it. Most of the characters come back for this one, even if it's just for one really good moment.

I also particularly love this end note by Washimi acknowledging how strong Retsuko is. She may seem like a good-hearted follower type but really she is just dedicated to doing what she believes is right and therefore capable of handling whatever life throws at her even if it seems bigger than what she can handle.
When it comes down to it, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any series that doesn't exhibit some growing pains in its fourth season. And despite my quibbles, I continue to have a good time with Aggretsuko. It's a comfy character-based sitcom with cute designs and the occasional penchant for uncomfortable, acrid realness. That's enough to keep me coming back, and I'm glad to see there will be more in the future.

At the very least, I've got enough reaction images to last me another year now. And isn't that the most important part of any anime?
Definitely the most important part of any anime. I know I'm just going to have a BLAST on social media with some of these. Even if most of the time I'll really be looking like this.

and I'll be looking forward to more!

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