Aggretsuko (Season 1) - The Stress of Modern Life
DISCLAIMER: Some spoilers ahead!
When Aggretsuko premiered on Netflix last year, I didn't think much of it. To be honest, I was completely put off by the art style. It looked like some cheap flash animation, and by God, we had enough of those already. Needless to say, that was a big mistake. I was just missing out on one of the best animes of 2018.
While many anime set in Japan take place in a school setting, Aggretsuko throws that out of the window, and takes an honest look at the stress associated with the modern work life, often to hilarious levels.
Retsuko is your ordinary 25-year-old woman who seemingly wants nothing more than to be a model citizen. Save for the fact that she is a metal head who routinely escapes to her karaoke "sanctuary", that is. In that tiny room, away from the judging eyes of her coworkers, she can let out all her bottled up anger and despair.
The desperate need for this emotional outlet says much about the current Japanese society. Hell, it says much about society as a whole. As the demands at work get higher, it's only natural that we try to compensate by working harder. But in the process, many people tend to forget what they really want or who they really are. Like Retsuko, they've lost control of their own life.
Retsuko's problem is that she constantly tries to be someone she's not. This obsession with politeness, above one's own well-being, is common in Japan, since valuing the collective is seen as more important than valuing the individual. But most anime shy away from showing that aspect of Japanese society, maybe because most feature teenagers, still learning to internalize those notions.
What about the other characters, though? Here, we have all types of people you can expect to find in an office environment: an abusive and mysogynist boss (a literal pig) who makes your life hell all while pretending to be busy by practicing his golf swings; A snake who takes special pleasure in treating those below her badly; The "cooler and more competent than you in every way" women, just to name a few.
What's interesting is that many of these characters are developed beyond their initial impressions, and we're talking about a 10 episode comedy anime whose episodes don't exceed the 15 minute mark.
Retsuko herself is not what she seems at first. Beyond the goody two-shoes who always read the end-user license agreement, is someone who is deeply depressed about her current condition, to the point of dreaming about marrying someone just to quit her job.
In Japan, women are still expected to become housewives when they marry, or at least when they have their first child. Sadly, the concept of a self-made woman is more of a western notion and even here, women still struggle to be heard. In the show, however, we have the characters of Washimi and Gori, two highly successful women, who befriend Retsuko.
These two characters become essential to Retsuko's arc at the end. All her life, she put on a mask to be her best self in front of everyone, but here were two women who she could finally show who she really was. This gradual transformation reaches its highest point when she finally meets someone she likes.
Resasuke isn't the most attentive of guys. The so called Selfish Prince is mostly oblivious of Retsuko's wants and needs, even if she completely denies that. Like many people, she convinces herself that she's in a happy relationship.
While this is all mostly played for laughs like many things in this show, it has a surprisingly deep lesson behind it. In the end, we discover Resasuke does have a caring side, only he shows it in a slightly different way.
The struggle between being yourself and following societal norms is the crux of the matter. Can you really be yourself when the world demands so much from you? The show explores these themes in a wonderful way while never losing its sense of humor. It shows that humor can deliver a powerful societal commentary, while being funny as hell in the process.