Aggretsuko (Season 2) - The Challenges of Adulthood
When I watched Aggretsuko's first season, I was surprised by the amount of care that went into the writing. Cute as it looked, the show didn't shy away from talking about important issues. It had something it clearly wanted to say, and it did so in a marvelous way, without ever losing its sense of humor.
One year later, however, when I heard the show's second season debut was approaching, I was skeptical about its ability to surprise me once again. After all, if it was just a rehash of season 1, it would get old quickly. Turns out, I was completely wrong.
While season 1 dealt with Retsuko's issues in her workplace, season 2 deals with a whole new problem: her inability to grow up. And what can drive that point better than introducing a new character in her mother? Like many overprotective parents, she's controlling - to the point setting up dates with several suitors, with the goal of securing a marriage to her daughter.
On top of that, a new employee named Anai arrives at the accounting department and starts harassing Retsuko, threatening to file a complaint for her supposed abuse of power. He uses said harassment as a crutch to defend himself against his fear of adulthood. And like Anai, Retsuko also set up a barrier - a defense mechanism - because of her same fear.
The fear of growing up and finally freeing yourself from the constraints of childhood, is perfectly normal. Many people (and I'll have to include myself in this one) aren't really prepared to face the pressure and stress that comes with adulthood. They were just forced into it and it's no wonder they don't know how to function.
She's pushed around by both her mother and Anai, not knowing what she wants nor what it means to be free. Retsuko's first thought is to run away - both literally and figuratively - and her conclusion is to get a driver's license. This desperate need to escape, with no particular destination in mind, further feeds her fear.
At the driving school, she meets a man of her own age named Tadano, who she thinks as nothing more than an unemployed slacker. At one point, she is complimented by the fact that she's good at following instructions, unlike Tadano, who, as her foil, values freedom above all else. This difference between them has a strong link to the themes of freedom vs security presented in later parts of the season.
Her short-sighted mindset leads to arrogance and an inability to see beyond her own perspective. She starts taking people at face value, both her suitors and her own co-workers. The show uses the character of Kabae to show the other side of the coin. She was never really developed in the first season, but suddenly we sympathize with her character.
While everyone else, even Retsuko's boss, is threatened by Anai's behavior, Kabae is the only one who is able to approach him. Her motherly behavior opens him to her and everyone else, as he's finally able to let go of his fear, by becoming useful and developing a sense of purpose. Retsuko, however, still lost in to what to do, embarks on a journey to find a husband.
In a smart and hilarious sequence, we see how people behave in a matchmaking party. The obsession with profiles, informing a suitor's age, job, and salary, hits close to home for many of us, as the current obsession with social media might make us numb to what's beneath the surface.
Like in the first season, the last few episodes are dedicated to showing Retsuko's new relationship. But unlike in the first one, her relationship with Tadano is foreshadowed from the beginning. She's rightly shocked when she discovers Tadano isn't unemployed, but is, in fact, a genius technological wizard, the president of a company who developed a new form of artificial intelligence.
Tadano wants nothing more than make a world where people can pursue their creative calls. There's a strong conflict between the themes of tradition vs innovation here. What Tadano doesn't get is that innovation might not be right for everyone, and some people might just be content with what they have.
He may seem like a Gary Stu at first, as we're supposed to share Retsuko's opinion of him, but he hides a fatal flaw much like Retsuko: he can't see beyond his own perspective. He doesn't believe in marriage or having kids, and doesn't realize Retsuko wants those things. She tries to forget who she really is, burying her desires deep within herself.
When people discover Tadano is dating a "common" office girl, Retsuko receives an avalanche of mean comments on the internet. In a powerful display of dramatic retribution, people judge Retsuko without truly knowing her, just like she used to do before with everyone else. She hides, running away from her desire of having a normal life, losing her identity in the process. It gets to a point where she just becomes the girl who stays in his car and sees the world through screens.
Many stories teach people to follow their dreams, no matter how big they are. They make people wrongly believe that they have to be ahead of the curve, making them chase an illusion when they could be perfectly happy without any of that. Aggretsuko doesn't do that. It shows the two sides of the issue, and how people can be happy even if they have different lifestyles.
We're so used to stories that drop an anvil on our heads repeatedly to drive their point home, that it's refreshing to see a show that doesn't judge its characters' choices. Tadano isn't wrong in believing what he does, nor is Retsuko wrong in her beliefs either.
Being an adult is knowing what you truly want and not following what others might want for you. But sometimes it's okay to not know where you're headed, as long as you acknowledge that. As long as you're not hurting anyone, no one should be able to judge your lifestyle of choice. After all, to agree to disagree is one of the many traits of being an adult.