The second season of Netflix’s kawaii-metal workplace anime elevates its adorable gimmick with a newfound maturity.
Death metal rises once again in the cutest form imaginable – and it’s moving past its karaoke crutch. Aggretsuko, directed and written by the monomymous Rareko, is a sweet-and-sour comedy about an unhappy accountant scream-singing her stress away. Dealing with relationship drama, having a sexist asshole (and literal pig) for a boss, and learning how to make friends as an adult were all boiled down into a primal yell – hilariously juxtaposed with its star’s adorable appearance. Aggretsuko grows up in its second season, which means more specific songs, more targeted rage, and a realization that being caught between the polar extremes of maturity and childishness isn’t a bad thing. That it evolves past its hilarious premise proves that Aggretsuko is more than a novelty.
I got to watch the first five episodes of season two, and Netflix’s savvy “Hello Kitty meets 9 to 5 meets Slayer” anime still treats the everyday plights of red panda Retsuko with the same complexity as the best female-fronted dramas. Let me tell you, I loved every second. I’ve been a fan since the show’s first season, back when Retsuko fooled herself into dating a boring nerd just because it was a nice, distracting fantasy from her dull routine. The arc ended with Retsuko breaking it off and dedicating herself to self-care, or at least to not running away from her own unhappiness. Recognizing sadness was just the first step.
Season two pushes her along the development path, in which she gets to think outside of herself. Dealing with your own problems can feel selfish, but some of these can be barriers to thinking outside yourself. Retsuko’s problems are now entangled with other people, be they her new co-worker (fresh from college) or her mom (pushing marriage). It’s still upsetting for Retsuko – and funny to watch her be put-upon – but now there’s the impulse to solve problems that aren’t simply her own. And that’s good, because as the ironic shock of kawaii metalcore has worn off, the humor needs to progress alongside its central character.
The light animation is the same and the jokes still differ between the English language option and the subtitled Japanese version (as is often the case with anime, subs is better than dubs), but the emotions behind the familiarity are different. The addition of multiple new antagonists, as far as an overbearing mother and a weird stressed-out coworker can be series villains, make Retsuko a much more external character this time around. Retsuko continues her own self-driven journey, funnily enough by learning how to drive herself, but also works on herself through how she interacts with other people.
Without making characters shrill stereotypes or comic clowns, the witty exploration of this relationship builds a foundation for the season to place its sillier moments on.
A single woman in her mid-20s is probably going to deal with pressure from her parents about settling down, especially if her mom is a more traditional Japanese woman/red panda. Giving complex roles to both Retsuko and her mother – who goes through whip-quick transitions between cruelty, guilt-tripping, and sweetness that intense maternal love brings – makes the episodes with this subplot an almost Lady Bird feel. There’s angst on both sides and the only way for either to get better is for them both to get better. Without making characters shrill stereotypes or comic clowns, the witty exploration of this relationship builds a foundation for the season to place its sillier moments on.
While Retsuko still goes through relatable, nuanced interactions with co-workers like the hypersensitive college grad from the younger generation, her interactions with men – especially over the first five episodes – leaves something to be desired.
She learns to show compassion towards her inexperienced colleague, who takes his frustrations out in an intense way echoing Retsuko’s own S1 karaoke venting. It’s very funny, a little scary, and has a new spin on the transformative shock-comedy that comes from seeing a sweet Sanrio critter become all jagged lines and Junji Ito sweat. But the character is still mostly for Retsuko’s benefit. She gets to turn her years of anger into the fruits of wisdom, all while a parallel is drawn between nurturing this coworker and the benefits of motherhood. Though Retsuko grows closer to her own mother over the first half of the season, this still doesn’t quite work. It could pay off during the rest of the season, but it feels like a strange seed to plant alongside Retsuko rejecting her mother’s matchmaking services. What Retsuko wants and what the show wants her to do seem very different, which can lead to some plot decisions that I bounced directly off of.
The first season of Aggretsuko had surprise on its side, flying onto the ever-rising comedy scene focused on young women like a bat out of hell. Now it’s calming down and raging against much more personal machines – though ones with similarly massive scale. Capitalism’s grinding gears are no longer the enemy, replaced by more specific cultural foes facing a 25-year-old growing up on her own in Tokyo. An inevitable complacency, peppered with realistic moments of resistance, sets in with a newfound maturity. It’s a little comfortable, a little self-satisfied, and ripe for upheaval. With plenty of laugh-out-loud pockets of rage ready to burst forth when the season inevitably boils over, Aggretsuko is still solid as it grows up the only way a metalhead can.
Aggretsuko screams into her mic on Netflix, where the second season is available now.