National / Media | Japan Pulse

Sanrio characters in ‘Aggretsuko’ reflect the realities of life at work — rage included

by Tom Hanaway

Staff Writer

Sanrio Co. is known for churning out some of the most adorable creatures out there, including Hello Kitty and the bunny My Melody. Its characters are often cute and colorful, and usually silent.

Retsuko the red panda, on the other hand, is the total opposite of Sanrio’s typical line of mascots. She is neurotic, angry and absolutely hates her life — as well as many of the people in it. That’s the plot behind one of the newest anime shows on Netflix at the moment, “Aggretsuko.”

The 10-episode series follows “OL” (office lady) Retsuko as she deals with the trials and tribulations of living and working in Japan, including being squashed on a commuter train every day. All the while she has to deal with a variety of characters at her work, including the cunning and friendly Fenneko (a fennec fox) and her misogynistic boss, Director Ton (a pig, naturally).

She has to control her anger in the face of classic Japanese tropes — working late, being forced to make tea, and simply bowing and apologizing when being scolded. Retsuko copes with her stress by counting to 10, daydreaming about changing jobs and screaming heavy death metal at the top of her lungs. Yes, this is where the aggressive part of Retsuko comes out.

The sweet-looking red panda actually has a dark side, spending her hours after work (or sometimes during a bathroom break) singing about her disdain for her job and her managers. She even carries around a microphone with her as routinely as a phone or keys, just in case the mood strikes. Prepare to have your remote handy while watching the show, as you’ll probably want to turn down the sound once Retsuko starts yelling “S— BOSS!”

“Aggretsuko” isn’t afraid to show an aspect of society that many ignore or pretend doesn’t exist: young women can be angry, too. “Kawaii” Retsuko dreams of slapping her boss with a resignation letter or hitting her superior with a bolt of lightning. “STRIKE THEM DOWN!” she sings.

The story of “Aggretsuko” — a young woman trying to appear upbeat and composed in an aggressive and overly masculine work environment — has indeed resonated with many females in Japan.

Twitter user @katoww wrote: “I can’t stop (watching) ‘Aggretsuko.’ Can’t stop. Too many feels.” @Taichi701001 posted that his daughter suggested he watch the show, which ending up moving him: “It appeared so cute at first. It made me think about how society is just being cut to pieces. … I recommend it!”

Overseas viewers are also relating to hardworking Retsuko. Twitter user @AZHarmonia posted “Retsuko is my spirit animal. I freaking love her,” while other viewers are posting plenty of fan art online. People who live in Los Angeles were able to jump into the show by visiting Sanrio’s pop-up shop in this month, appropriately named the Den of Rage, and snapping of a picture of themselves in Retsuko’s office.

And it’s not just OLs or anime fanatics that are being attracted to the show. “Aggretsuko” has inspired think pieces on all corners of the internet, including Verge (“Netflix’s ‘Aggretsuko’ show is a shockingly insightful portrait of feminine rage”), Huffington Post (“‘Aggretsuko’ is a workplace comedy where rage Is front and center”) and Thrillist (“Netflix’s ‘Aggretsuko’ is the anime series for anyone who’s worked a s—– office job”). Buzzfeed even has a quiz that will reveal which character from the show best represents you.

The success of “Aggretsuko” may be a sign that Japan’s laborers are sick of the country’s work-yourself-to-death lifestyle. A 2017 poll by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry showed that 1 in 3 employees have experienced “power harassment” bullying on the job, and a 2017 survey by Expedia.com revealed that more than 60 percent of people feel guilty for taking paid holidays.

Perhaps “Aggretsuko” is a warning signal of the anger building up in workers who are tired of dealing with outdated rules and restrictions simply because that’s the way it’s always been. Retsuko may lead a new generation of employees who are mad as hell — and not afraid to sing about it.