Aggretsuko, or Aggressive Retsuko, is a 2017 Netflix anime that has garnered notable fanfare, praise, and controversy from critics and audiences. When I say “critics,” of course that means the establishment organs of liberal NPCthink who have been falling over themselves to gush about the goodness of the ridiculous, hysterical anti-male tropes in this bizarre musical comedy. Aggressive Retsuko’s title character is an anthropomorphic red panda who by day is a stressed-out, put-upon bookkeeper in AnyCorp, Tokyo, but at night transforms into a frustration-venting death metal karaoke vocalist.
The ten episodes of this brief series (each only fifteen minutes long, including the credits) follows Retsuko’s struggle to keep on top of a bullying boss, office gossips, and a failing romance. Given the setting, atrocious production values, and Netflix backing, I was fully prepared to write off Aggretsuko as a pro-equality, GloboHomo propaganda cartoon. However, the show is so up front about the emptiness and superficiality of Retsuko’s life and her failing mental health that it can be read as the opposite: a damning indictment of neoliberal capitalism and its most inviolable of values, a woman’s “right to work.”
It’s easy to see why the anti-white, anti-male media are fawning over it. The original company behind Aggretsuko, Sanrio, is the Kawaii merchandise company that created the world-famous Hello Kitty in 1974. Developing Retsuko (the finalist in a 2015 character design competition) from one-minute shorts to a worldwide Netflix series represents a seeming inversal of values for the company. For Netflix, the sweet and simpering Retsuko exploding in rage is a metapolitical weapon to be wielded against the entire male gender, and her colleagues are “harmful stereotypes” (to borrow some Tumblr-talk). Hello Kitty has appeared in cartoons teaching good manners to young girls, and Retsuko has an innocence driven to the breaking point by sadistic colleagues – until, in an alcohol-fueled musical showdown with her manager, who is a literal fat, misogynistic pig, she screams in his face: “You’re a shitty boss!”
The addition of the neurotic, twitchy Retsuko to Sanrio’s portfolio is being gloatingly read by Western media as a propaganda victory for gender equality in the workplace. The BBC has used Retsuko as a springboard for obligatory propagandizing about “gender discrimination, gender pay gaps coming into focus, and the #MeToo movement” as part of their perpetual “awareness raising” about how more needs to be done before the Soviet utopia can be reached, even though they were presumably forced to admit, in a sternly-worded press release, that while “Sanrio is pleased that so many people experience catharsis from watching Aggretsuko . . . [the company] says it did not set out to highlight gender discrimination.”
The Beeb, known as “Auntie” in Blighty for constant lecturing and sanctimony, is so endeared with Retsuko as an example of gender-based victimization that they have reported on her twice, both times in detail and both times sharing the concerns of Retsuko’s creator: “In Japanese culture, it is common for office workers, often called ‘salary men’ or ‘salary women’, to work incredibly long hours . . .” – BBC News; “I observed office workers who are at the center of Japan’s corporate culture and I could hear their heartfelt screams.” – Yeti, the pseudonymous creator of Retsuko. The Verge, another mouthpiece of orthodoxy, wrote an in-depth and more anecdotal review, commenting that Aggretsuko is “incredibly refreshing, because it validates so much of what goes unspoken in mainstream media – about female anger and when and how it is allowed to be expressed.” Perhaps we should legalize these wahmen expressing their anger by throwing milk at GOP “Nazis” . . .? Rotten Tomatoes gives the show an eyebrow-raising 100% — astounding, given that it does not mention the Holocaust even once — for “biting corporate satire with adorable characters.” The GloboHomo media is well onboard with Aggretsuko, right down to the sassy black female character with a face like an Easter Island statue.
But it’s not what you think! These so-called, beady-eyed rat-faced “journalists” (a disgrace to honest columnists like your humble, square-eyed correspondent) have taken the bait. The most likely intensely conservative company that gave you Hello Kitty, acting as a Japanese emissary to world culture, has pulled a fast one on the duckspeakers: They are too in love with their own ideology to see their own confirmation bias. A close and careful reading of Aggressive Retsuko reveals that it’s not a ploy for greater protection of women in the workplace, but one for protecting them from it.
Every ill in Retsuko’s life stems from the incompatibility between excessive work and expression of natural gender norms. Throughout the series, the cast of characters is shown to be flawed in relation to work, or in some way deformed by it; made small, petty, or damaged. Her blatantly sexist boss, Mr. Ton, lets slip that he is simply rehashing and repeating a behavior forced on him, and none-too-subtly implies that later, she will become as abusive and hateful as he. In a male-only workplace, his behavior would be unpleasant, but not unremarkable. The mere presence of women in the workplace is what strips him of his pride and status within the organization and in relation to other men, opening the box of pointless gender conflict. He seems to get by polishing his golf clubs and repeating “I deserve a vacation!” to distract himself from the fact that his primary role is as a people manager and bean-counter – he excels on a traditional abacus at financial numbers (this is a thing in Japan).
Chief Komiya, his underling, relies on being a bully-backup for his self-esteem, and this shrieking sycophant has a masochistic breakdown when the CEO enforces an attitude change on his superior. Fenneko, a female Fennec fox bookkeeper alongside Retsuko, constantly spies on her colleagues’ social media and work habits to infer their emotional state (and how much of a threat they are to her workplace status). She’s sweet as pie to Tsunoda (herself a girl gazelle who flirtatiously manipulates Mr. Ton by stroking his ego) even though she hates her.
Washimi and Gori, bird and gorilla career gals, strut around with complete poise and total dominance over their male colleagues and bosses, but are immediately shown to collapse against a wall in search of relief because of the pain of holding such a rigid, military posture. It’s funny in the moment, but also sad that women are held up by the show, and elsewhere,e as ideally aspiring to this war-of-the-sexes aggro attitude. All the women in the company are sociopathic status-chasers, and their friendships are convenient pleasantries that are optional sides to their main goal of pursuing greater financial and social clout. Fenneko in particular suffers from the strain of having to constantly monitor those around her. The Verge reviewer comments, “It’s critical to have a sort of hyperaware emotional intelligence that involves being able to read delicate social situations and interpersonal relationships.”
When Retsuko lets Fenneko in on news about her personal life, Fenneko has a moment of panic simply because she didn’t already know about it. Because the team works for such excessively long hours, it directly affects their health, and their social lives become a shallow outgrowth of their work lives (something pathetic and apparently endemic to the West and all industrial or post-industrial societies) – when Retsuko does go on a date, it’s with a guy from marketing, and when she does pursue yoga, it’s where she can safely interact with people already known to her from work. All of the characters are prevented from forming any real friendships with those around them, because the nature of the workplace means that to volunteer any real trust is to become open to emotional blackmail.
The struggle of the feminist revolutionaries has won for women the punishment of having their lives frittered away in pure economic calculation – and Fenneko tells us so. Not long after the opening titles, she’s laying into Retsuko’s corporate compliance: “I’m not saying you look wrecked, but your face reminds me of a grandma right now,” and reprimands her for being “reliable to a fault . . . It means you’re no better than a cowardly robot who’s ensnared by corporate expectations. A willing slave, willing to work herself to death at the drop of a hat. It’s like you’re the patron saint of sweatshops around the world.” Fenneko is intimidating Retsuko for fun, but her barbs only land because they’re entirely valid. Is the show gloating about this, or condemning it? It’s impossible to tell. Haida the cowardly Hyena (yet another anti-male trope) is terrified by her. They agree that Retsuko allowing herself to have work literally piled on top of her makes her a “team player.” Retsuko roars into the mic: “Team Players Lose!” but agrees that “it is what it is.” She longingly looks towards Washimi and Gori, “professional women at the top of their game . . . I wonder what it’ll be like to achieve a fraction of what they have,” even as her work imposes a constant physical and emotional toll in service of the bottom line.
The enslavement to finance is total – even Retsuko’s long-time friend Puko, outside the company, is an entrepreneur. She offers Retsuko a gig in her start-up as a couch-surfer – hardly a stable environment to think about having children. She congratulates Retsuko on being the responsible type who “stops the economy from tanking.” Retsuko, damned with this faint praise, beams with pride. Is this satire, or is Netflix genuinely promoting being a loyal office drone as a sole reason to exist? Fenneko, to Haida’s horror, seems genuinely unconcerned when suggesting that Retsuko might have committed suicide when they can’t find her, a common phenomenon amongst the Japanese, who coined the phrase “death from overwork” to describe it.
The subject of family formation comes up only once, and it’s from an annoying Hippo character who has to (in a sing-song voice) “collect her children from day-care!” Retsuko dreams of escaping the endless torment of her job, and the season’s second subplot is her doomed attempt to find a man to financially support her, even though there’s no mention of her becoming a stay-at-home mother. She is foiled by her naïvety, immaturity, and unrealistic expectations after developing a shallow crush. Resasuke, her love interest, is pushed into dating her by his colleagues, and is ungentlemanly. When Retsuko realizes she is suffering just as much on dates with him (thanks to inappropriate footwear and his indifference), she reverts back to showing him the “real” her in the karaoke room. Resasuke applauds her vocals, but it’s over between them. He returns to his herbivore life watering his houseplants, as overwork – and presumably anime tiddies – have drained him of any ambition to find a real girlfriend (“You have to get a girlfriend!” “Why?”) and start a family. His spare time, like Retsuko’s, ends up in a private dead end. Retsuko could have snapped him out of it had she pursued him further, but because she is as shallow as a puddle and driven by emotional whims, the thought never occurs to her (perhaps her biological clock wasn’t ticking loudly enough).
Fenneko, the show’s most level-headed and cynical protagonist, deploys social statistics to defuse an invite to a singles party. She brandishes her cellphone in Tsunoda’s face, commenting in a dead monotone that “in a random sampling of twentysomethings across Japan, seventy-five percent of single women and sixty-five percent of single men have no interest in finding themselves a significant other. In other words, the majority of young people are seeing love for the crappy deal it is and telling the world ‘No.’” Whatever could be causing this amongst people working twelve to fifteen hours a day?
Shinzo Abe, it’s time to watch Aggretsuko and realize how superficial her final “self-realization” is. Retsuko (literally “rage-child”) is not aggressive, but frustrated. Retsuko’s moral to “keep moving forward, because if you do, you’ll be stronger,” which enables her to plaster a smile over her daily torment, thankfully falls away in the final moments, as she once again gets into a heated screaming match with her boss. But in order to be aggressive, one has to have an object to direct the aggression towards. Screaming death metal roars in an empty room, but it is not metal. It’s impotent. Retsuko is rightfully filled with anger, but in order to destroy her tormenters, she needs to think beyond the most visible target of the boss at the desk and towards the unfettered capitalism that forced her into working to death to barely get by in the first place.
The banality of employment has consumed the first five years of Retsuko’s twenties and her best chances for a happy, stable marriage and successful family, a story that has become commonplace across the Western and Westernized world. Those who refuse to acknowledge traditional and correct social roles driven by female fertility have torn down the social barriers that were meant to protect Japanese and white women from ever becoming victims of predatory commerce, and from living paycheck to paycheck and hand-to-mouth. Unless this system is radically overhauled, Mr. Ton’s predictions about Retsuko becoming a childless, embittered middle-manager will become entirely true for many female fans of Aggressive Retsuko.
Indentured servitude to global finance directly causes collapsing birthrates, and thus it is a genocidal program. Aggretsuko is the story of an innocent girl trapped in this poverty-by-design. Our only choice is to destroy it or go extinct. Fans of both genders love Aggressive Retsuko as they share her experiences and rage. It’s time to wake up to its real causes and put Retsuko’s grit and determination to good use.