We gather here today to mourn the short but sweet life of the Netflix adaptation of Aggretsuko. Taken too soon from us, she enjoyed two seasons of wholesome, loving, relatable content before undergoing a painful, violent end in the third season, stripping away any life left from this beloved show.
Dramatic? Maybe. But not nearly as dramatic as the tone shift in the final season.
CW: domestic violence mention, spoilers, and more warnings down below
I want to be as absolutely fair as possible. While this is an opinion piece, there are pieces I’m morally obligated to make sure that people understand how objectively, blindingly quick and drastic this show changed.
For those who don’t know, Aggretsuko stands for “Aggressive Retsuko” and the story follows a young red panda named Retsuko who works as an office accountant by day, but releases her frustrations at a karaoke venue by night. Specifically, this sweet good girl Mary-Sue type finds relief strictly through death metal karaoke. These frustrations include her work, her boss, and various suitors she dates throughout the show. The show started in Japan by the same company that owns Hello Kitty, and it makes sense that they’ve rolled out a show that hits the nostalgia for the generation that grew up with Hello Kitty, but need something more relatable to their adult life now.
**below are spoilers for the show, especially for season 3**
Let’s talk about the objective content warnings for season 3 and inevitably the discussion hereafter. Content warnings are provided to ensure the audience is age appropriate for the topics depicted, and more recently have begun to include topics and situations that can cause emotional (or sometimes physical) harm to people who watch. These are especially vital to survivors of violence and people with PTSD. Content warnings traditionally include language, sexual situations, violence, and nudity. But as our understanding of mental health evolves, so do (and should) content warnings. We see this happen in shows such as Legend of Korra which has a warning for self-harm on the appropriate episodes.
All this to say, Aggretsuko’s Netflix adaptation rolled out with a TV-14 rating because of its discussion of adult topics and relationships, and occasional language. No sex or any sort of physical intimacy was ever depicted or even implied, and curse words remained rather tame when Aggretsuko would break out into her “death voice”. And honestly, in my opinion, I doubt many kids would even catch the curse words amidst the lyrics as the songs are what most people recognize as “Screamo” style music. But I digress. Considering how tame the imagery and conversations of the show originally were, there are parents who allow their kids to watch it with little to no issue or qualms. Of course that is to the discretion of each parent, but the takeaway here is that even with a few curse words and dating advice, the show is mild mannered.
Well…it was. Which brings us to the content warnings for season 3 and the next part of this piece. Content warnings include but are not limited to: stalking, harassment, violent assault, depiction of blood, slut shaming, and emotional manipulation at worst, neglect at best.
And that’s the objective part of this piece, and why it was so important that I outline how serious the shift was before jumping into my actual thoughts about what the fuck happened. Because WHEW.
To start, I do not get attached to television or movies. The most involved I got with a fandom was Spider-man from middle school to high school. I owned many comics, a doll, a shirt, and a hoodie. Nothing has ever come close to that child-like attachment that happens before being able to critically think and be constantly disappointed by everything. As a Black MaGe, the media is overwhelmingly problematic. As a fat and disabled Black MaGe, it only gets worse. And queer and gender non conforming person? A nightmare. As somebody who then studied Women and Gender studies in school and learned not only to critically analyze through lived experience but academically as well…it makes entertainment difficult to enjoy more often than not. I can enjoy things, but I’ve never dived as deep into fandoms like I did in my childhood.
Aggretsuko was the first show to challenge that. I own a stuffed animal of her in rage mode. I saw a lot of my Borderline tendencies in her, and loved that for us. And with the characters being portrayed as animals, many of those social issues that ruin the media for me were not present, and allowed me a cute, escapism type show with a spoonful of applicable life advice. One of my favorites being at the end of season one. Retsuko dated another red panda at the office, and she convinced herself she was head over heels for him. And he didn’t necessarily do anything, but he was aloof. She walked around with blistered feet because he didn’t consider her needs and she felt bound by societal pressures to be nice and low maintenance. But in the last episode, her chauvinistic boss who inspires most of her rage modes sees the toll it takes on her, to be the one constantly considering his needs and never having that energy reciprocated. And warns her that continuing to give more than you get will put you at a deficit, something she should know as an accountant. She realizes she needs to protect herself, and ends the relationship.
The second season focused on another suitor, Tadano, who Retsuko was very compatible and happy with. And he also happened to be a celebrity who spoiled her and made sure she knew his feelings for her. The relationship unfortunately came to an end when she found out he doesn’t believe in marriage, but that’s something she dreams of. Not wanting to compromise her own happiness, despite how good the relationship seemed on paper, she ended things.
I loved these seasons with my whole heart. Lessons and wisdom I needed to hear myself after surviving domestic violence. And all delivered in an adorable show with a cute character but also death metal. How could my little traumatized goth ass not be obsessed.
Season 3. That’s how.
I was BETRAYED by season 3. With no warning. The season actually starts okay. She accidentally runs her car into a music producer’s van. Already in debt, he gives her a job to pay off the settlement. One thing leads to another, and she’s now one of the main vocalists for an underground idol group called OTM Girls. She loves the job so much, she quits her corporate accounting job.
Cute! Love that!
But then….whew. Let me breathe real quick, my body is tensing up remembering how quickly shit falls apart here.
As their accounting manager, she discovers there’s a fake profile acting as the official account for OTM Girls. They then see pictures being uploaded of Retsuko as she walks to her apartment and goes inside. She is actively being stalked, and doxxing where she lives. The manager and other band mates say they’ll drive her home from work, and do what they can to protect her. At a show meet and greet, fans can give a ticket they get from a CD purchase for 3 seconds of handshake time with the member of their choice. Somebody drops 100 tickets.
So just to make sure we’re clear here, we already have somebody stalking Retsuko, and then purchased 100 CDs for 100 tickets to force close contact with her. And it gets worse.
During the 5 minutes, the masked man holds her hands and proceeds to tell her she’s ruined the group, an embarrassment to music, and calls her a “slutty cock-tease”.
At this point I’m floored already.
The following episodes, the pictures become more frequent, and dox her route to work, including pictures of the building itself. And you see the masked man has bought a box cutter.
Manaka, the other vocalist in the girl group, sees the updated pictures on the site, realizes Retsuko is in danger, and calls her warning not to go outside. Retsuko seems unworried as she knows the manager is around the corner to pick her up, but Manaka desperately tries to get across the gravity of the situation, the new pictures now serving as a warning. But it was too late.
The man follows closely behind Retsuko while on the phone, and goes to attack her with the box cutter. The only reason she is saved is because Haida, the coworker who’s liked her for 5 years only to be rejected, pins the man to the ground and gets cut instead. After the attack, she goes to live with her parents to heal and recuperate after the assault.
At this point, I’m bewildered. But I hold out hope because there’s still time before the end of the final episode.
One of the subplots of the season is that Retsuko’s friend, Gori, develops a matchmaking app. So far, Retsuko and Haida are the only two who have signed up to the audience’s knowledge. Tadano with his tech skills offered to help sort the algorithm for Gori. I didn’t think much of this plot, but this became the big climax of the show. Haida signs up and is immediately matched with Retsuko. And despite the fact she turned him down at the end of season 1, this imbues him with a new sense of….entitlement? courage? Something. And goes to Retsuko’s parents’ house, lodging his foot in the door without telling her mom who he is, and stomping his way to where she is to drag her out of the apartment.
Scene cuts to her karaoke booth. She’s never been there with Haida before. But he tells her that she needs to be strong and get back to work. And she doesn’t have to trust the world, just him. Haida then has his own death metal rage song telling Retsuko she’s a chicken who’s letting her assaulter win by not going to work.
Retsuko then responds with her own song, which proceeds to call Haida an idiot more times than I could count, and saying she’s going to punch the world. Haida answers, “we’ll punch them together.”
The final scene is Retsuko’s last show with the OTM Girls, and we hear her boss say she’s coming back to her accounting job. Haida asks if she’s hungry, and they walk down a hallway together.
Even typing this….I feel like I watched somebody’s bad fanfic instead of the official last season. But no. That was it. And there’s a heavy suitcase worth of bullshit to unpack here.
Netflix has an unfortunate reputation of the executive producers pushing shows to the extremes in the name of sales. Most recently of which, reports that the writers of Avatar: The Last Airbender walking away from the live action remake shocked everyone, but especially when finding out what caused them to. Netflix wanted to take this wholesome, beautiful show about a 12 year old and his friends fighting imperialism in the mystical world of bending, and instead have the live action version filled sex, violence, and blood, making it “edgier”. If I wasn’t worried before, the shift in Aggretsuko has me terrified.
What I think is maybe the most harmful aspect (as if I can even pick one) is that as a survivor, to see that violence play out on screen as a plot device that served no purpose than to reaffirm the world is scary, is irresponsible. So you have this amazing moment where her corporate boss makes her choose between passion and obligation, she surprises him saying “If I have to choose, consider this my two weeks.” only for it all to be taken away because this stalker assaulted her and she’s now returning back to the job she hates because of how scary everything was instead of taking the time to heal because this guy who felt entitled to her feelings because of an app called her a chicken?
I feel gutted. And empty. There were so many gray area, edgy attempts at advice and situations throughout, but for the overarching plot to be so dismal and dark and pointless…I’m at a loss for words (minus the 2,043 and counting words here of course).
How did Netflix go from mailing DVD’s to executive producers now dictating that shows lose all that makes the good in the name of what they think consumers want? And yeah, I know. The answer is capitalism. But fuck. My heart hurts. And yes, it’s just a show. But it’s also not. What happens when escapism, wholesome shows are morphed into nothing but an edgy wasteland? What does that say about how our country values and devalues art? So many cries to not censor art and media in the name of freedom of expression, speech, and entitlement. But what happens when we allow corporations to dictate what art has to be? What happens when genres and interests mean nothing if all execs want is sex, death, and blood because they think that’s the only thing that sells?
I already want this country to burn for so many reasons. But if we can’t even have places and media to relax and use to escape for a little while…I think we’ll see that day sooner than expected.
(p.s. 2,238 words of rage for Netflix to choke on)