The over the top fury with which antsy office worker Retsuko screeches her true feelings is what makes Aggretsuko so much fun to watch—her struggles are ones we all know, ones we too wish we could vent through some cathartic karaoke. But just like its protagonist, the show’s sophomore season grows up a little by not casting all its fury in black and white terms.
Released on Netflix this past week, Aggretsuko season two expands the world of Retsuko and her friends a little past the office dramas. While still mostly focused on her social circles around working as an office lady for an accounting company, Retsuko’s tribulations in season two are of a more existential leaning than they are simply dealing with infuriating co-workers or a comically mean boss.
There’s plenty of that with the addition of the hyperaggressive young graduate Anai to Retsuko’s office, of course, but the show’s other major introduction early on—Restuko’s mum, literally breaking into her life when she shows up unannounced at the end of the first episode—also opens the window to Retsuko’s personal life outside of work...specifically, her love life.
The first half of the second season balances the arrival of Anai and Retsuko’s mum to create a hellish new scenario for her to rightfully be furious about. At work, she’s forced to deal with a young man who seemingly refuses to grow up—but also, insanely, flies off the handle at everything said to him, threatening complaints of workplace harassment and power abuse at every suggestion. At home, she has to deal with a mum pushing arranged marriage dates with men whose pictures she’s haplessly airbrushed to seem more handsome than they really are. Throw in some usual frustrations—like the talkative office gossip Kabae, cheerfully incapable of not chatting up a storm in Retsuko’s general vicinity or even a brewing spat between Washimi and Gori—and it’s a whole lot for our poor red panda hero to deal with.
And deal she does in her usual way, screaming her way through metal track after metal track.
The latter thread is what mostly matters to the arc of the season, as Retsuko eventually begins contemplating if marriage is something she truly wants for herself or is just another expectation society forces upon her as a woman. It’s an idea that flourishes upon meeting a young man named Tadano while she attempts to focus on the short-term goal of attaining her drivers licence, in the hopes of escaping on a road trip with her friends. But Aggretsuko’s second season finds a much more interesting nuance beyond that in making the targets of Retsuko’s rage a little more fleshed out, to the point that her death metal screaming over the situations she finds herself in aren’t as clear-cut as she first thinks they are.
Take Anai and Kabae, for starters. Anai is initially almost comically hostile to Retsuko and her friends, sure, but Retsuko’s exasperated way of dealing with his early failings (like answering the phone as himself rather than on behalf of the company) gives him the grounds to make complaints to Retsuko’s boss in the first place. Restuko’s rude brushing off of Kabae attempting to engage with her at first doesn’t appreciate that Kabae, as the office mum of the group, is just trying to look out for people she cares about, just as she does her own children. Her frustrations with her own mum’s deeply invasive prying into her social life are abated by the reveal that her mum just really cares about Retsuko’s livelihood and future, especially in light of her husband’s apparent deteriorating health.
When Retusko sees Kabae’s matronly attitude turn towards Anai and actually encourages him in his work, where her friends’ standoffish attitudes to him repeatedly failed over and over, she finally realises that maybe neither of them are all that bad. And when the company hosts a special event for worker’s families and Retsuko desperately needs help operating a Yakisoba stand without, uh, poisoning half of the people in attendance, she finally bucks up and asks Anai for help—knowing that he’s a mean cook thanks to Kabae’s earlier engagement with him. The day is saved, the Yakisoba stand sells through all its stock, and Retsuko learns a valuable lesson: The people she initially pawed off as the causes of her grand rage spirals aren’t always going to be just annoyances. Bad people, or frustrating people, are going to have their good moments, and it’s important to remember that.
And in turn, the people Retsuko sees as good—including herself—aren’t always going to be perfect. We see it in Gori and Washimi the most in the latter half of the season, when Washimi’s “refined” taste and undiplomatic manner of conveying her opinion makes her come off as rude and uncaring of her best friends’ wants and needs. Gori’s jokey attempts to hide her age as she navigates the dating pool as an older woman are played for laughs, but her casual disregard for leading men on (while lamenting that she might never find “the one” because they too are trying to cover up what they see as negative aspects of themselves) speaks to a level of hypocrisy that sends sparks flying between her and Washimi, smack-bang in the middle of Retsuko’s planned road trip.
Because it’s Aggretsuko, of course, said argument plays out over a rap battle, but still, the point is the same: People aren’t just good or bad because they’re you’re friends or because they annoy you, they’re both, and being mature enough to understand that is as important to growing up as an adult as thinking about settling down and having children is (at least, as far as Retsuko’s mum is concerned).
That reminder is, in turn, thrust upon Retsuko, who also is shown that even as our relatably angry protagonist, she too has her own share of faults. Her standoffish attitude with Anai, born out of the prejudged opinion that as some upstart young graduate he’s just not ready to be out in the “real world” of office life yet, is what helps escalate the situation between them in the first place, alongside her refusal to accept help from him until it’s almost too late. And when she first encounters Tadano and begins getting to know him as a friend and eventual romantic interest, she finds herself repeatedly dismissing him because she thinks he’s a lazy slacker without a job. It turns out that he’s actually a mega-rich startup owner researching A.I., but crucially, Retsuko only finds that out after she actually lets her barriers down and gets to know him better in the wake of her initial prejudice. She’s eventually rewarded with the potential for a romance that makes her happy and is with someone that she understands—someone she might have never had the opportunity with if she stuck to her angry, black-and-white view of the world around her.
By examining its cast of characters in this deeper, more nuanced way, Aggretsuko shows that it can be a series with a lot more going on than just hilarious heavy metal interludes or aimless, comically incandescent (if not relatable) rage. If anything, it makes the moments Retsuko slips into her death-metal-persona all the funnier—because beyond that over the top anger there beats a true emotional heart to the show that’s about so much more than simply anger.