The first episode of this season of Netflix’s Aggretsuko has Retsuko return home and realize that someone’s in her apartment. She frantically calls the police, only to find out it’s her mother who’s broken in and cleaning her house. Retsuko’s mother is just worried about her, which means breaking in and cleaning, making sure her daughter is eating right, and setting her up on every possible blind date that she can. She urges Retsuko to “grow up” and chides her for wasting away.
Much like the last season of Aggretsuko, this season takes the very real struggles of being a 20-something and blows them up to cartoonish proportions, somehow making them all the more relatable while doing so. Retsuko’s work-life struggles are still present, but this season focuses primarily on her interpersonal relationships — be it friends, family, romantic prospects, or coworkers — and handles it all through a complex lens. None of these characters are entirely good, but then again neither is Retsuko herself.
[Ed. Note: This post contains slight spoilers for the second season of Aggretsuko]
One of the most realistic aspects of Aggretsuko is that even the characters portrayed in positive light have grating falls, and perhaps more importantly, the most obnoxious, infuriating characters are given moments of sympathy or wisdom —but not actually a full redemption. It’s a reminder that in life you’re going to encounter absolutely awful people who might not be absolutely awful all the time. What side you chose to focus on is up to you.
Retsuko judges her chatty coworker Kabae, who never shuts up about her family and gossips incessantly about any and everything. But after Retsuko witnesses Kabae spending time with her family and gently mentoring a troublesome coworker with a matronly hand, Retsuko starts to see her in a different light. Kabae even gives Retsuko some sound love life advice, essentially telling our red panda protagonist that she shouldn’t have to be someone she’s not when it comes to romance. But that doesn’t mean Kabae is totally a good person now; she’s still the office gossip, still pries into affairs that she probably shouldn’t, and still won’t shut up.
This treatment extends to other characters: piggish boss Ton, the main source of Retsuko’s aggravation in the first season, is still rude and demanding, despite giving Retsuko an inspiration pep talk; Retsuko flip-flops on whether she should be nice to new coworker Anai, who can’t take any criticism and sends her threatening emails about her unprofessional behavior (taking a phone call from her mom during work), but is a lonely and insecure kid who needs a guiding hand.
Even Retsuko’s close friends — Haida, Fenneko, Puko, Gori, and Washimi — have aggravating aspects to their personalities. Haida is pathetically hung over Retsuko; Fenneko is absurdly judgemental; Puko doesn’t take responsibility for anything; Gori lies about her age to date younger men; Washimi is honest to the point of hurting her friends. But realizing that people aren’t just black and white is an important part of growing up.
It makes sense to forgive some — Kabae, for instance — but a few moments of kindness and sympathy on Ton and Anai’s parts doesn’t mean Retsuko is okay with them. She still doesn’t like them, but her feelings towards them evolve from pure animosity into something more murky grey.
Like the first season, this one culminates in a romantic relationship. This season is more overtly romantic than the first, with Retsuko’s quest for a partner prompted not only by her mother’s urging, but her own desire to one day get married and start a family. She meets a guy who finally seems like the One: he’s good-looking, he’s charming and driven, he’s financially secure (at the risk of too many spoilers, maybe even ridiculously so), and most importantly, he really likes her for who she is — and not a compromised version of herself. But ultimately their long-term goals aren’t the same. Retsuko wants to have a family and kids one day; he wants to change the world and thinks marriage is just a formality.
Of course, because this is a world full of talking animals and cutscenes full of heavy metal singing, they have a heart-to heart in a karaoke room, after Retsuko ropes her friends into hijacking his car, but that doesn’t make the conversation any less weighty or realistic. In fact, the fantastical absurdity of a deep relationship conversation told through heavy metal karaoke makes it resonate all the more.
Aggretsuko is now streaming on Netflix.