Genre conventions and a gentle story of recovery in My New Boss is Goofy

By: Alex Henderson November 15, 20230 Comments
Closeup of Momose smiling contently, against a pink background and surrounded by little pink flower shapes

Content warning: discussion of abusive relationships and workplace trauma

Minor spoilers for My New Boss is Goofy Episode 1 – 6

When you think of “mental health representation” a light-hearted slice-of-life series probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. It’s certainly not what I expected when I pressed play on a series called My New Boss is Goofy. Yet underpinning this fluffy office comedy is an earnest story of trauma and recovery. This being a fluffy comedy, there was a real risk that the protagonist’s trauma might be belittled by being filtered through the conventions of its genre—in other words, played off as a joke, treated as “no big deal,” or simply not addressed at all in favor of maintaining a comfy low-stakes vibe. Instead, the protagonist’s experience with an abusive workplace and the lingering physical and mental effects of this trauma are depicted with care and authenticity. As is the process by which the protagonist begins to heal now that he’s in a safe place—and now that he’s the main character in a sweet, low-stakes story where genre expectations basically guarantee he won’t get hurt again. Rather than ignoring or downplaying themes of trauma in favor of maintaining slice-of-life genre conventions, My New Boss is Goofy uses its positioning as a cozy slice-of-life story to tell a gentle, but still meaningful, story about mental health and healing.

The series follows 26-year-old Momose, who has just quit a horrible job with a boss that was verbally, physically, and emotionally abusive towards him. Anxiety racks Momose as he starts at a new workplace. Will his new manager beat him down in the same ways? The lingering stress of his past job and the fear that history will repeat itself is so bad it’s causing him stomach pains and he’s teetering on the knife-point of panic for most of the first episode. His new boss, however, is nothing like his old one: despite seeming very competent and serious, he’s an adorable airhead. This is the set-up for the comedy that is Momose’s new office life.

Kinjo and Momose imagining a chibi version of Shirosaki walking to work on a rainbow

My New Boss is Goofy is serialized in a shoujo imprint, making it an interesting counterpart to all the teen girl hobby shows that are published as seinen. In a way, Goofy Boss fills a similar niche: it wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe the show as one where cute marketing employees do cute things. Most importantly, though, this series is clearly a slice-of-life comedy, signalled by its airy music, chibi cutaways, and the style and timing of its jokes. An overarching high-stakes plot has been traded in for episodic, bite-sized sequences that often function as interconnected skits and bits. It’s cozy. It’s chill. Everything about it is coded as a comfort watch, which makes it the perfect place for its traumatized protagonist to come and recover. The slice-of-life framing provides a relaxed, low-stakes world where Momose can begin to heal while the audience gets to share in his catharsis and delight.

We’ve seen anime protagonists escape from toxic workplaces before… though most often through supernatural circumstances. Most recently, Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead showed us a man in such an awful job that the literal zombie apocalypse was preferable to going to work. There’s also a tradition of isekai protagonists dying of overwork and reincarnating in fantasy worlds, as in shows like I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level or Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody. The way these escapist fantasies are constructed, and how literally dying is presented as the happy alternative to a corporate life, is definitely worth exploring, though it’s beyond the scope of this particular article. This trend does make Momose from My New Boss is Goofy stand out, though—he doesn’t need to get hit by a truck and reincarnated in a video game, he just needs to change jobs. The fact that this works for him presents its own, more specific, kind of fantasy.

The four main cast members of My New Boss is Goofy sitting on a park bench together, supporting Kinjo as he cries with relief into a handkerchief

Abusive workplace relationships aren’t something we see depicted in fiction very often, at least not compared to the amount of abusive romantic or familial ones out there on page and screen. When they do appear, they’re often dialled up for comedic value, with crummy bosses portrayed as cartoonishly evil Mr. Burns types or over-the-top rude, shouty (literal) pigs as in Aggretsuko. It isn’t very common to see fictional explorations of the very real trauma these dynamics can inflict, and the ways that they can linger and affect every aspect of a person’s life just as badly as if that abusive relationship had been with a partner or family member. To paraphrase from someone close to me who experienced a toxic dynamic with their former boss: it’s all well and good to say it’s just a job or they’re just co-workers, but you’re with these people eight hours a day five days a week (often more), and if the power dynamic is unhealthy you’re trapped within it for a significant portion of your life. And that’s not anything to brush off as just work.

Escaping can often feel extremely difficult, especially if there are financial pressures keeping you rooted to that particular job, or specificities about your role that mean looking elsewhere will be difficult. Job searching is emotionally taxing at the best of times, let alone when you’re under stress. When self-preservation mode kicks in, the world shrinks, and surviving day by day becomes all that you can manage, making long-term plans feels like an impossible task. While obviously not exactly the same, there are some overlaps between leaving an abusive home situation and leaving an abusive workplace that often go understated.

Momose looking worriedly at his phone. Shirosaki watches him warily

It’s refreshing, then, that My New Boss is Goofy takes the time to emphasize Momose’s trauma and the way its effects stay with him, even after he “fixes the problem” by changing jobs. He worked up the courage to leave his situation, but—as with any abusive relationship—the echoes of his bad experience follow him around. He gets anxiety so bad it makes him physically ill. His instinct is to flinch every time he thinks his new superiors disapprove. He freezes up when something reminds him of his old boss and triggers a flashback, but there are also many small minute-to-minute trauma responses that aren’t necessarily visible on the surface. The audience only knows about them because we’re invited to share Momose’s headspace, and asked to empathize with him and fully understand his pain. The depictions of Momose’s anxiety are carefully put together, conveying his feelings with appropriate weight while not lingering on them for melodrama. He’s a very convincing portrayal of some of the ways trauma can embed itself in the body and the mind. 

But, because this is a cute slice-of-life series, the audience also gets to share in the catharsis and joy of Momose being in a better place. His new “conflicts” include rescuing cute cats, doing market research at amusement parks, and trying not to melt into a happy, giggling puddle every time Shirosaki does something silly. The genre serves the emotional arc: this is a low-stakes story about day-to-day office shenanigans, and the lack of serious drama gives Momose plenty of room to breathe, relax, and start to learn to feel okay again. When Momose’s abusive former boss does insert himself back into the narrative, as happens in Episode 6, it’s once again Shirosaki to the rescue. The titular goofy boss’ earnest, direct kindness saves the day and re-affirms Momose in the midst of a horrible experience… and sets the scene for future slice-of-life silliness with his solution to the problem. Classic Shirosaki. 

Momose, a tall brunette man in a blue business suit, blushes and gushes over Shirosaki, a shorter blonde man with a deadpan expression in a tan suit

Momose’s trauma is a constant throughline in the series, but we can rest assured that he’s going to be okay—while there are dark moments, the light-hearted nature of the show and its clear placement as a fluffy, bit-based comedy reassure the audience that ultimately this will be a kind story that lets this wounded person have a good time. He’ll always be faced by punchlines and happy ends, rather than being hurt again. He’s safe, and by proxy so are the people watching.

Each episode takes the time to set up a contrast between Momose’s former, abusive workplace relationship and his current, much kinder situation. Momose’s old boss frequently shouted at him and berated his ideas; Shirosaki always provides softly-spoken affirmations. When the fire alarm went off, his old boss shoved Momose aside to save himself; Shirosaki sincerely offers Momose a piggy-back rescue before remembering they’re just doing a drill. Momose was always too tense to enjoy after-work drinks with his previous management; he relaxes enough to get drunk with Shirosaki (shenanigans ensue). Each episode touches on a particular uncomfortable memory of Momose’s old job and juxtaposes it against the much happier, funnier situation he finds himself in now. There are goofs aplenty, but the writing also gives him time to reflect and to notice that he’s recovering: he’s not in as much pain, he can express himself without fear, he feels like he actually likes his job and the people he shares it with. There’s no magic fix overnight, but a clear progression of slow growth running as an undercurrent to the episodic gags.

This emotional throughline gives this adorable little comedy some extra weight without making it excessively morose, and it gives the jokes some extra meaning. I’m giggling along when Shirosaki does something cute and dorky, but I’m also enjoying laughing with Momose. The “healing” element of this series is diegetic, because the audience is invited to share in Momose’s feelings and perspective.

Chibis of Momose and Shirosaki's faces floating beside a rectangular cartoon of Momose. Subtitle text reads: I'm in pain!

A valid critique of the series might be that it places workplace trauma squarely in the hands of individual bad actors—abusive managers—and doesn’t do anything to address the more systemic issues baked into corporate culture. For example, early episodes show Momose working late into the night, a common problem and embedded expectation in a lot of Japanese offices. The series writers could have had Shirosaki flex his caring managerial skills here by encouraging Momose to find a healthier work-life balance and not give in to the pressures of office crunch culture. Instead, Shirosaki makes no comment on this at all save for praising Momose’s dedication and hard work—narratively rewarding Momose for throwing himself into sleep-deprived overtime. The audience is asked to take this practice as just part of the job, treated neutrally or even positively.

The storytelling rarely, if ever, positions these expectations of office life as sources of conflict or emotional strife. Tension and trauma come exclusively from individual, expressly cruel people. The parallels between Momose and his co-worker Kinjo’s abusive former bosses are made clear, but so far the story seems uninterested in exploring, or even suggesting, that there might be some quality of the corporate world’s structure that elevates people like this to power and allows them to abuse it. 

Closeup of Momose smiling contently, against a pink background and surrounded by little pink flower shapes

If this element of the show frustrates you, that’s entirely fair. But I think this lack of systemic critique—this more surface-level engagement where office culture is largely just a backdrop—is a feature, not a bug, and very much the intention. For the specific story it wants to tell about Momose’s healing, those broader issues take a backseat by necessity. By virtue of the genre it’s operating in, the focus zeroes in and the stakes become highly personal. This is a story about Momose’s emotions, and his internal journey to learning to be okay. It’s a fantasy about being in the care of someone good after being in the grip of someone bad. Most of all, the show wants to be comforting. It would mess with the cozy vibe if the narrative started digging hard into the serious issues that underpin the real-world version of its setting, in the same way it would undercut the joy and sweetness of Shirosaki if it started digging into the problems inherent in most managerial power structures.

My New Boss is Goofy floats in an escapist space: while it touches on all-too-real issues, it’s not meant to be a 101% accurate depiction of reality. That’s where its fantasy lies, and that’s what makes it, for me, a really sweet depiction of mental health and recovery. This is not a serious drama intent on unpacking trauma, this is not what you might call A Mental Health Show (nor is it an isekai power trip where the protagonist is car-crashed into a better life). Momose is placed gently into the role of slice-of-life protagonist and the catharsis of his story comes from its fluffiness. While it may seem like a shallower take than some others, this kind of gentle, soothing, goofy story is just as “important” as trauma recovery representation as darker or more realistic ones.

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