Unleash your inner rage panda and join Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai as they discuss corporate criticism, kawaii culture, dating debacles, and the fabulous female friendships of Aggretsuko, the surprise gem of the spring season.
Date Recorded: Sunday 2nd June 2018
Hosts: Dee, Caitlin, Vrai
0:01:10 About Aggretsuko
0:03:51 General feelings
0:07:11 Kawaii counterculture
0:10:49 Corporate culture
0:19:37 Washimi and Gori
0:22:21 Female friendships
0:25:29 Dub problems
0:33:22 Millennial romance
0:37:55 Getting in shape for a man
0:48:22 Money woes
0:50:37 Supportive relationships
0:57:53 Final thoughts
The Problem of Gori in Netflix’s Aggretsuko, by Nicole Adlman
DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem. I also run the anime blog The Josei Next Door, and you can find me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. And I’m joined today by fellow AniFem staffers, Caitlin and Vrai.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as running my own blog I Have a Heroine Problem—“heroine” with an E. And I’m the anime expert at The Daily Dot. And you can find my Twitter @alltsun_nodere.
VRAI: [chuckles] Hey, I’m Vrai Kaiser. I am one of the editors for Anime Feminist. You can find me on the internet all over the place. If you go to my Twitter @WriterVrai, you can find a list of all the things I do as my pinned tweet, and you can also find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod.
DEE: And today, we are talking about Aggretsuko, the short animated series that recently was released on Netflix in many, many countries.
So, to kick us off here, I figured I’d briefly talk about the production. Aggretsuko is a Sanrio character—Aggressive Retsuko is the full name—a red panda who sings death metal. She first appeared in a series of one-minute shorts that ran from April 2016 to March 2018. I do not believe those are available readily streaming anywhere, at least in the US, and I’m not sure how different they are from the show we got on Netflix.
The Netflix original net animation, or ONA, was released this year, 2018, on 4/20, because it’s a very millennial show. So, of course.
DEE: [chuckles] Both series were done by the studio Fanworks and written and directed by Rareko. I couldn’t find much on him in English, and my Japanese is rusty at best, but from what I can tell, he got his start as a Flash animator; has worked on some different shorts. None of the titles rang a bell to me, but you can find his discography on—not discography. What’s the word when it’s a person in, like, film? “Filmography,” probably.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Filmography. Yeah, it’s filmography.
DEE: Yeah, there we go. I think Anime News Network has one in English. And in Aggretsuko, he’s also credited with animation for five of the episodes and performing the metal vocals in the Japanese version. In the Japanese version, there’s no lyrics that are actually sung; it’s just raging screaming, but apparently the writer and director also did that. So, multi-talented.
And that’s pretty much the gist of it. Again, a Sanrio character, so kind of a toy commercial show, but Sanrio has been killing it lately with their toy commercial shows.
VRAI: Right? It’s kind of alarming.
DEE: Yeah, Aggretsuko comes on the heels of Sanrio Boys, which we talked about in our winter season—mid-season and season retrospective podcasts—was a really nice show about boys being into traditionally feminine things and how that’s okay, and it’s a very sweet and accepting series. And now we’ve got Aggretsuko, which is very directly dealing with a lot of feminist-relevant topics, which is why we wanted to spend some time talking about it today.
VRAI: Yeah, I fully support Sanrio’s new goal to sell me shit by being as inclusive as possible. I’m here for it.
DEE: Me, too, right? Mission accomplished, Sanrio. I kinda want a Retsuko pillow.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Same.
CAITLIN: Now I love capitalism!
DEE: Yeah, so just to get us started, I figured I’d check in with you guys and see your general feelings about the show after having watched it all the way through.
CAITLIN: It’s good. It’s great. [laughs]
VRAI: Yes, it’s good. No, but—
DEE: Yeah. I mean, that’s pretty much where I am, too. Sorry, what were you gonna say?
VRAI: I enjoy that we’re having a retrospective because where the site is right now, we don’t have the funds or the setup to do reviews of shorts, and people are always asking us about it. The Netflix format is really good for shorts, as it turns out.
DEE: Yeah, Aggretsuko’s a nice 15-minute length. I think you can watch the entire show in like three hours basically, but there’s a lot in there, so it seemed like it would be a really good one to do for a podcast.
CAITLIN: I have never really been a Sanrio person in general, but I feel like Aggretsuko is a way of bringing back in people who grew up with Sanrio and might be a little bit like “Well, I’ve kind of outgrown it. I used to be all about Pochacco and Keroppi, but it’s time to move on.” Then they’re like, “Wait, hold on. We’ve got this. How about a character that gets you?”
VRAI: Who’s just so tired.
DEE: And don’t they also have a depressed egg character that a lot of people really relate to?
DEE: Who? I’m sorry?
DEE: Yes, Gudetama.
CAITLIN: Is that Sanrio?
DEE: I believe so, yes. Because I was reading up on… They were talking about how Sanrio’s been coming out with products. Gudetama—sorry—is the sad egg that is also Sanrio’s character. Oh, he’s kind of a lazy egg, isn’t he?
CAITLIN: Yeah, I thought that was… Not that he was sad, just that he’s lazy.
DEE: He’s a very lazy egg who just wants to laze around.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Which is also relatable to many people.
DEE: Yeah. Whoever’s in charge of their marketing and their TV division or whatever, it does seem like they’re reaching out more to a slightly older audience who maybe liked them when they were younger and then fell off from it. They’re doing a good job. Again, whoever’s in charge is, I think, nailing a lot of the feelings of the generation at large.
VRAI: Yeah, do you know who was the head writer for this? Because it’s good work!
DEE: Rareko, the same person who directed it and did half the animation, is credited with the scripts as well.
VRAI: I am surprised and impressed.
DEE: Yeah. Were you going to say more?
VRAI: No, no. It’s one of those things where a male writer can get these kinds of issues right. There’s nothing to say that they can’t. But I always lean to the assumption that when it gets on-point like this, I assume it’s a female writer having a Mari Okada moment.
DEE: And Rareko… it has a feminine sound to it. The “ko” ending is usually used for feminine names, so I had assumed that, as well. And then when I was looking up information, no, it’s a guy. So, yeah, he did a good job.
DEE: But Caitlin, I think what you’re talking about… I was gonna talk about this later, but this is as good a time as any, leaning into that kawaii counterculture movement. And you see that periodically—and this is the type of stuff I’ve been studying up on, but I’m not an expert yet, so obviously, folks who are listening, if you know more about this, feel free to comment and let me know if I’ve messed something up as we talk.
But I know that the kawaii movement initially was kind of a rebellion against social norms. And it seems like there are waves of it where it gets commodified and becomes mainstream and then stops and then slides back into being more conservative, and then there will be another push to counterculture that in the kawaii aesthetic. So, there’s these little waves, and it feels like we’re maybe hitting another one.
I recognize the sort of doublethink it requires to talk about that with a product that is made by Sanrio, a giant company that sells lots and lots of toys.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Sanrio’s kind of the epitome of commodifying, mainstreaming kawaii culture.
DEE: They absolutely are. You are correct. But at the same time, they’ve hired people to write their shows for them who are hitting on the pushback against social norms currently going on. I think a lot of Aggretsuko is very much critiquing different aspects of modern society.
VRAI: Yeah, I’ve also done a little bit of reading on kawaii culture, and from my understanding the original roots of it were a pushback against this pressure for young women to immediately go into marriage and parenting, and kawaii was a way to say “We would like to be young people for a little longer.” So, it’s interesting to have that come to now, to Aggretsuko’s dealing with office politics and that kind of thing.
DEE: And there was a push in the early aughts among young women to merge kawaii with harsher elements, so you get some of the Lolita styles, and some of the Babymetal-type stuff, too, comes out of that, as well.
CAITLIN: [Kyary Pamyu Pamyu], who’s like horror kawaii.
DEE: Yeah, horror kawaii is a good example of that, as well. So, again, you get these periodic pushes to push back against whatever the mainstream idea of what young women are “supposed” to be, through kawaii culture, which I think is really interesting to watch that pushback over the last 30-to-40-odd years.
VRAI: Yeah. This isn’t quite as far on the cutting edge as yami-kawaii, but, again, it’s Sanrio, the major corporation. They’re not going to deal with the “Hey, Japan has serious mental health issues. Maybe we should talk about that branch of modern kawaii culture.”
DEE: Yeah. I would say Aggretsuko is still… It hits just hard enough that you go “Oof” sometimes, but it’s still at its core a comedy that is intended to be optimistic and make people go, “Okay, this does kind of suck, but maybe I can get through it, just like Retsuko does.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Hashtag Relatable.
DEE: And I think there’s definitely some value in that, too. Yeah, Hashtag Relatable, for real.
VRAI: I did note some people on Twitter who were having a hard time watch the first three or four episodes and were like, “This is too brutal! I can’t!”
DEE: The first few episodes hit me, also, very hard because I’m also working a day job at a soulless corporation. I thankfully do not have an asshole boss. But watching Retsuko deal with that and then the arc with her and her free-spirit friend Puko, and she decides, “No, I just can’t. I have to pay my bills. I can’t just jump into this project with you,” I felt that deep, deep in my soul.
Sorry, what were you saying, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: I think Puko is who everyone wants to be. I wish I could be Puko. [chuckles] But not a lot of people can maintain that way of living.
VRAI: I am surprised that the show… As soon as that arc came up, I immediately thought, “Okay, she’s gonna flake on her.”
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!
VRAI: And it’s not quite that brutal. It’s just like, “No, no, we’re still gonna totally do this thing. It’s just that it will be extremely unreliable and uncertain for several years. Good luck?”
DEE: And that’s how startups typically work. You do have to take that leap. And honestly, watching the conversation between Puko and Retsuko reminded me of when Amelia and I have conversations about AniFem. ‘Cause Amelia’s like, “Yeah, let’s do it! We got this!” And I’m like, “Oh, God, I have a day job, and I need to pay my bills, and how are we gonna make this work, because I really want to.”
I will give this show a lot of credit, for I think it does a really good job of… 95% of the characters are humanized, and they have different ways of dealing with their lives and modern society and office culture and all that, and the show does a nice job of saying that there’s lots of different ways you can get through those things.
With Puko, like you guys, I thought she was gonna flake on her or end up being awful. And she’s not. She’s got her own way of doing things, and it just clashes with Retsuko’s, and that’s okay.
CAITLIN: Right. It’s interesting because they’re not shallow archetypes, but they’re all still recognizable types. You know what I mean? I feel like a lot of us know a Tsunoda. A lot of us know a Puko. A lot of us know a Fenneko. What was the hippo’s name?
CAITLIN: I think everyone knows a Kabae.
VRAI: God, yes.
DEE: I think a lot of us have worked for a Ton, to some extent, you know?
DEE: Or a Tsubone. One of the two, if not both.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, definitely. I’ve definitely worked for a Tsubone. But at the same time, they’re recognizable types, but they’re not totally stereotypes. You know what I mean?
DEE: Yeah. And I think even the characters who—like you said, they’re the recognizable types, but I think a lot of them, they spin them to be more positive than they’re often displayed.
Even by the end of the series, I did not care for Tsunoda. She’s just not my kind of person. Not my kind of deer. But by the end, she has that conversation with Retsuko where she’s like, “Yeah, I know. I kiss up. It makes him easier to deal with, so that’s why I do it.” And I like that the show doesn’t really— And even Washimi’s like, “Yeah, that’s smart of her. I get why she does that, and that’s okay.”
And so, I like that the show doesn’t go the route you think it’s going to go with a character like Tsunoda or Puko, where you think they’re gonna end up being the quote-unquote “bad woman” because they’re doing things that aren’t what the expected “good girl” is supposed to do, and it’s like, “No, they’re fine. This is another way of coping with what’s going on and trying to live your life as best you can.”
VRAI: I feel like the only rough patch in the show for me was that moment where it wants to tell a contained narrative arc in a sense, but also it has to deal with the fact that it’s like, “Welp, this goes on, and you kind of deal with it,” where it tries to backpedal on Ton a little bit at the end.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, I kind of get it. He’s awful. He’s still a person. I kind of get what they were going for, and, yeah, I think a lot of it came from them trying to wrap things up neatly.
VRAI: It’s one of those things where in a narrative, structural capacity, I understand why it goes down that way. But just in the climate that we’re in right now, where there are a lot of puff pieces about how you need to know both sides of awful people, I didn’t have time for it.
CAITLIN: Right. Like—
DEE: Yeah… Go ahead, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: A lot of horrible people can have nice moments, and he chose to justify it as “It’s interfering with her work.” So, he’s an older, more experienced person. You can look at it through a selfish lens, where he’s gonna tell her this thing and it’s gonna break her out of it, but also, it’s gonna get her to a point where she can actually be productive again.
DEE: Yeah, let’s go ahead and talk about Ton a little bit, because I think there’s a lot we can go into with him. He’s depicted as being this relic of the old generation, and so is the elephant boss. I don’t know if the CEO ever gets an actual name. Washimi basically runs the company, but we do have that dude behind the desk.
And both of them have these very regressive, sexist ideas about how to work. And he tells Retsuko at one point, “That’s how they did it for me, so I just figured that was how you were supposed to do it.”
And I think it’s important to know that even assholes came from somewhere; they didn’t spring fully formed from the ground as assholes. You know what I mean? So, I like that Aggretsuko says, “This is the culture that spawned this, and in some ways, it sucks for Ton, too, that this is how he came about to be the jerk that he is.”
And I was worried they were going to fully redeem him. I was like, “No, he’s still a sexist asshole.” So, I like that he gets that one moment of “Well, he has been doing this for a while longer, and you can still learn things at your job from people who are the worst.” But then, in the final episode, he’s still nitpicking her about stapling things, and she rages again at the tail end.
I was like, “Okay, so the show didn’t really make him okay; it just gave him a beat where you go, ‘He’s not…’” I just think even assholes are more interesting when they’re not just one-dimensional monsters, because I don’t think real people are one-dimensional monsters. Does that make sense?
VRAI: Yeah, sure. Maybe I just wanted them to hit that last note a little bit harder, so that it doesn’t run into “Well, yeah, he’s still an asshole, but now you know underneath there’s this other thing.” Which, I think it is trying to hit that balance, but I just wanted them to come out that other side maybe for a little bit longer. I don’t know. But I don’t think it breaks the show in any way.
DEE: I kind of like the idea of “Well, Ton’s always gonna be a nitpicky asshole, but if he realized—” He makes some really sexist comments early on, and I do think those kind of disappear in the last couple episodes. And so I don’t know if they were trying to make a point about “Well, he is trying to get better and not be as much of a jerk, at least in terms of actual discrimination,” but that was one thing I wished they had hit more.
If you’re going to humanize him, also give him the opportunity to learn from getting called out about this stuff. And I don’t think it necessarily hit that, so that was kind of an eye twitch for me, as well.
VRAI: Yeah, I think it’s because the moments with Ton are some of the realest and most brutal parts of the show.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, they are.
DEE: But kudos to the writer team for making him a literal chauvinist pig. That was a nice touch.
CAITLIN: [laughs] They had fun with the animals in this. My personal favorite is that Washimi is a secretarybird.
VRAI: She stomps!
CAITLIN: [laughs] And when the CEO has dumb ideas, she literally just kicks them apart.
DEE: That’s amazing. Washimi’s very good.
VRAI: Washimi is the best.
DEE: I love both of the— Well, we’ve been talking about gender dynamics a little bit with the shitty bosses and with the women, but let’s talk about that in terms of the relationships and Retsuko’s friendship that develops with Washimi and Gori.
VRAI: It warms my heart and waters my crops.
CAITLIN: I think it’s really interesting because they follow up on Puko, where Puko seems to be offering this escape, and then the ideal is not very much matching the reality, and so Retsuko feels just so hopeless. And then Washimi and Gori come along, and they’re able to offer her this actionable, useful advice and give her realistic perspectives on things, because they have navigated these situations successfully.
Sometimes their pragmatism is kind of a bummer. Like, “Yeah, you can report this, and it might make things better for a little bit, but in the end, he’s really just gonna get shitty again,” which is what happens.
DEE: Yeah, they knew, but I just still like that even though they’re aware of the situation, they do try to help however they can. Washimi basically reports him for power harassment and gender discrimination, I think she says. And the boss is going to brush it under the rug. He’s like, “Well, you don’t have any proof, so it’s fine, right?” Which is so—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] She just kicks his desk apart!
DEE: Yeah, I think I cheered a little bit at that part, because I was like, “Oh, you asshole,” and then she kicks his desk. I’m like, “Yes!”
VRAI: Ah, that’s amazing.
DEE: I wish we could do that at our jobs, just kick the boss’s desk in half sometimes.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Ah, man.
DEE: Not the AniFem job. I don’t want to kick Amelia’s metaphorical desk in half. I like Amelia.
VRAI: But I think we’ve all worked shitty office jobs.
CAITLIN: Um… Not really.
DEE: Shitty retail jobs?
DEE: Some kind of job where you ever wanted to kick your boss’s desk in half?
CAITLIN: Yeah… Yeah.
DEE: [chuckles] But, yeah, I love the supportive relationships and the pragmatism that they’re able to offer her. I also love that there’s a lot going on in this show in terms of: I think they do a nice job of touching on a lot of Retsuko’s relationships throughout.
There’s a couple of romantic subplots going on, as well, which we’ll get into later, but I love that the female friendships really are the core of the story. Even at the very end, where she breaks up with Resasuke—and, again, we’ll talk about that more later—Washimi and Gori walk into the karaoke room, and it’s like, “Welcome back.” And so the ending is the three of them being reunited.
And I love that the show manages to have conversations about relationships and marriage and romance and things like that while not making that the whole point of the series. I think it does a really nice job of showing the supportive communal bonds that you can build through your job.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It recognizes the complexity of the situation and the reality of the situation: that there’s no easy answers, and you do your best, but that’s, honestly, probably not going to fix things, and you try anyway, and you support each other anyway.
But the thing that is really helpful, that really improves Retsuko’s life and her situation, is that allyship and the support—that they understand what she’s going through and they can offer her advice. But also: they get it. They’ve been there. They’ve navigated it and they know it sucks, and they know it’s hard. And it still sucks and is hard for them at times. It’s not optimistic, but it feels real in a really satisfying way.
VRAI: Yeah. I mean, I tend toward shows like Utena, like “Yeah, fuck the system” shows, but—
CAITLIN: [laughs] Me, too.
VRAI: —it’s important to have ones like this, where it’s like, “Okay, but sometimes at the end of the day, you have to live in the system, and this is how you’re gonna survive it.”
Which is a nice thing to have in a way that, like you said, is so supportive of those female relationships, which is one of the concrete things that we can work towards changing in media. Because even with Tsunoda—who is, like you said earlier, Dee, the typical suck-up type of hyper-femme girl who would normally be the enemy in a “not like other girls” kind of story—she’s getting by, she’ll go out for drinks with you, and she’ll probably level with you. Don’t trust her, but she’s doing her thing.
DEE: She even invited them along to her social mixer, so she’s doing her best.
CAITLIN: She’s not out here to live by ideals. She is not out here to try and break down the system. She’s out here to survive.
VRAI: I will say, one thing that bummed me out—to get into another thing I know we wanted to at least touch on—is when Gori comes over and stays at Retsuko’s house and the dub changes a line where the subtitles are about Retsuko being annoyed that she’s being imposed on without being asked and the dub is a line about how Gori is going to stretch her clothes out. And I’m like, “[groans softly] Did we have to?” And for the most part, I like the dub, but some of the choices are some choices.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, that “Big shoes to fill” line was pretty good.
DEE: Yeah, generally I really enjoyed the dub, but— What?
CAITLIN: That “Big shoes to fill” line is a master stroke in the dub.
DEE: I don’t remember. When was this?
CAITLIN: It’s in the first episode, where Retsuko accidentally wears Crocs, and she runs into Tsunoda in the lobby. She’s like, “Don’t notice. Don’t notice.” And Tsunoda’s talking about how she did this awesome job and she really looks up to Retsuko for blah blah blah, for finding this thing, and her eyes look down. And then she looks back up and finishes what she was saying. And in the Japanese, it’s just some line about how awesome Retsuko is, but in the English, she goes, “I really have some big shoes to fill!”
DEE: [laughs] Yeah, I think the dub is funnier in some ways. I think they tried to make it a little bit snappier, as far as some of the dialogue comedy goes. But that also means that they made some mistakes along the way that made things meaner than they needed to be.
And the one point that we should bring up—even though I don’t think the three of us are particularly qualified to discuss it, but we should at least touch on: the fact that Gori, who is a gorilla, is voiced by a mixed-race woman and is played with a voice that is very much like your stereotypical sassy Black woman.
And, on the one hand, I’m totally okay if you want to Black-code some of the characters, because I think that can be helpful in stories, but gorillas have a very racist background in American history going back very far, so maybe not the gorilla? Maybe not the gorilla.
VRAI: Maybe not the gorilla, and maybe not just that one character who is the one with the really loaded history.
DEE: Yeah. Also that. I do want to point people to… I read an article. Nicole Adlman wrote a piece for Hello Giggles that goes into detail about Gori and shares some different tweets from other persons of color online who were reacting to the character and criticizing decisions made there. So, I would direct people to that. I will put it on the post for the show for this podcast on AniFem, so you can find the link there, as well.
VRAI: I will also say on the subject of voice choices, Todd Haberkorn certainly brought a mincing air to Komiya in a way that I don’t think they needed.
DEE: I’ll defer to you on that one. I listened to the dub before I listened to the sub, and I thought the sub did about the same thing that Haberkorn did in the dub, so I didn’t catch much of a difference there. To me, he read as just really high-strung—but again, you’re more attuned to that than I am, so, yeah, I’ll defer to you on that one, for sure.
VRAI: It’s one of those things where that character type—that shitty second-in-command archetype—is very tied into this coding where they’re an antagonist to the heroes, and part of the antagonism is “Oh, they kind of suck because they don’t just suck up to the boss; they probably also want to fuck him.”
And I don’t think it’s a conscious choice anybody made. It’s just really tied into the coding of that kind of archetype and the type of voice that you go to for that comedic archetype.
DEE: I see what you’re saying. No, that makes sense. So, yeah, they kind of played into that stereotype, maybe not even knowingly, but definitely—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Almost certainly not knowingly, I think. Just one of those things that annoys nobody but me, but I wanted to say it in podcast form.
DEE: No, no, no, I think that’s totally fair. I think that is something people should be aware of when doing voice casting and voice work, to be aware of those stereotypes and try to avoid them, especially when they’re not intended, and I don’t think there’s anything in Komiya’s character that suggests that he is intended to be read as in love with Ton. I think he’s just another suck-up yes-man.
VRAI: But I also want to give a shoutout to the really good voice work that the dub has. I am in love with dub Fenneko’s voice. It’s very good.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] She’s really good.
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s excellent, yeah.
VRAI: She sounds like Daria, and I’m about it.
DEE: Which is perfect, because Fenneko basically is Daria. But also, kind of a hypocrite. I love Fenneko because she does this whole disaffected, cynical thing, but at the same time, she’s also constantly on social media despite giving Tsunoda crap for it. She knows everything that she’s doing at all times. She’s kind of obsessed with Tsunoda.
VRAI: Here’s the thing: I want them to date because it would be a train wreck! [chuckles]
DEE: Oh my God!
DEE: There’s season two. There’s season two for you right there.
CAITLIN: All right, let’s see if Archive of Our Own has anything on this. [laughs]
DEE: [laughs] I also love Fenneko’s relationship with Haida. I love that she’s just the best bro out there for Haida, who also… I think the English voice actor for Haida does an excellent job with him.
VRAI: Yeah, do we want to talk about Haida? I wound up unexpectedly impressed with his writing, honestly.
DEE: I think Haida’s another one of those characters who is a familiar type that subverts a lot of the expected negative attachments that go along with that type. So, yeah, go for it, Vrai. Talk about this.
VRAI: Pretty much, I had him pinned as the Nice Guy archetype from the second he walks on screen and is kind of awkward in Retsuko’s presence, because that’s just how those kind of stories go. But it wound up going in a really positive direction where, yeah, he’s annoyed that he didn’t get around to asking her out, but he recognizes that that is his fault and it has nothing to do with her, and he’s mad at himself rather than blaming her for not noticing that he liked her.
And then, at the end, a big part of the speech when they decide to try going out is him saying, “I don’t actually know you. I know the version of you that I’ve built up in my head.” And that is such a good line! I am so about it!
DEE: I thought that was excellent.
CAITLIN: Yeah. That was really, really good to see. That was very satisfying.
DEE: That made me happy because I really liked Haida. I was like, “Aw, you’re a good boy, Haida. You’re nerdy and trying your best and apparently are really into punk rock in your spare time.”
DEE: I love the little glimpses you get into the characters’ lives outside of the office, because even though we’re pretty much just following Retsuko, you still get a sense that everybody else also has other stuff they’re doing in their spare time that helps them get through their shitty day job, which I think is really nice.
But, yeah, Haida’s one of those, too. So then at the end, I was like you, [Vrai]. I was worried. I was like, “Oh, no, no, no, don’t give the ‘I can be so much better for you than this other guy’ speech.” And so, when they swerved, I was just so happy. I was like, “You are a good boy, Haida! I knew it!”
CAITLIN: Yay! By the way, there are only seven Aggretsuko fanfics on AO3, and one of them is Fenneko and Tsunoda.
DEE: [crosstalk] Heck, yeah.
VRAI: The internet has my back. [laughs]
DEE: It’s not just you, Vrai. The internet has your back.
VRAI: Ah, good trash person out there, I see you.
DEE: Uh… okay. We had lots of other talking points.
VRAI: Yes, well, we should probably also talk about Resasuke, the blank void.
DEE: Yeah! “Plant? Who?” [chuckles]
CAITLIN: The potato?
DEE: Okay, so here’s the thing about Resasuke. Second time through… I did watch this twice, listeners. I watched it right when it came out and then a little bit before we recorded this podcast, and I wanted to watch it both subbed and dubbed. The second time through, I felt a lot of sympathy for Resasuke, which I didn’t really expect to happen, so we can get into that, as well.
To dovetail into that, though, we haven’t really talked about Retsuko’s whole “I’m gonna get married to escape my terrible job” arc. So, any general thoughts on how they played that—“the millennials-in-love arc,” as I called it in the show notes?
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s looking back at this old ideal. It seems like a desperation move, like “Okay, this modern expectation isn’t working out for me. I’ll just go back to the older ways, and I’ll just get married and work and support a husband, because working sucks,” without thinking about, really, what would be hard about being a stay-at-home wife, you know?
DEE: I like that Washimi points that out, too. When she tells her that, she kinda pinches the bridge of her bird nose, such as she has, and is like “Retsuko, what are you talking about?” And she even says, “It’d be one thing if there was somebody you liked and this is what you wanted for yourself, but I feel like you’re discounting how hard it can be to be a housewife and how marriage isn’t exactly easy, either.”
So, I like that the series didn’t depict that as an easy out. It was more just Retsuko desperately trying to find some way to not have to work this terrible job anymore.
VRAI: It’s interesting, because I think that’s the aspect of the show that is maybe the most steeped in very specific Japanese culture and the dynamics and expectations, and how much is changing with women in the workforce and childcare in the workforce over there right now. But it’s not a completely unknown thing over here. That is the desire that the billionaire romance subgenre runs on: “Oh, boy, I can quit my job and be a kept woman and do nothing! Yay!”
DEE: I mean, I’m not gonna lie to y’all. I’ve had days at work that were so bad that I went home and—not seriously—but I said to a friend, “Man, I just need to find a rich person to marry so I don’t have to do this anymore.”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s an appealing fantasy!
DEE: Yeah, so I get where Retsuko is coming from, having had those bad days. Not something I’ve ever pursued quite as much as she does here. The one thing I do… because it kind of slides into—we see this in anime pretty regularly, too—this idea of “Oh, I need to get in shape so I can get a man” arc.
VRAI: [groans] Yeah…
CAITLIN: By the way, a funny thing about that is when people leave teaching, a lot of them look at office work as an escape. I have had coworkers who are just like “I can’t do this anymore. I’m gonna get an office job where I sit at a computer all day because the chaos and the physical, emotional, social labor of teaching is so much.”
DEE: Mm-hm. I could see that.
CAITLIN: And also, office workers get paid more than we do, so…
DEE: Typically, yeah.
DEE: Depends on the office job but, yeah, typically. No, I see that. That is kind of interesting, though, because one person’s hellish job is another person’s “Oh, no, that seems nice and simple and much better than what I’m doing right now.”
CAITLIN: I mean, personally, I hate office work. My few ventures into office work, I have found myself teetering on the edge of depression. But, yeah, no, that is a very common thing with people who go into teaching, is they burn out and they find something quieter and simpler in office work.
VRAI: Makes sense.
DEE: Yeah. But Retsuko’s burning out of office work and trying to find something that she feels will be quieter and simpler than that. Vrai, you made some groaning noises when I mentioned the fitness arc.
VRAI: I hate that plot point. I mean, I’m not wild about it in this show, but just in general whenever it’s the “Lose weight to catch a man” thing, my soul dies and my skeleton leaves my body.
DEE: No, I hate that, too. As someone who tries to… I try to go to the gym and try to stay in shape, but because I want to be in shape; that’s why I do it. So, whenever I see an arc where it’s like, “I wanna get fit,” I’m like, “That’s cool,” and then it’s like, “…for a man,” and I’m like, “No! Stop!”
CAITLIN: Isn’t it enough to… I want to be in shape because—
VRAI: —I don’t want to die at fifty. [chuckles]
DEE: Well, yeah, that’s certainly part of it. God, sorry, this is such a tangent, but I tend to just feel better when I have a little bit of exercise in my regime, so that’s part of it for me.
CAITLIN: I think that’s just normal.
DEE: Yeah. But what I was gonna say about this arc… What I do like about the show is I think it does a pretty good job of saying that Retsuko’s goals here are not good ones—are [not] ones she should emulate—because when she talks to both Washimi and Gori, they’re like, “No, we’re here because we feel good going and getting this exercise.”
And I like that her goal is to go to yoga and get a man, and she goes to yoga and she makes really good female friendships! So, I like the twist there, where it’s actually more about finding a supportive community, which is a big part, I think, for a lot of people. Whether they join a team or go to a class once a week or whatever it is, part of it is that supportive community that can help you through your day.
VRAI: Yeah, and that’s a fair thing, that sometimes doing something for the wrong reason still leads to good results. And also, it gives us the yoga instructor, who is good.
CAITLIN: [in a goofy bellow] Yoga!
DEE: So, I’m of two minds here. One, it’s appropriation-y, for sure.
VRAI: Yeah, it is. That’s fair.
DEE: But it’s also so freaking goofy that I can’t even be super mad about it. So, yeah, the moment where, I think, he sends Gori the number for the death metal music via the mysteries of the cosmos, and I’m like, “Oh! I’m kind of wincing, but at the same time, this is clearly not serious. So, I feel like you’re maybe mocking people who think this is what yoga is?” I wasn’t really clear on what they were doing there. But he shouts “Protein!” a lot and it’s amusing.
DEE: He’s a helper.
VRAI: I mean, obviously, I am not the person to give the definitive explanation on that. It did strike me as very—maybe because I live someplace with a lot of New Age fuckwads—I was dying. I was dying!
DEE: Yeah. And that’s the thing. I think it’s poking fun more at the New Age instructors than it is at actual yoga or Hindu or Indian practices. I think that’s what it’s going for, but there was a little part of me that went “Mm, I’m not 100% sure how cool this is.” But, again, not really my subject to discuss either, so I’ll leave that to others in the comments. If we have any Indian or Indian-American listeners who want to weigh in on that, please do. But I figured it was worth bringing up, for sure.
It’s also worth noting… I meant to mention this earlier when we were talking about the gender dynamics. I like that the show— The worst character in this show is absolutely the sexist male boss who has all the power, but it doesn’t do that thing you see in some shows where they make every man awful, so it’s hard to get a feel for what they’re telling people is not okay.
I like that there are some guys in the cast who are really likable. I like Haida. I like that the yoga instructor is helpful. He tries to help his students along the way.
I think you can lose the message of… It’s the same way when you have a show where every female character is a brat or something, that makes it like, “Oh, what you’re telling me is all women are bad or all men are bad or something like that.” So, I think, having that variety, it goes, “Well, no, no, it’s not like people are inherently bad or good. It’s these particular behavior sets that are a part of our society, like the sexism and the misogyny that comes out of Ton or the power harassment.”
So, I thought the show did a nice job of having casts that were balanced enough. I think there are definitely more awesome female characters, and I’m glad for that because I think that makes this more a show about those different relationships and the way women in the workplace in the year 2018 are navigating through a space that has opened up to them really fairly recently, all things considered.
VRAI: Yes, a lot of shows—
DEE: But, again, I like that the show did that, because I’ve definitely watched some series where they’re trying to critique that, but then they don’t give any positive examples, so you don’t get a real good feel for what specifically they’re criticizing.
CAITLIN: Right. They’re able to make it so that they’re criticizing the system, not criticizing men as inherently terrible beings.
DEE: Exactly. And I thought Aggretsuko did a nice job with that by having some decent dudes in the mix. Speaking of those dudes—sorry—we are moving back to Resasuke. I told you we’d get there eventually.
VRAI: I do think I see where I would guess you’re going, is that he’s not an actively malicious character. The harm he does is because he is oblivious and hasn’t taken the amount of social care and obligation that other people around him are taking, which ends up hurting Retsuko. So, yes—
CAITLIN: He’s not malicious; he’s just thoughtless.
VRAI: Yeah. Which is one of those things where, yeah, I will definitely lend you more to go on for that, but also there comes a point where you’re an adult. You’re an adult about the same age, presumably, as Retsuko, who is so tired all the time.
CAITLIN: But she is projecting what she wants onto him. The way she sees his features are different from how they are.
DEE: That’s such a good visual gag, too. It just made me giggle every time. I love, by the way, that they go to Disney World, and that’s the one episode that doesn’t have a death metal song. It has a Disney song when she’s in not-real, fluffy love. I thought that was an amusing little dig there.
But, no, my thing with Resasuke is I think this arc touches a lot on the expectations placed on young people, both men and women, in terms of being in relationships and what you’re supposed to do. Because Retsuko thinks, “Oh, I have to be happy and in love, so I’m just gonna put up with everything,” which is what she did at her office job, too. That sense of being an ii ko—a good girl—comes up in this arc, as well.
And the thing with Resasuke is: he kinda gets completely shoved into this at every stage. His cat friend, Manumaru, basically pushes him into dating her and tells [him] exactly what to say and do on the date, and you never really get the sense he’s into it. You get the sense he’s just doing it because that’s what he’s supposed to do, so he just rolls with it.
And the touch, I think, the second time through that gave me an “Ah” moment for Resasuke, is: Retsuko breaks up with him and he goes home, and he has a house full of plants. And he says “I’m home” to the plants, and I’m like, “Oh! You also have a thing that you love doing, and this is what brings you joy, and you just got shoved into this relationship that you didn’t particularly want, because that was the expectation placed on you by your coworkers and society at large.”
So, that moment at the end, I was like, “Aww, Resasuke! What are you up to with all your plants, buddy?”
CAITLIN: Yeah, I never really felt like he was a bad guy. I felt like, like I said, Retsuko was the one who was projecting what she wanted out of him, and she was making excuses for him because she wanted him to be a certain way, and the pressure of pretending she was happy in this relationship was so much that it was the only thing she could focus on, and that was why she was getting to be crummy at her work.
We didn’t get his perspective, but it seemed he was like, “Well, okay, I guess she’s just along for the ride,” and I don’t think he was ready for a relationship. [chuckles]
DEE: [amused] No!
VRAI: Not a bit.
DEE: He had zero interest in a relationship. Again, his cat buddy kinda shoved him into that. His cat buddy, by the way, in the dub is fantastic. He’s in two episodes for maybe five minutes, and he’s just fantastic. Resasuke keeps asking him because he keeps saying, “You need a girlfriend; you need to do this,” and he’s like “Why? Why?” And he finally just goes, [flustered] “No more talking!” It’s very good. Sorry, I wanted to give a little shoutout to him.
DEE: But, again, I think that is Resasuke. He’s the “Space Cadet” in the dub. So, I think, he gets told, “You need a girlfriend; you need to do this,” so he just does those things. And I think Retsuko’s coming at it from the same perspective, but she’s really fighting to make it work because she personally believes that “This is what I need to be happy now.”
And it doesn’t work out, but she’s okay in the end because, again, she has those good-good female friendships and a good dude at the office, too.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] And they welcome her back.
DEE: Yeah, and I do ‘ship her and Haida. By the end, I was like, “Oh. No, this is cute.” I’m into it.
VRAI: It’s cute. And actually, in retrospective, the marriage arc winds up being a point in Haida’s favor, where Retsuko is initially feeling around for “All right, who are the dudes in my vicinity that I know” and asks, “Would you want a wife who stays at home?” And he has to think about it, and he’s like, “Eh, well, I guess I’d just want us to keep working and doing what we were doing,” which is kind of nice.
DEE: Yeah. He also points out that he doesn’t make very much money.
VRAI: [laughs] Relatable.
DEE: Yeah. Which is becoming a thing, is—I’ve read an article about this recently—there’s still this cultural pressure for men in Japan to be the breadwinner. Gosh, maybe I can find the article and link it to this post. I’m not sure I can, though, so take this with a little bit of a grain of salt. But there’s a lot of pressure there, but wages for jobs, there’s a lot more contract work, and so the salary’s not as steady, and so a lot of men don’t feel like they have the money to be the breadwinner, but they’re still expected to do that job.
CAITLIN: I mean, it’s kind of the same here. I’ve read a lot of articles about women who feel guilty that they make more than their male partners. And listen, I’ve never felt guilty about that a day in my life.
CAITLIN: I’ve wished that he makes more because I know that I’m going to be in a low-paying job for my entire life and I wish we had more money, but the fact that I make more is not what is making me feel bad. But there are people out there who that still matters to them in our own country, in the U.S. It’s not something that is unique to Japan.
DEE: No, that’s very true. You’re right, yeah. I didn’t mean to imply that it’s unique there, just that it is also a concern there, just based on some of the different things I’ve read. But I think that Retsuko thinking, “Oh, I can escape this job,” and asking Haida about it and him coming back with: “Well, I don’t actually make that much, so it’d probably be better if we both kept working”… and, again, like you said, Vrai, he has no problem with that. He does not feel the need to have a traditional husband-wife setup, which is definitely a point in Haida’s favor, I think.
VRAI: Yes, it’s nice. They’re cute.
DEE: They can rage at karaoke together.
VRAI: Yes, because apparently he’s a punk and she’s death metal, and they could start a karaoke band.
DEE: I would love it if this series gets a season two. I think it has a very cohesive final arc. Again, I think it does a good job with the female friendships at the core of the story.
Also, one thing I did want to touch on a little bit is: I think it does a nice job of showing—I think you see this tension in a lot of media, not just in anime—the focus on community as being more important than the individual can definitely be something that crops up a lot, which can bump up against more individualistic ideas… There’s these broad, general cultural ideas about the West being more individualistic, and Japan and other parts of East Asia being more collectivist. And there’s some truth to that, and obviously it varies by the individual.
But I think there’s some pushback you see in media about this place between “the community subsuming the individual so much that it becomes exploitative and parasitic”—which is what the office is like at the beginning, where she’s just being worked to death and isn’t really getting anything back from it—versus this idea of “the community as being a supportive or symbiotic part of being a person,” like other people who can help you and lift you up.
And as much as Ton is an ass, he does have that little moment where he’s like, “We go to work because we can do more together than we could alone.” And then, you see that in her relationships with Washimi and Gori, and even Fenneko and Tsunoda to an extent, I think, and Puko. So, I like that central tension that plays throughout the series and how they show both sides of that, and how it can be destructive, but also how it can be really good for you. Does that make sense?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s a good thought.
CAITLIN: No one can do anything alone. We all need to have a group. Big companies exist for a reason, and they swell to a bloated, parasitic size, but— [chuckles cheekily] I’m full of hot takes today!
VRAI: [crosstalk] The hottest.
DEE: You’re not wrong, though.
CAITLIN: But we can’t forget that there are certain things that individuals can’t do. There are certain things that small groups can’t do. And these things are important. And work, ideally, gives you a greater sense of purpose, even though that’s often not the case.
DEE: But you hope it does.
CAITLIN: You hope it does.
DEE: Like you said, “ideally.”
CAITLIN: I mean, hey, I’ve consciously made the decision to teach in a school instead of being a nanny, instead of working in a home daycare with like two other people. This is a choice I’ve made because I prefer to be in that larger group.
We’ve all turned our attention to Anime Feminist when we started off as individual bloggers, and because of that Anime Feminist has—at least, I know for me—done things and given us opportunities that we did not have as just individual bloggers.
DEE: Yeah, that’s an excellent point. And has given us opportunities to bring in more voices, which is a thing that I’ve really loved about working on this group. But you’re right, because having this all come together, we’ve been able to do a lot more with AniFem than, I think, any of us were able to do on our individual sites, and that’s been excellent. I think of this as a supportive, symbiotic community, so hopefully y’all do, too.
That was a tangent. I’m glad we went on it. But I was just saying that if they ever do a season two, I’d love to see Retsuko show that death metal side of herself to more people, because I think one of things that makes her relationship with Gori and Washimi so important is you get the sense they’re the only people she’s ever shown that side of herself to.
Even Puko doesn’t seem to know about her death metal hobby. And Fenneko talks about “Yeah, Retsuko never really talks about herself and I don’t want to pry, so I stalk her on social media.” [chuckles]
VRAI: God, she’s so good.
CAITLIN: I feel like Fenneko—
DEE: And Haida’s— Sorry, what were you gonna say?
CAITLIN: Fenneko is probably very relatable to a lot of people.
DEE: Fenneko’s very fun, for sure.
VRAI: The least relatable moment of the show was during the mixer when they tried to convince me that she’s not the most lesbian-coded character on the face of the planet.
DEE: [laughs] I could see that. She had fun at the mixer, but she didn’t seem to hook up with any of the guys, so maybe she was just enjoying having a good time.
VRAI: But on the subject of season two, I would watch it, but I would be a little leery because I’m always worried that shows won’t be able to make the jump from portraying a couple getting together to actually being in a relationship and facing those kinds of struggles.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, me too.
DEE: [crosstalk] Good point. Yeah.
VRAI: If they could do it, it would be fascinating, but…
DEE: Yeah. I mean, I’m perfectly happy with the adorable fanart I’ve seen floating around of the two of them rocking out together—and Haida’s thing at the end, “I would like to know more about you.”
That is my hope for Retsuko, is that she’s able to open up and show that side of herself to more people. Because I think that supportive community is what can get you through… Sometimes, you do just have to deal with not-ideal, crappy situations to pay the bills. Obviously, if it gets bad enough, you should get out—and I think Retsuko maybe should look for another job, though by the end of the show, she’s doing better.
But having that community of people who you feel like you can be open and honest with really helps you get through those tough moments. And no matter what job you do, you’re going to have tough moments. That’s my hope for Retsuko, is that she’s able to build her little social group.
VRAI: There’s not really a place to talk about it. I don’t know that it needs spoken about, but I do want a minor shoutout for Kabae getting arrested for industrial espionage at the end of… [speaks through laughter]
VRAI: Which is the best out-of-nowhere joke that I’ve ever heard!
DEE: That was incredible.
VRAI: It’s amazing!
DEE: Yeah, she’s a middle-aged working mom, who is also, apparently, a spy.
CAITLIN: Who can’t stop gossiping.
VRAI: Because we’ve all known that person at the office, I think.
DEE: Yeah. Wait, the spy or the gossip?
VRAI: Could be both, apparently!
DEE: Could be both. Keep your eyes on ‘em. And then, Kabae’s back in the office at the end like it’s no big deal, so I guess it all worked out. They couldn’t catch her.
VRAI: Yeah, the show is nice and I enjoyed it, and I am glad that it exists.
DEE: Yeah, to wrap up, I guess… I feel like I know what everyone’s answer here is going to be, but would you recommend it to listeners—who, at this point, we’ve spoiled the entire show for you, so, sorry, I guess?—Would you recommend it to listeners? Would you recommend that listeners recommend it to their friends?
CAITLIN: No, I hate it. [chuckles]
DEE: [laughs] Yeah, we didn’t have a ton to critique here. It was pretty much just a good time.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s the worst. [laughs]
VRAI: Definitely I will say that it does balance the hope and the more traumatic elements well, but don’t feel bad if it gives you too many bad feels with the place that you’re at in your life now and you don’t feel like you can sit with it, because that’s also understandable. The cringe elements can be strong.
DEE: Especially in those early three episodes when she and Puko are having their discussion and things are really bad at work. I think once she befriends Washimi and Gori, the show becomes a lot less of a rough ride.
VRAI: Gori is the best character ever. She’s so good! She stands in her truth.
DEE: I do adore Gori. We didn’t really talk about— We talked about Washimi being a secretary, but we never really mentioned Gori is the marketing director, so she’s probably the highest-ranked character in the series. And she even talks about “Yeah, I’m always getting flattered and told that I’m awesome.” Like, Gori, I bet you rock at your job!
VRAI: She’s so good!
DEE: But she’s also adorable and kind of moe and just wants to be Retsuko’s friend so bad, and I love her.
VRAI: [whines, overjoyed]
DEE: Yeah, the cast is great. Like you said, Vrai, if you’re in a place in your life where it’s just a little too stressful to watch a character who is maybe too Hashtag Relatable at times—other than that, I don’t really have any caveats for this one.
Again, the dub can cause some issues with the way they’ve chosen to voice Gori—and, again, I would direct you to an article by an actual Black woman who can talk about that with more authority and experience than I can.
But other than that, I think it’s a great show, and it kinda came out of nowhere for me. I did not expect anything from this one. And then, I watched it and was like “You guys, we have to do a podcast. This is great!”
DEE: So, it turned out it was a pleasant surprise for the spring season, I’d say, for sure. Any final thoughts on your end, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: It’s good.
CAITLIN: It’s very good. I feel like even if you don’t work in an office, you’ll find stuff that is Hashtag Relatable, just because, listen: we’re all just trying to survive the patriarchy out there. So, yeah, definitely I would recommend this to pretty much anyone.
DEE: Yeah, like you said, we’re all trying to survive the patriarchy out there, and this is definitely a show that engages with that in a way that is real but also not so real that it’s uncomfortable to watch. So, it gives you a little bit of hope, which is nice. Again, it’s one of those shows that’s like, “We know it’s rough out there. Do your best to keep fighting.” And I appreciate that in my media.
Okay. If that’s all we got, then I’ll go ahead and wrap us up here. We’re at the hour anyway, so that works out.
All right, folks, we hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Chatty AF. If you like what you heard, tell your friends! And if you’ve really liked what you heard, we’d love it if you’d head over to www.patreon.com/animefeminist and become a patron for as little as $1 a month. Your support really does go a long way towards making Anime Feminist happen. You will be helping us pay our editors, our contributors, the editor of this podcast.
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CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Convention appearances…
DEE: Convention appearances. Yeah, good point, Caitlin. We’re to a point now where we’re not losing money, but there’s still more that we’d love to do, and you can absolutely help make that happen, and we’d super appreciate it. If you are interested in more from the team and our contributors, please check us out at www.animefeminist.com, on Facebook at AnimeFem, on Tumblr at animefeminist, and on Twitter @AnimeFeminist.
And that’s all I got! Enjoy your raging karaoke nights, AniFam, and we will catch you next week.