Aggretsuko has taken the medium of anime by storm. From humble beginnings as a Sanrio mascot to a successful Netflix adaptation, after a successful run of four seasons on Netflix, the fifth and final season of Aggretsuko has arrived, featuring Retsuko’s latest challenges – a jobless boyfriend and, surprisingly, the world of Japanese politics.
This show has always been binge-worthy fun, and this season is no different, with ten episodes that last just under 20 minutes and the finale being half an hour long. For such a short running time though, the writers manage to cram in a lot, tackling themes such as the disappointment of the youthful in an uncaring society, toxic familial expectations, and even just the anxieties of introducing a new romantic partner to your family.
Aggretsuko, despite all its bright colours and the death-screaming red panda that takes centre stage, has always been a show about parodying the rage-inducing moments of life, with its first season focusing on the work culture of Japan. Though it predominantly focuses on Retsuko as a character, this season focuses on the rage felt by people around her. Even though this show’s setting is an anthropomorphised version of the country, much of the frustrations Retsuko goes through feels universally relatable.
This is why the storyline in the latter half of the season feels odd compared to the rest of the season. While having Ikari, a down-on-his-luck politician (voiced in Japanese by Yohei Azakami and English by Doug Erholtz) deciding to recruit Retsuko to run for politics does result in some funny moments – having Retsuko’s friends and fans assume he’s a stalker was a personal highlight – it feels like a plot element that comes out of nowhere, even though it was hinted at during the start of the season with Ton watching the news about the Japanese house of representatives and still is somewhat keeping in theme with the show’s core ideas.
While it isn’t a bad way to take the story, it still feels like something worth noting. One minute, Retsuko is asking Haida to move in with him and is helping support him as he finds new work. Next, she’s running a political campaign. It still allowed for some good comedy and drama, especially as Haida’s brother Jiro is one of the other political candidates. However, it felt like the weakest aspect of the season.
Perhaps it was the writer’s way of concluding Retsuko’s story on a high note, having her face her most daring escapade yet. However, the other storylines felt much stronger, especially the opening one. Haida, down on his luck and kicked out of his apartment, is forced to live at an internet café and do odd jobs just to survive while hiding his embarrassment (unsuccessfully) from Retsuko. This feels much more in keeping with the show’s themes.
Even though it is the last season, the writers still have time to introduce new characters without it feeling too overcrowded. Among the new additions to the cast are the denizens of the net cafe, including Shikabane (voiced in Japanese by Mewhan and in English by Lisa Reimold) a twenty-one-year-old fox who is coasting through life, keeping herself afloat through freelancing and passing the time through online gaming.
Though her character may sound tropey by that description, most of Aggretuko’s characters have never been cardboard cutouts. Shikabane feels imprisoned by the standards set by society, accepting her lot in life with an air of indifference, and it isn’t until the end that the audience sees her rage come out, even if it’s only for a few moments.
And while rage has been a recurring theme throughout Aggretsuko, this season develops it beyond the scope of the trials and tribulations of an office worker. Instead, it focuses on the rage felt by the youth who are being overlooked by an uncaring older generation, on the bitterness that societal standards enforce on an individual, as well as the hope that rage can bring.
Aggretsuko was always a fun, comedic criticism of our world. Though it may be ironic considering that the title character was born from the kind of Japanese corporation it pokes fun at, it will still be a sadly missed entry in Netflix’s yearly releases. A quote that comes up halfway through the show summarises this season perfectly:
“The way I see it, everyone’s ashamed of themselves at some point or another. It’s just part of being alive. What’s important is what you do next.”
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