The Surprising Existentialism of Sanrio’s Aggretsuko


With the abundance of shows on Netflix, it may have been easy to miss Aggretsuko, an innocuous looking cartoon from Hello Kitty’s company Sanrio about an innocuous looking red panda. But much like the show's protagonist, Retsuko, the short-but-sweet series packs a shocking amount of bite.

What begins as the simple joy of seeing an sweet, cuddly animal suddenly fly into heavy-metal singing rage (the show's title is the main character's name combined with the word aggression) builds over the course of the first season to a surprisingly nuanced exploration of life’s disappointments, shifting corporate culture, modern romance, and female friendship.

In her safe haven, the karaoke bar, the viewer joins in catharsis with Retsuko as she screams, eyes glowing, the Japanese symbol for rage appearing on her forehead. Here, she performs wonderfully satisfying heavy metal numbers that tackle such topics shitty bosses, judgement from others, and rage that demands to be choked on.

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As Retsuko sings/screams at a point of identity revelation later in the series “Metal is my soul.” Despite the comedic dichotomy, it’s not entirely unrelatable. The demeanor and image we feel obligated to project in the face of disappointing life circumstances, and the frustration, anger we may only allow ourselves to express in the privacy of an empty karaoke bar.

Aggretsuko is a rare gem. It's deep but light, funny and emotional, endearing and adorable. It offers something for everyone. While an anime about Hello Kitty animals may not sound highbrow, Aggretsuko somehow resonates with anyone whose life’s reality has circumvented their expectations.

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