The more cynical-minded among us might be tempted to call Aggretsuko a cash grab. After all, Netflix’s latest original anime series is based on a character by Sanrio, a Japanese company specializing in cute merch centered around personality-driven animal cartoon characters. In other words, it’s branded content, and who wants that?
As it turns out, I do. And, more than likely, so will you. Sanrio, which is responsible for Hello Kitty as well as the misanthropic penguin, Badtz-Maru, and the malaise-filled egg yolk, Gudetama, are masters of creating merchandisable art that is absolutely irresistible, though indisputably meant to generate profit by selling everything from plush toys and keychains to bathing suits and foot cooling sheets. Take Sanrio Boys, for instance: the franchise, which launched in 2015, is specifically geared towards destigmatizing male embarrassment around liking and collecting "kawaii" things (made by Sanrio, of course) through its very own merchandise line, a manga and anime series, and even a smartphone game. Given that its protagonists are all high school boys, some have also read the franchise as a queer narrative.
This focus on accessibility and appeal is exactly what makes Aggretsuko work. When Retsuko, a red panda fresh out of university, begins her office job, she’s gung ho -- and immediately twists her ankle due to the slight heel of her shoe. Five years later, her corporate enthusiasm has been worn down by a grinding combination of a tiny apartment, a crowded commute, a real murderer’s row of co-workers (a gossiping hippo, an appearance-obsessed deer, a sociopathic fennec fox), and a chauvinist hog of a boss. No, really -- her boss is literally a pig.