Review: 'Aggretsuko', season 2
Aggretsuko has launched its second season on Netflix. The first season won an Ursa Major, and the show has become a hit among the fandom with its theme of worklife in the modern era. Will the second season be able to retain its title?
In short, I personally found the second season to be a bit tamer than the first as far as content goes. The red panda, Retsuko, seems to have adapted more to her stresses in life and the duality of her underlying rage seems to have been numbed a bit. When she did do a scream-fest, it seemed more forced and circumstantial than prepared and thought out. It also looks to be that the season focuses on the social obligations outside the workplace this season. Items such as friendship, family, and the future of Retsuko’s life outside of work seem to be the focus of her stresses.
Given this, those that like the first season may have differing feelings of the direction of this one. My thoughts are a bit complicated. I think the first season was far punchier and excellently paced, whereas the second had good moments but also some questionable decisions on character usage.
Conflicts on the home front
Where the first season had a purely defined antagonist in Taun, the conflict between he and Retsuko was resolved at its climax by Taun’s speech about using accounting principles in personal relationships. This was a powerful moment in the series, which I still get chills over. At this point Retsuko sees him as more than just a bane of her existence, having more dimensions than she had given him credit for, and it gives her the direction to axe her misguided love interest.
The second season shares similarities with the first, with the story beats going from workplace conflicts to romantic situations in its second half. A major distinguishing factor is that the main conflicts Retsuko faces are in her home life, not the office, which she has settled into.
This shift in narrative may strike a bit close to home for the demographic of individuals who have settled into their work routine and are looking for things to do other than the “work, home, internet, sleep” cycle referenced in the show. I say as I look in the mirror.
As far as Taun goes, he and the red panda clearly have more respect for each other this season, despite Taun continuing to push his employee into situations she’d rather do without. However it is that situation that outlines the most prominent conflict in the first half of the ten episode second season. That one revolving around the greenhorn Taun is having Retsuko train Ani; a situation foreshadowed at the end of the rap battle Taun and Retsuko had in the first season, with the pig warning the panda that one day she would be seen as the “shitty boss”. This situation puts the shoe on the other foot, and is highlighted by more than just the relationship between Ani and Retsuko.
While many can empathize with Retsuko when dealing with the over-defensive Ani, it is her dismissive behaviour around her other colleagues, particularly Kabae the hippo, that can be seen as far more in a word ‘shitty’. Retsuko blows Kabae off as gabby when talking with her about the events in her family that are important to her, in an attempt to help Retsuko come up with ideas on her food stand for a company outing. By ignoring her colleague's input and relying only on herself, Retsuko is blind to the skills of her fellow employees that can help her find out how to bring the best out of them.
Or in a phrase, being a ‘shitty boss’.
And that is one of the strengths of this new season, it gives some other characters that were a single note in the previous season a chance to shine in bringing out the best in their other co-workers. Where as we can empathize fully with Retsuko’s no guff attitude toward work in the first season, we can see the inherent flaws in that attitude toward the morale of her colleague’s in the second. It is the climax of the Ani conflict that teaches Retsuko the things she missed by dealing with problems shutting herself in.
Seeing other people
While the season seemed to try and put an antagonist in Retsuko’s mother at the start, the bigger conflict for this season is over the concept of marriage. For furs this is not going to be as clear-cut a conflict as corporate culture and its downfalls on the average worker. On the marriage and relationship front, there may be some who empathize with Retsuko, while others will be able to see things from her love interest’s perspective.
She ends up accidentally falling for a technology tycoon, thinking he was a regular guy at first (vis-à-vi Coming to America w/ Eddie Murphy), however there is an interesting dynamic around her second suitor. He ends up being the complete opposite of her love interest in the first season. Where her first was passive to the point of having Retsuko pull all the weight in the relationship, this one comes with the promise of a future where she would not be doing any heavy lifting what-so-ever.
The means by which he puts forth in resolving toils is through the use of technology and artificial intelligence. As one who has graduated with a degree in computer science with a focus on cognitive science myself, this dream of computers taking over problem-solving jobs is something I am well aware of.
One of the inherent flaws of this approach is that those who are able to design and work with AI are typically creative, well-educated individuals. So when asked the question of what humans will do when their jobs are replaced by machines, they have this vision of doing creative endeavors. What they fail to realize is that even the average toiling job requires creativity and it is that spark of inspiration and the feeling of being needed that can work into one’s own sense of worth. Without it, some people are going to pursue things that are not necessarily a positive value to society, nor to themselves.
This is why the most powerful moment of the season is when Retsuko’s love interest tells her that the company she works for really doesn’t need her. Her reaction indicates a change in her character, and acceptance of the role which she was given in life, as difficult and gruelling as it may seem.
That isn’t what ends the relationship, which ends up being the tycoon’s wish to not get married or have a family. As he stated, he and work are seeing other people. And that is his commitment to his technological companion, who fills in his role of spouse and child, highlighted by the moment when he is teaching it when looking up the downed crane situation when in his limo.
Taun was wrong when he gave his speech this time, which I found not even in the same zip-code of hard truth and insight as his first one. When he said that Todaro “didn’t need” a family to lean on, he was incorrect. In this case, technology is the family Todaro leans on. Many like the technology tycoon may find that the thing they bring to bed is their laptop and not a significant other. Once that’s the world you know, it can be hard to divorce oneself from it.
Who needs a navigator with a map in the passenger seat when your smartphone is a map you can see in real time? It seems quite odd that some of today’s youth will never experience their parents fighting over getting lost due to miscommunication of directions.
The hyena in the room
While I was a bit confused as to the direction they were going with her love interest this season, a second viewing made me think of this as a Goldilocks story. Her first love interest was too passive; her second wanted her to be too passive; so I assume the third may derive the conclusion that most fans will be looking for. If this show doesn’t go the way of the toucan (RIP Tuca & Bertie).
When it comes to Haida, we have seen him both passively accept situations, yet step in and push things forward when needed. So my guess is that the third season of this show may be the last and will revolve around the ‘just right’ scenario where Retsuko finds the one that will stand by and help her, but also let her do what she needs to do to pull her own weight in the relationship.
When it comes to this season’s finale and people’s favorite hyena, I would criticize his presence at the Karaoke bar scene where Retsuko breaks up with Todaro. It was not quite how I expected him to be clued-in about Retusko’s personal hobby, as it seemed quite abrupt. Did Restuko’s girl-friends tell Haida about what his co-worker enjoyed doing in her free time? If not, is he going to be curious as to why she broke up with her second crush at a Karaoke bar? If Haida just ignores that in the third season and doesn’t start being more inquisitive, his involvement in this scene is to me just thoughtless fan-service.
Which for a cartoon as well written as this one, would be quite a crime.