Aggretsuko grows up in Season 2.
When Aggretsuko burst onto the Netflix scene last year, it was an instant cult hit. Watching the cute but secretly-fiery red panda navigate the stresses of working life was something many of us could relate to. It was cathartic to watch, but I did wonder how the show would continue in its second season. After all, there’s only so many times Retsuko’s rage-fuelled heavy metal solos can serve as the climactic point of each episode before the formula turns gimmicky and repetitive.
Aggretsuko’s second season handles this continuation by becoming a different show. And it does so wonderfully. (Mild spoilers if you want to go in totally blind!)
In this season, the focus shifts away from Retsuko’s simple and straightforward office frustrations. Where the first season revolved around Retsuko struggling through work, the second season sees her growing up, getting used to and therefore coping better with work stress.
“You’re able to work without building up stress now,” her friend Washimi observes early in the season. The viewer sees that too. After five years of work, Retsuko is much more at ease, and there’s less workplace-induced rage and karaoke sessions.
Once again, this growth is something young employees can identify with. The best thing that can come out of work pains is learning how to handle it better. And in making this shift, the show departs from its previously episodic nature and takes on a more coherent, continuous story arc. The issues Retsuko deals with now are far less trivial – and more confronting – than the initial bumpy conflicts that plague someone fresh to the workforce.
In the first half of the season, Retsuko struggles with figuring out her path in life outside of work, growing older, coping with an overbearing mother and marriage pressure, all while having to mentor her company’s new hire, a bright-eyed badger called Anai.
Without spoiling too much, Anai seems to serve as a foil to Retsuko this season. As a fresh employee, he also experiences similar teething issues as she did when she first started. However, it quickly becomes clear that the two have very different coping mechanisms.
The resulting fall-out when the tables turn on Retsuko as she becomes the despised senior seems to refer to the rising conversation in Japan about unhealthy workplace issues like pawa-hara (power harassment), exploitative black companies, and what the younger generation expects out of a workplace.
That’s another way Aggretsuko diverges from its original roots. Where the first season was universally relatable in its depiction of common workplace gripes from overly-chatty colleagues to overflowing workloads and bosses from hell, the second season feels unapologetically Japanese in its focus.
For example, Retsuko’s mother becomes one of her main sources of stress by pressuring her towards an omiai, a formal Japanese matchmaking protocol that pairs singles with the aim of marriage– probably not a process Malaysian viewers will be familiar with. Yet, the overarching sentiment of marriage pressure is a common one.
A slightly more difficult angle is how Retsuko handles the conflict with Anai. Her behaviour can feel baffling without prior knowledge of the strict rules that dictate Japanese workplace hierarchy and conduct, with nuances that could potentially go over the head of someone that lives outside the cultural context of the Japanese workforce and society.
But while the issues may be Japanese, the show resolves them with a universal solution: empathy. Though Aggretsuko depicts society as it is rather than an idealised politically-correct version of itself, it neither endorses nor derides it.
It shows things as they are – whether it’s a woman leaving the workforce after marriage, a working mother, generational gaps, different styles of communication – without judgement, but with empathy and care instead.
The show’s antagonists are never one-note sources of irritation, but are given the time to reveal their own motivations and issues. Characters sidelined in the first season also see gratifying character development, reminding us all that each person is the main character of their own lives, and perhaps we should treat them as such.
Aggretsuko Season 2 premieres on Netflix on June 14. Watch the trailer below!