Meet Aggressive Retsuko – she might look cute but her rage-filled internal monologue has struck a chord with overworked Japanese
Aggretsuko is an adorable animated red panda who feels the pressure of long hours and office politics so spends her free time singing thrash metal songs in karaoke parlours to vent her true feelings
While Hello Kitty appealed to an earlier generation of young Japanese women, for whom cute was cool, Aggretsuko is a very different character for a very modern kind of woman.
She is neither pink nor fluffy, like her hugely popular predecessor at Sanrio, but 20- and 30-something working women in Japan say she is a great deal more in tune to their real, everyday lives.
In an animated series, Aggretsuko – a contraction of Aggressive Retsuko – is a red panda who works in the accounting department of a traditional trading company in Tokyo. Before joining the firm, this was her dream job.
The reality, however, is very different from what she anticipated and, as the series progresses, viewers see her increasingly struggling to cling to her sanity.
She despises the morning commute, where she is obliged to stand on a packed train with her head in the armpit of a malodorous fellow passenger. Her boss – a wilderbeest – has a habit of dropping piles of extra work onto her desk five minutes before she was planning to head out of the door. Her office colleagues, variously a hippopotamus, gorilla, snake and hyena, annoy her intensely with photos of their offspring on their mobile phones and office gossip.
And then there is the virtually obligatory after-work drinking, when she has to make sure that everyone’s glass is constantly topped up and no one can go until the boss says so.
Around her colleagues, Aggretsuko largely manages to keep up appearances – despite the voices in her head telling them exactly what she really thinks of them – but she spends her free time singing thrash metal songs in karaoke parlours to vent her true feelings.
And while Aggretsuko may only be an animated character, her creators appear to have struck a nerve – in just the same way as Ricky Gervais did with the hit mockumentary The Office.
“Oh yes, most office ladies are angry when they work alongside oji-san [a derogatory term for old men], have to work unpaid overtime at short notice as well as putting up with the bullying from more senior women,” said a working woman from Tokyo who would only give her name as Mari.
“It may be a little much to describe this as the experience of a whole generation – but I do know a lot of young women who go to karaoke to reduce stress and that ‘baby metal’ [young female stars performing heavy metal] is very popular right now, so maybe there is something in it.”
Kanako, who used to work in the service sector and also only wants her first name to be used, says the pressure on young female workers is huge.
“On one hand there are the customers, who you have to be nice to, but it can be infuriating when an elderly man clicks his fingers at you or claps his hand to catch your attention,” she said.
“On top of that, there is the workplace politics and bickering that goes on behind the scenes and means that anyone who is young and pretty and popular with the regular customers gets picked on by some of the older staff. You really can’t win.”
“I do sympathise with Aggretsuko as I can see some of my frustrations in her working life, but I don’t do heavy metal karaoke to get it out of my system,” she said. “I prefer to calm myself by watching ballet.”