Wednesday, 2 May 2018

アグレッシブ烈子/ Aggressive Retsuko / Aggretsuko : Netflix series

When I finished the 100 episodes of the original Japanese run, I had no idea the 10 episodes of the Netflix reboot were already out. I thought there would be a long wait before they found a new venue for their charming little shorts, and was very surprised when I saw the promos for the Netflix version, marketed at the west.

On the surface, this reboot is more of the same. The designs are the same, the voice cast is the same, even the animator/director, who also supplies the metal growls, is the same. The animation is a little different, slightly more crisp and careful but actually to my eye rather less fluid and a little cheaper-looking. But with the format change to full episodes rather than little skits and a more overarching story, there’s actually quite a lot that’s different.

Perhaps surprisingly given that there’s a lot more time to develop these things, Retsuko’s working life is much less complex. This is the biggest change I disliked: in the original show, Retsuko is a very normal, very identifiable cog in the wheel. She works too hard and is taken advantage of, but there’s a feeling that a lot of others in her huge company (and in Japan Inc.) are in the same boat. She even gets a kouhai, a junior worker who answers to her, though he’s a bit useless and brings his own problems. In this new series, she’s right at the bottom. The chihuahua kohai and the random seal pup she teaches to use spreadsheets have been cut. The hierarchy is much starker and it often seems like it’s only Retsuko who is picked on, overworked and forced into too much overtime. Her only Kohai now seems to be Tsunoda the gazelle, who has figured out how to get treated better than Retsuko does. For me, that actually makes her seem less universal and less likeable, because if she’s the exceptional case there should be a way for her to get back to the norm. If everyone’s in the same boat, it’s more hopeless but more understandable.

Most of the cast is shaken up a bit. Fenneko has become a closer friend for Retsuko with impressive powers of deduction, though she’s introduced as pretty two-faced. Tsunoda gets some scenes where her cold, calculating inner self gets made clearer. Washimi and Gori are no longer regular coworkers who are a little glamorous but will hang around in your house way too long when you want them to go home, but instead are very senior workers who are a great transformative influence on Retsuko, encouraging her to take risks and embrace her true self. The pig boss is now no longer one of several roughly equal authority figures but the absolute unquestioned section manager with only the CEO to answer to – the Buffalo boss character who has a creepy crush on Retsuko barely appears as a random yes-man. The Meerkat is similarly altered to a total yes-man rather than just another annoying co-worker. That said, the pig boss has a bit of an interesting development here, essentially embodying the old guard in Japanese offices, mostly a deeply offensive chauvinist until he’s brought into line, then finally and grudgingly offering Retsuko some profound life lessons. Other characters have their roles greatly reduced or cut altogether, like the annoying Hippo co-worker Kabae, the spacey axolotl and the highfalutin cat. On the other hand, another cat, an old childhood friend, appears to give Retsuko a dream of something different from her regular job in a little character arc that really gets the audience on her side.

The biggest and most positive change, though, is to Haida-kun the hyena. He was barely relevant in the original series, doing things like arranging office parties and fixing Retsuko’s stuff (at length), but here he is a close friend to Retsuko who has a crush on her. His character arc is so sweet, having a crush on her, watching her get interested in the spaced-out Resasuke (given a character of sorts here but mostly being portrayed as totally unable to understand others’ feelings), going through some bad times but eventually working things out. He’s not a complicated character but he actually becomes the real heart of the show and by far its biggest point of improvement.

It’s also quite nice that here, Retsuko’s singing remains literal. Not an inner expression only Retsuko can take part in (with Fenneko occasionally on guitar). Now, each time she lets loose it really happens, usually in the karaoke bar or the office toilets, but sometimes in places like the office drinking party. It’s quite nice to have it more grounded.

There’s a lot that people who only watch this version will miss, including most of the funniest and sweetest moments. It’s a pity not to have the times Retsuko starts getting angry but realises she shouldn’t, or funny gags based on the actual nature of the animals like when they complain about Washimi not making a silly face only for her to say she doesn’t have the facial muscles for it. On the other hand, there’s also a lot here you don’t get in the shorts. I would absolutely recommend anyone who enjoys one watch the other, and I know I binge-watched both versions almost all at once, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. So if there’s more Retsuko to come, sign me up!

Oh, and I just want to say that the ‘Protein’ kangaroo reminds me of the bra skit from The World of Golden Eggs, and that always makes me giggle.  

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