Metalhead Adulting: Why Aggretsuko Just Plain Works

Dragonball Super would be more fun if Goku belted Death Metal while going Ultra Instinct.

As usual, I’m late to the party on this one. But that’s not to say that I’ve been sleeping on Aggretsuko. I’ve been watching (and rewatching) it for some time now. It’s the first time that I’ve been genuinely excited about a Netflix series since Castlevania.

But where my interest in Castlevania was fueled mainly by nostalgia for the games it was adapted from, Aggretsuko is an original property reworked from a set of shorts and given an actual plot. Normally, adding plot where none was meant to be is just asking for trouble. So, why does it work?

Well, among many things…

The writing (the animal symbolism, especially) is clever

The titular Retsuko is a Red Panda; a species known for being more active after dark (she works long hours and goes to the karaoke bar at night) and being highly territorial despite its cute appearance (the series revolves around her Death Metal-fueled ranting and raving).

Her co-worker Haida, a Spotted Hyena is never seen laughing like we’d expect, but that’s probably because he’s lovestruck, loses his nerve around her and can’t loosen up (males in hyena clans are ALWAYS submissive to the women and their cubs).

Her boss, Director Ton, is a Hog who abuses his power and has little-to-no respect for women; a LITERAL male chauvinist pig.

These are just a few of the ways Aggretsuko plays with and/or subverts the stereotypes we attach to animals. It’s the sort of writing that you kick yourself for not thinking of yourself because it’s kind of obvious and works so well.

Of course, they also use that writing for clever humor as well. I’m actually surprised that so few people I know got how funny it was that Washimi, the company president’s secretary, was a SECRETARY Bird and that the director of marketing Gori was a Gorilla (get it, Guerrilla Marketing?)

It speaks to modern American work culture

This is the thing that EVERYONE talks about when they mention Aggretsuko. And to be fair it’s a big damn deal.

Retsuko’s plight is that of everyone between the age of 18 and 40 today. She spends her days at a job where she isn’t respected or compensated enough for the effort she puts in and what little time she does have to herself forces her to choose between her passion projects or a social life.

Think of it this way; the average American works 47 hours a week. Spread out over a standard 5-day work week, that’s about 9.5 hours a day. Subtract the recommended 8 hours a day we’re recommended for sleep and that leaves you with a mear 6.5 hours to do your daily chores around the house while likely running on fumes after work. And if you’re an office drone like Retsuko, you can expect to put in overnighters and be called into the office on weekends. And judging from her apartment, she also not being paid very well; another issue working adults face with increasingly infuriating frequency.

All of this culminates in the average person over 21 having little in the way of time, energy, and resources to focus on their own goals and becoming truly self-sufficient. The result is being forced to fight a constant losing battle to maintain mental health under the pressure of social responsibility; a scenario my generation refers to as “Adulting.” … which, hilariously, actually does have a Metal anthem dedicated to it.

Speaking of metal…

It also speaks to modern Japanese music culture

Let’s not forget that this is anime and, as such, draws its perspective from a Japanese point-of-view. So what is uniquely Japan in Aggretsuko?

Well, Japanese comedy has always been quick to poke fun at office life as anyone who enjoys slice-of-life anime can tell you. But I honestly feel that most people overlook the significance of Metal in Japan’s Pop music culture.

You see, one of the great things about Metal that has kept it alive through the years is that it’s highly adaptive; changing not only with trends but with the culture that picks it up. Norway gave us the second wave of Black Metal in the 90’s. German bands like Rammstein shaped Neue Deutsche Härte (lit. “New German Hardness”). Even us Yankees saw what New Wave British Heavy Metal was doing, pumped up the tempo, and made U.S. Power Metal.

But to see why Death Metal is so important to the modern music scene in Japan, you first have to first understand the place of J-Pop Idol Groups.

The Pop scene in Japan is the definition of corporate manufactured music. They are marketed as being cute role models first and music seems to be a tertiary thought. That would be offensive enough to a music snob like me, but the groups are VERY strictly maintained to an almost draconian degree. Members of the group “graduate” (read: are kicked out of the band) after reaching a certain age. They cant drink. They can’t smoke. They can’t even have boyfriends. And if they get caught breaking any of the rules, they’re publicly shamed online before being given the boot.

Naturally, a lot of people took exception to this. It’s not right that these girls be bullied for wanting to live a life outside of their jobs. Plus, some people don’t mind the controversy; they WANT to root for the bad girls that stick it to the man. This resulted in J-Pop taking influences from Death Metal’s aesthetics, sound, and counter-cultural drive to mock the shallow absurdity of the Pop Idol scene.

Thus we saw the rise of the Anti-Idols. Bands like Necronomidol and Babymetal have been leading this movement that pushes against the Pop music zeitgeist that has been dominating Japan for years and results in a sound that I can only describe as the cutest little girls covering “Awaken (Mustakrakish)” by Dethklok.

So how appropriate is it the same genre of music that inspired the Idols to throw two proud middle fingers at the industry would also be the sound backing Retsuko’s battle cry against her corporate overlords commanding them to, “choke on my rage?”

The Return of Homestar Runner: How It’s Changed and My Hopes For The Future

Digital denizens of the 90’s, I come bearing great news; Homestar Runner is back!

For those familiar with the name, Mike and Matt Chapman – more commonly known as ‘The Brothers Chaps’ – have been slowly rebuilding and reworking their earliest project for years in-between other business; most notably Matt’s writing, directing, and producing of the Nickelodeon children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba and voicing the character of  Alfonzo in the Disney XD series Star vs. The Forces of Evil. However, over the last few weeks, the amount of new content coming from their YouTube channel has sky rocketed.

For those unfamiliar, Homestar Runner is one of the most enduring artifacts from the days of the pre-YouTube internet when your options for getting visual media on the web were limited and less than ideal. The Chaps, like many early pre-YouTubers, found Flash animation to be a simple way to get seen.

But it didn’t start with animation, the original Homestar Runner started life as a children’s book. However, as time has gone on, the comedy has matured for older audiences and, occasionally, finds itself poking fun at its child-like origins. This turned out to be the right move for the series as the original website is still operating off of merchandise sales to this day.

I’ve naturally been going back through the back catalog of old episodes and almost all of them still hold up. In fact, some of the jokes actually got better and more relevant (remember when resident shopkeeper Bubs refused to violate net neutrality by “throttling down” download speeds… unlike Verizon?).

Still, there are problems with being a web series that has existed for so long that it may as well be the internet’s Stonehenge. Technology and how we use the ‘net has changed so much that many of the techniques the show uses are horribly obsolete. Even the cast recognized the danger in flash not being the universal animation standard anymore. It seems that they’ve finally caved and have gone fully to YouTube in light of the situation.

Part of me wishes they could continue with the format they have now because it means the loss of one of my favorite aspects of the original animations: easter eggs. Occasionally, you could click on things in the animation as it played and you could uncover hidden content. Some of these are preserved in ending stingers, but there’s something rewarding about finding a secret ending that makes the experience special and encourages viewership.

There’s also the issue with the flagship sub-series Strong Bad Emails (SBmails for short); namely that no one uses email as their primary communications medium on the web anymore. This wasn’t as big of an issue thanks to SB getting an official Twitter account, but it does feel uncanny to someone that grew up with the classic. Plus Strong Bad Tweets (SBeets?) doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Still, I remain hopeful. I want to see this great piece of internet comedy history rise like the Phoenix again. Also, I’d like to see them do more joint works with other artists like when they made music videos for They Might Be Giants. Hell, I’d REALLY like to see them continue their series of episodic point-and-click adventure games with Telltale Games.

At any rate, here’s to the return of yet another of my fond memories from long ago.

Three Great Animated Movies for Halloween

October has to be my favorite month of the year. It starts with the changing leaves of Autumn, my birthday falls right in the middle of it, and it’s cap-stoned by Halloween – my absolute favorite holiday of all time.

Sadly, most so-called ‘Halloween movies’ are just standard horror films which leave me cold. I want to watch a Halloween movie ABOUT Halloween (no, the movie Halloween doesn’t count).

Thankfully, I found a small list of films that I feel capture the true spirit of the day (or night as you see fit) with out the need for overused horror tropes. And by odd coincidence, they all happen to be animated features.

The Halloween Tree

This was the Halloween movie I grew up with – not The Nightmare Before Christmas, Not It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; THIS.

The plot involves a quartet of kids getting ready for trick or treating with their mutual pal Pip when they see him getting rushed to the hospital for acute appendicitis. Upon finding what appears to be Pip’s Ghost (suggesting he died before he could receive his appendectomy) they follow him to the estate of Mr. Moundshroud (played wonderfully by Leonard Nimoy) which starts a chase for Pip to save his life.

This plot serves only as a driving force. The real point of the movie is to have the kids, and the audience by extension, learn the cultural significance of Halloween as well as the symbolic meanings behind their choice of costumes.

This movie serves as a nice history lesson on All Hallows Eve as well as a touching story about self-discovery and confronting the fear of death.

Witch’s Night Out

This would be the ‘odd duck’ choice on this list.

The story focuses primarily on an aging witch (again played wonderfully, this time by Gilda Radner) upset that so few people cherish Halloween. This is further illustrated by how the adults of the nearby town scoff at modern Halloween traditions in favor of a more “meaningful” Halloween. Our witch finds a few children who still have the spirit of the night in them however and, with their help, teaches the true purpose of Halloween.

According to this movie, and my own personal beliefs, Halloween is the one night that we can allow ourselves to become the things that we won’t allow ourselves to be the rest of the year. That’s why we dress up as all manner of monsters and fictional characters. It’s a night of grand fantasy and high adventure and we should all embrace it.

Sure the animation is rough and the voice acting is a bit hit or miss, but this movie and it’s Christmas themed predecessor, The Gift of Winter,  are heart-warming tales worth watching.

Halloween Is Grinch Night

Dr. Seuss was great at weaving subtle messages and life lessons into his work. For example, Green Eggs and Ham is about trying new things, while The Butter Battle Book serves as a cautionary tale of the nuclear arms race.

In this film however, we see the return of The Grinch played by Hans Conried (who you may know better as either Snideley Whiplash from The Bullwinkle Show or Captain Hook from Disney’s Peter Pan) who serves as the embodiment of fear. The story’s main focus is on a small Who named Euchariah who confronts The Grinch and all of the various fears he has to offer to stop him from reaching the other Whos.

The theme of confronting fear lends itself well to a Halloween story. The one moment that illustrates this best is the infamous ‘Paraphernalia Wagon’ scene. Look carefully and you’ll see allusions to several common childhood fears and general phobias that assault Euchariah without any signs of slowing.

By recognizing fear, you recognize potential danger. By facing it knowing the danger it may carry in the name of the greater good, you demonstrate courage. This is a lesson that could only be appreciated the way Dr. Seuss delivers it here.

Missing The Green Light: Three Great Animated T.V. Pilots That Never Got Picked Up

See? It’s Funny, cuz’ it’s a pilot! …I’ll go to my corner now.

Lately, I’ve been getting my daily recommended R&R by watching The Mysterious Mr. Enter’s YouTube channel where he gives brief but detailed reviews of animated shows. Watching his work has got me hungry for more cartoons.

After a brief glimpse around the web, I found a few pilot episodes – those first episodes intended to sell the show to networks – that, for one reason for another, never got picked up for series but deserve to be loved and recognized for what they gave us.

3 Dog Band

Given the play on words of the band Three Dog Night, you can guess at the plot here. 3 Dog Band is the story of three quirky anthropomorphic dogs who play in a band.

The story is very light and I feel that this might be the primary reason that it was never green lit. However, where the pilot lacks in story, it makes up for in presentation.

If the art looks familiar, it’s because this show was the brain child of Paul Rudish, an animator most well known for his work on Dexter’s Labroratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Sym-Bionic Titan, and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. As is par for the course with Rudish, the art is beautifully stylized; reminiscent of his work in the mid 90’s.

The goal for Rudish was to create a show with a focus on music. In that regard, the soundtrack is astounding. It’s a fantastic blend of House Electronic, Funk, and Disco that comes together perfectly. Think Daft Punk’s Get Lucky years before.

As a series, I see why 3 Dog Band didn’t get picked up. However, I can’t help but feel that it could thrive in the YouTube era where many music artists earn renown.

The Modifyers

Imagine James Bond as a young girl, give her a bit of slapstick humor and a whole lot of British Mod fashion, and you might arrive in the ballpark of the awesomeness that is The Modifyers.

This show is the tale of Agent Xero, a master of disguise working with the aid of her transforming mechanical assistant Mole to bring down the criminal empire of Baron Vain.

As mentioned, the humor is very slapstick oriented, but it does so with a deft touch. Many of the best gags are subtle and in the background while Xero and Mole do their work.

I’m also quite fond of the art. It’s reminiscent of My Life As A Teenage Robot with a bit 60’s spy show ala, shows like Get Smart or The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

There are many theories as to why the series was never picked up. I like to think the reason was that people watching it would likely mistake it for the adult parody that appeared on Newgrounds shortly after (Yeah, I’m not going to inflict that on you. It’s bad enough that I had to watch it to research this show), but it’s much more likely that Nickelodeon – the channel it was pitched to – just has a long track record of having a poor eye for quality; they did give Fred a series, after all.

Constant Payne

The late 90’s and early 2000’s weren’t hurting for American attempts at recreating the popular art style of anime. But seeing as it did give us shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, I think we could have gotten away with a few more.

Constant Payne follows the titular Paynes, the headstrong Amanda who’s eager to prover herself and her loving scientist father who’s just a little overprotective of her. Together, they manage to fight crime and protect the city.

While the art direction is very generic, I rather liked the subtle hints that story dropped. One such hint comes at the beginning of the pilot where it is suggested that Ms. Payne met some horrible fate; giving Doc Payne the motivation to protect his Daughter.

What’s more, the introduction of Amanda’s uncle Welton as a villain creates a very Runaways/Kids Next Door vibe in the plot that would help to build tension in future episodes.

So why did Nickelodeon turn down yet another seemingly great series? Because of politics. Executive Producer Micah Wright was apparently attempting to create an animator’s union in order to ensure better wages and benefits for his fellow artists. Nickelodeon refused the show fearing that supporting him would cost them much more than they were willing to part with.

Perhaps if today’s cartoon centric stations existed back then, we would have enjoyed the adventures of The Paynes. We can only imagine.