Metalhead Adulting: Why Aggretsuko Just Plain Works

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

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?”

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The Agent’s Thought Dump: Part 2 – More Brain Droppings

So many thoughts. And yet so few words. Source: SwanWaters

So many thoughts. And yet so few words. Source: SwanWaters

Once again, I’ve hit a point where all the thoughts in my brain space have been taking up space while not being substantial enough for a full article. Combined with an upcoming and sudden moving day that threw off a few plans, I’ve been more creatively strained than usual.

So, it’s time once again to have a mental cleaning day in hopes relieving my stress. Let’s begin with the obvious thought that’s (I hope) on everyone’s minds…

How is America not imploding right now?

Seriously, have you seen the news lately? People are freaking out about gangs of creepy clowns, cities are without safe drinking water, oil companies are defiling people’s homes, and our primary choices for our future leader are a corporate-sponsored Dolores Umbridge and a mentally unstable, geriatric Oompa-Loompa. In the words of Dexter Holland, “s*** is f***ed up.”

It almost feels like everyone in my country is suffering some kind of short-term memory loss that makes them forget all of the madness going on around them as soon as they fall asleep so they don’t make forward progress on the problem. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve long since entered a state of ‘optimistic pessimism’ where I just hope for a civil war/dictatorship/apocalypse to happen so I can stop losing my mind over it.

On a lighter note, since this is about decompressing my stress…

I need to add One Punch Man to my watchlist

Have you seen this s***? It’s literally an anime comedy deconstruction of the western comic book-style superhero where a guy has phenomenal strength and speed but is tortured by the fact that having overwhelming power makes things too simple for him and all he wants is to be able to feel the emotions swirl inside him as he battles for the earth.

Basically, what if a normal guy had Superman’s power?

Add to that the fact that it seems hilariously over-the-top, and I can see why it’s taking off.

Speaking of anime that’s peaked my interest…

There is an anime where Buddha and Jesus are roomies

I wish I was talented enough to make that sentence up.

I’m not even joking; there exists a slice-of-life comedy called Saint Young Men where Gautama Buddha and Jesus Christ live on earth and share an apartment in modern day Tokyo while fumbling with mortal human culture to hilarious ends.

Screw political correctness; I need this to be dubbed into English. I must live in a world where Jesus identifies with us bloggers.

Why Dragon Ball Z‘s Zarbon Is a More Sympathetic Villain Then You May Realize (and Why He’s My Hero)

Screw Vegeta, THIS is MY prince.
Source: Rhandi-Mask @ DeviantArt

So, I’m still on a bit of a Dragon Ball kick from the last article I wrote on the topic. Team Four Star recently released Episode 50 of DBZ: Abridged, I’ve been re-watching the original series when I can, and I just downloaded Dragon Ball Z: Dokkan Battle on my tablet.

What’s more, the research that I did for that article turned up some details that got me doing deeper studies of the individual characters. Of particular interest to me was a villain that I was quite fond of – the elegant, but frightful Zarbon.

Now, I know I’m in a very small camp of people that actually like Zarbon. Most people I know balk at the idea of him being a respectable character. They hate the fact that he’s coded queer and seems very self-centered. But the information that I found was enough to make those traits more endearing (to me at least) and reaffirmed my fan status.

First, let’s start with Zarbon’s most dominant trait – the foppish antagonist stereotype. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this character in any medium, let alone anime. But, in the best stories (in my humble opinion), this trope of male characters acting more archetypically feminine is used to extenuate and/or cover up an important aspect of the character that will come into play later. The two that tend to come to mind when I think of this are James/Kojirō from Pokémon and Yuda from Fist of the North Star.

In James’ case, we often see him disguising himself as a woman a la Bugs Bunny and acting completely subservient to his lady partner in crime in Team Rocket Jessie/Musashi. However, it’s important to note that his cross-dressing is not portrayed as sexual, but as a means to an end; namely to complete whatever mission they are pursuing that day. As for his submissive nature, we are given multiple hints that he’s like this because he has legitimate feelings for Jessie and only wants to make her happy. In fact, the manga series The Electric Tale of Pikachu ends with the two tying the knot and a shot of a clearly pregnant Jessie (adorably enough, people who like to pair these two are often called “Rocket Shippers”).

As for Yuda, we see him constantly dressed in flamboyant garb and heavy make-up and surrounded by people who are forced to worship his beauty. We later learn that his evil actions are greatly influenced by the fact that he was utterly shown up by his former colleague Rei which started him down a path of self-hate. In other words, he surrounds himself with superficial beauty to hide the fact that he feels spiritually hideous.

From what I’ve seen I believe that a similar story is happening to Zarbon. Bare in mind that he is the prince of his home planet (the royal-looking cape and headdress aren’t just for show). As such, we can assume that he would be under great pressure to portray an image of grace and elegance to his people that would likely stick with him long after he was deposed by Frieza.

But even that doesn’t touch on the REALLY heartstring-tugging part. Take note of how differently Zarbon acts when he shifts to his “Monster Form.” He starts off respectable and honorable, but ends up displaying extreme machismo that errs on cruel barbarism, especially during the brutal headbutting sequence of his fight with Vegeta. It seems the transformation is psychological as well as physical. He even refers to the two forms as different sides of himself – “The Beauty” and “The Beast” respectively.

This is why I love Zarbon as a character so much. To be perfectly blunt, he’s using a coping mechanism to distance himself from a very cruel part of himself… a part of himself that I once saw in me in my youth.

I often catch flak for “not acting macho.” I enjoy body grooming (man-scaping if you will), I use make-up to hide scars and ache when I can, and I often will actively find ways to soften my image where ever possible. I do that because when I acted like the man others expected me to be, I was not proud of what I did.

I grew up in a rather ugly neighborhood with addicts, street toughs, and a terrible school (seriously, I don’t know another school with a 50% drop out rate). Of course, when you go to a high school whose principal was a football coach in your father’s day who encouraged his players to cripple the other team, you can’t rely on the grown-ups to help you against twisted people. My only option for survival was to be as mean or meaner than everyone else.

After I left public school to finish my studies at home and in college, I slowly started to realize overtime what I had done. I was short-tempered, pushed good people away, and was even a bit of a womanizer just to blend in with the scum I was living among. I took up the role of non-traditional male values as a way to distance myself from that life as well as to remind myself why I never want to be that man ever again.

To sum up the longest and most soul-bearing essay I have ever written, Zarbon, despite the acts of evil he committed under another man’s orders, is my hero because we share a common burden – we both err on the side of this…

… because we would sooner die than willingly become this…

… EVER. AGAIN.