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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Cultured Gaming: An Exploration of Counter-Culture in Borderlands 2

In words that Sir Hammerlock would approve of, “Cultural commentary, ho!”
Source: Borderlands Wiki

In my free time, I’ve started getting back into playing games that I didn’t have time to play while on campus. I’m enjoying the trip and starting to notice things I didn’t pick up on in previous playthroughs.

For example, while finally finishing Borderlands 2, I noticed counter-cultures on Pandora that mirror our own. So, as an experiment, let’s explore the various lifestyles of the Pandorans and if the developers have any meaningful commentary on them.

Bronies

Somehow, I think the developers actually wish they could have Tiny Tina riding Pinkie Pie.
Source: Derpibooru

Let’s start with the counter-culture that, hilariously, is least prominent, yet is most likely to polarize the target audience that reads this.

For those not in the know, Bronies are a community of male (and female) adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This group can be labeled as a counter-culture as they stand in direct defiance of our cultural ideals of masculinity and maturity by embracing an animated television made to target younger girls.

While there is very little to be seen in game, there are enough connections and references to MLP to support the claim. Most exist through the character of Gaige the Mechromancer. Her skills in game reference many characters and events in the show. Some include “Discord” (a reformed villain), “20 Percent Cooler” (a catchphrase spoken by Rainbow Dash), and “Fancy Mathematics” (part of a memorable rebuttal used by Applejack to her brother Big Macintosh).

Side note: Please note that I, unlike several others on the internet, did not preface this section with the words “not a Brony.” That’s because people should be able to talk about a kid’s TV show like adults without qualifying statements that reveal our massive insecurities.

BBWs and their admirers

Well, I do like a courteous, adventureous lady with a sexy southern drawl that can take care of herself.
Source: Borderlands Wiki

This is one of the first counter-cultures that I took notice of as I played.

BBW, for the uninitiated, is short hand for “Big Beautiful Woman” and is used to describe a woman of larger than average (read: socially prescribed as acceptable) weight who insists on retaining her confidence in and her happiness with her physical appearance despite pressure from the fashion industry and misinformation from the medical community (no, really; the health risks connected to being overweight are quite exaggerated).

There’s quite a bit of evidence that suggests that some of the people of Pandora love their ladies large. Scooter has a full-figured female on his trucker cap, a computer monitor in the Crimson Raider HQ has a wallpaper depicting a rather rotund lady in a bikini, and Ellie… well, Ellie exists.

Also note that I said “some people” rather then “some men.” Why? Well…

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life

Moxxi wants the D… and the V… and whatever else is between your legs at the time.
Source: LucidArtDVC @ DeviantART

The BBW’s may have been my first, but this was the one that made me want to do this exploration.

As it turns out, Pandora has a very strong LGBT community. Dr. Tannis, Moxxi (who openly admits to having several lesbian affairs), and Ellie will flirt with you regardless of your gender. You can find several ECHO tapes depicting or hinting at same-sex couples. In a behind-the-scenes release, lead writer Anthony Burch revealed that he intentionally wrote Axton the Commando as bisexual.

This is surprisingly progressive for a video game. Usually when a character is designed as LGBT, it’s for titillation or as a joke. Here on Pandora, the game just says, “Yup. That’s an ECHO recording of a gay couple. Just another day.”

So Why Is All This Important?

At first, I took the presence of these counter-cultures on Pandora at face value. I read them as an attempt by the development crew at Gearbox Software to create a more diverse world for the player to explore. And that is certainly true.

But as I drew closer to the game’s climax, I was hit with a realization that felt like the hammer of Thor straight to the chest.

Handsome Jack, our main villain, makes it very clear that he hates EVERYTHING about Pandora and wants to level it to the ground in order to start over again. By extension, that would mean that Jack equally hates these subcultures I mentioned that really pose no threat to anyone.

Knowing this, Jack becomes an allegory for the hyper-conservative public; people that shun these innocent folks while refusing to understand them and their lifestyles.

The message is clear; don’t fear the strange and different. We are all human and deserve to be treated as such. It’s okay to be gay, big girls need lovin’ too, and we need to love and tolerate the #&$ out of anyone that says otherwise. How’s THAT for a statement of purpose?

And just in case you think I’m over analyzing this a bit too much, allow me to remind you of the aforementioned behind-the-scenes article where I can quote Anthony Burch as saying, “…like the bandits Ellie crushes to death, I take great pleasure in making bigots and sexists pay for their douchery.”

Bless your heart, Mr. Burch.