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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3 More Wonderfully Weird Music Genres

So, while glancing at the last months worth of articles, I noticed a trend of pessimism that needs to be curtailed.

To that end, I’ve decided to delve deep into The Archive and provide a continuation of my exploration of bizarre and brilliant things going on in music. Let’s not waste time and get right into the fun bits.

All-Female Metal Tributes

I was born and raised as a metalhead. My parents fed me a steady stream of the Hair Metal they grew up with like KISS and Poison as well as Hard Rock (all Metal’s common ancestor) like AC/DC and Aerosmith. However, as I grow older, I’ve noticed a problem with Metal; despite how many girls I know that love it, the only time you see women in the genre are on the questionable and often exploitative album art.

Apparently, some lovely ladies agreed that this was wrong and took it upon themselves to take a few extraneous Y-chromosomes out of the sound by forming all-female tribute bands dedicated to some of the greats of Metal. Some notable bands in the genre include Judas Priestess, Hells Belles, and my favorite on the basis of the name alone; Vag Halen.

It’s no mistake that this is the first genre I cover in this article after verbally tearing Meghan Trainor a superabundant sphincter last week. It seems that many female artists are forgetting that feminism is NOT narrow-minded self-interest and nursing a superiority complex. We need more people in the world that actually care about adding to the scope and range of voices heard in media. And that’s why I love this genre.

It’s also why I love…

Queercore

In much the same way that the above mentioned all-female metal tributes were born from women being excluded from the Metal scene, so to was queercore (aka; homocore) born from the inherently homophobic vibes of 80’s hardcore punk and created an alternative for those being excluded that enjoyed the sound.

Bands and artists in queercore use the same naming conventions as our AFMT friends above. Only instead of feminizing existing bands and songs, they ‘gay them up’ as it were. This results in bands like Youth of Togay, Cockwind, and Gayrilla Biscuits.

My favorite though has to be Black Fag – who not only donate the proceeds from tours to charities in the gay community but also do the best cover of T.V. Party I’ve ever heard.

Chap-Hop

And you thought this was just going to be politicized tribute bands…

You know what my beef is with modern mainstream rap? The class is gone. Back in the day, rap and hip-hop were fun and happy, even as they talked about serious issues. Old school rappers in the 80’s and early 90’s would still brag and boast, but did so with an air of dignity. Basically, rap forgot how to be a gentleman.

Leave it to the British to remind us how to be classy.

Chap-hop is the combination of modern rap and that distinctly British men’s fashion trend; chap. The result is a sound that blends rap-style production with a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a 1900’s photograph and coats it in hilarious boasting lyrics about stereotypically gentlemanly things like tea, mustache grooming,  and playing cricket.

Chap-hop has bled into another odd subculture, steampunk, and you can find many chap-hop artists like Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, Poplock Holmes, and Professor Elemental performing at conventions.