I found Aggretsuko at the age of 24. Thirty seconds into the first Netflix Original episode, I shared it with my 64-year-old mother who knows absolutely nothing about anime but a hell of a lot about hating her job.
Retsuko, the little red panda Sanrio character who takes out her office frustrations by singing metal karaoke, made us cry laughing. It took some effort to get my 29-year-old boyfriend to watch a show about kawaii (cute) cartoon animals, but once he watched the first episode, he binge-watched the rest of the season. Be they female, male, millennial or baby boomer, everyone loves Aggretsuko.
“It’s instantly relatable,” says Dave Marchi, vice president of Sanrio marketing and branding. “Anyone who deals with any sort of stress or the typical things that you find in either an office or a school can see it as super relatable. What is particularly exciting and captivating about the character is this dichotomy of sweet, little, traditional Sanrio character, but then the other side of her is this raging metal panda. She’s metal and she rages, and that’s fantastic.”
She’ll grab a beer, complain about her coworkers, wake up to a hangover and then do it all again, all with her trusty metal karaoke mic at her side.
“What is particularly exciting and captivating about the character is this dichotomy of sweet, little, traditional Sanrio character, but then the other side of her is this raging metal panda. She’s metal and she rages, and that’s fantastic.” —Dave Marchi
Marchi and the U.S.-based Sanrio team handle Aggretsuko’s promotions in the states, but the concept and the content comes exclusively from the Japanese designer and creator known only as Yeti. “作品として昇華することで現実の理不尽なことやストレスを笑いに変えられるところ,” she writes to AP. (Translation: “The beauty is that it turns a real-life frustration to see the humorous side of it.”)
Though simple and commonplace, the amount of fans this theme attracts grows exponentially every day. People of all nationalities, ages and genders have fallen in love with Retsuko and her “rage mode” because they look at her and see their own reflection.
In between the character’s guttural growls and indiscernible pig squeals lies common ground, and that’s exactly how Yeti came up with Retsuko in the first place. “上司の愚痴を言う友達が、怒りすぎてデスボイスのような唸り声をあげたのでそのようにしました,” she reveals. (Translation: “My colleague made a roaring death voice while complaining about her boss.”)
The first season of the Netflix original series consists only of 10 15-minute episodes, but that was enough to capture the interest of anime lovers and metalheads everywhere. Seeing this music scene connect with Aggretsuko at Sanrio’s pop-up events in California has been extraordinary for Marchi.
“It was funny,” he says of the first Den of Rage in downtown L.A.’s Little Tokyo. “These two metal fans who came to the Den of Rage straight up schooled me. When we were first talking about the character for some of the early press releases, we were saying she’s this character who takes out her aggressions by doing death metal. We weren’t necessarily sure if it was cool for us to say ‘death metal,’ so then it became ‘heavy-metal karaoke.’
“But these fans in line were telling me it was actually thrash metal,” he continues. “And I explained that to our entire company. It was so cool because they wrote down a list of bands we should listen to and a list of bands we should work with if we want to explore partnerships.” (Which they do, by the way, in case your band are wondering.)
So rule No. 1: Get your subgenres right. Rule No. 2: Make merch.
Marchi and Sanrio have been working tirelessly at the latter, giving fans the ability to rep their favorite metal mascot just like they would with their favorite bands. It’s this meeting of two different subcultures that creates endless possibilities for both the character and for music. “Even with Hello Kitty we progressed,” he continues. “We did music collaborations with Kiss, and we did it with Lady Gaga, but this feels like we’re taking it even further, which I love.”
Already added to the playlist in Sanrio’s flagship and pop-up stores are Lamb Of God, Pantera and Joan Jett, to name a few.
“For the very first time we got to program the Sanrio store—[in which] we usually serve up some family-friendly J-pop—with a metal soundtrack to fit with the Den of Rage. We went for some Metallica, Motörhead, some Mötley Crüe, some Marilyn Manson…all of this was music we had never previously explored in one of our Sanrio stores. For a Sanrio store to be playing those songs was a big deal for us.”
A new avenue is opening up for metal in pop culture, and while no one is quite sure where it will lead, everyone involved is more than ready to walk into the unknown. Yeti writes, “全く想像がつかない分、新しい事ができるのでは、と楽しみです.” (Translation: “Not knowing exactly how it will affect the music scene, I’m excited about new possibilities.”)
While California has been the exclusive home of the Den of Rage events, Marchi is looking forward to seeing what Sanrio can do with Aggretsuko in other cities across the U.S. At the same time, fans are also waiting for Netflix to release the series’ second season, slated for 2019.
“I would expect more metal, more rage and more of Aggretsuko dealing with the typical stuff that one deals with at work, and channeling her rage in fun and entertaining ways,” he says of the upcoming episodes.
Personally, he had a favor to ask of Yeti before the second season was created. “I said, ‘Please, please, please don’t have her fall in love and get married!’ From what I understood, [Yeti] is on the same page.”
So while the polite working woman finds her home in the combative metal scene, and as Japan and the United States share and create new elements of pop culture, Marchi gives one last teaser: “They’re not holding back, and they’re not being too safe about it, which is great.”
Aggretsuko will return in 2019. Check out a trailer for the upcoming season below.