The latest season of Aggretsuko has arrived with some new looks into the struggle of nine-to-five employees through the eyes of humanoid animals. Our main protagonist, Retsuko, takes a bit of a backseat in this season. The series uses its Hello Kitty-inspire style – as it’s made from the same studio – to still tell a grounded story in the struggle of personal expectations, finding your passions, and trying to make your dreams become a reality. It included heavy themes while embracing the cartoony aspects of its world. Sadly, the fourth season tries to up the ante but doesn’t quite nail the landing.
The core message of this season is built by Haida’s characterization. After Retsuko was assaulted by a stalker, she’s uncertain about going home. It is the first stepping stone for these two to finally build a relationship of some kind, especially after last season’s finale. The creative team for some reason decided to reset his character, as he becomes a bumbling idiot every time Retsuko tries to take any step forward. While I understand that they are highlighting the ramifications of how we act when we are in love with someone that seemed unobtainable, it still drags on.
The reason they reset his character is to explore the topic of “self-doubt” in your private life and as part of a workforce. It’s the strongest aspect of the season and highlights how the cutesy art style doesn’t shy away from real-world issues. Yet, it normally finds a balance in how these characters act and have developed from previous entries. Yet, it feels like they went a few steps too far this time around.
The CEO gets hurt and the ambitious Himoru takes over. He ends up slowly letting older staff members go in an attempt to downsize to secure its future. Ton takes the fall, as he believes in his employees and ends up being given a dead-end job that’ll force him to leave. Of course, he can’t stand it and secretly starts working at a convenience store. He actually gets some great characterization and focuses on trying to keep the illusion alive for his family. It was great. Well, until Retsuko comes into play.
It was her and Fenneko’s ranting about him to the new boss in a drunken stupor that led to his firing, but as everyone tells her to let it go, she refuses to do so. I like it, as it gives her something to do this season and a story arc of making up for her mistakes. Yet, the way she handles it sends such a strange message. After meeting up with her ex, the rich and influential Tadano, she finds out she’s a viral hit. The YouTube channel she started long before she joined the pop idol band has suddenly gained quite a few views. So, her solution is pretty much dropped in her lap and while she invests time to grow it, it doesn’t feel earned in any way.
Especially when Ton becomes quite arrogant after getting hired to run her bookkeeping. It felt like the character didn’t learn a single lesson from his actions, and we just end up where we started. Once we go back to “he’s old and doesn’t know how technology works” jokes, it feels like we just wasted time and Retsuko just fixed her issue through sheer luck. Poor Kabae gets pressured out of her job due to her poor kid getting a fever – though his animations might’ve been the most adorable thing ever – and no one really helped her out. She only returns to the story due to her knowing every inch of the company to uncover Haida’s secret.
Speaking of, it’s time to talk about the story arc I could not fully get behind. Haida lacks self-confidence until Himuro sees the potential in the work he did to streamline how he tackles tasks through programming. Suddenly, he ends up as the department’s director and starts implementing new ways to support his co-workers. Even after they fired people left and right, the story suddenly takes a dark turn. For no real reason but to add drama, Haida becomes an accomplice and fixes the company’s books for the new CEO. We do see him build a bond with the Himuro, especially with them working out together, but it feels like such a heel turn for Haida.
Yes, he has gained some confidence due to the man acknowledging his hard work and it’s a showcase of how easy we are pulled into things once you finally get the feeling you’ve managed a “next step” in your career. Yet, this feels so out-of-character for him to just go along with this. Especially as this plotline is mainly there to put another conflict between him and Restuko. We have an entire heist storyline once she realizes what he is doing. Given the gravitas of this story and Haida’s moral dilemma, it could’ve been handled with more care.
Tadano doesn’t have a big role in this season, but his inclusion has an important role in pushing Haida’s development. He’s Retsuko’s confidant when she becomes a viral sensation – which is odd if you consider she wanted to get away from it after last season – seems convenient. The way it wraps up everything like a clean bow with only one character facing consequences seems rather depressing. Even worse is that it tries to go for a message about happiness that is important, but it also makes it seem it’s okay to give up on your ambitions or dreams. It just didn’t stick the landing after already forcing his character into a darker direction.
The series confirms there will be a fifth season, which may rectify some of the issues I had because they are more open-ended. There are some powerful moments, especially with Tsubone’s brief arc, but it all comes at the cost of one of its core characters. There is a lack of consequences to the actions taken in the story and it seems that no one learns a lesson, which ends up downplaying its stronger moments. It’s a shame that the direction didn’t quite bring everything together like in previous seasons, but it seemed like something was missing, and that includes the songs that used to cap off an episode.