Red pandas might look cute and angelic, but they can turn on you in a second if they’re not happy.
It’s what makes the animated red panda Retsuko - a timid 25-year old Japanese accountant and the protagonist of Netflix series Aggretsuko - darkly hilarious, and the ultimate character for these times.
The show, directed and written by Japanese animator Rareko for Sanrio (creators of fellow cult-cute characters Hello Kitty, Gudetama and Pompompurin), focuses on the trials and tribulations of the disenfranchised Retsuko, who's working away in a soul-sucking job she hates as a corporate accountant.
To find release from the all too common frustrations of white-collar workers, Retsuko performs death-metal karaoke at night after work, wearing her uniform of a crisp white shirt, blue vest and tidy pencil skirt.
She has a lot of feelings, and plenty of female rage.
The Jekyll and Hyde tropes are obvious, but the show speaks to people on multiple levels - particularly in a year where everyone is brimming to the point of exploding, desperately trying to keep it together.
“In a society that puts a lot of value on politeness, you don’t often see people expressing raw emotions in public,” explained the BBC’s Mariko Oi of Retsuko’s karaoke pastime. “And the Japanese language doesn’t have equivalents to the everyday profanities you might hear muttered at work in English.”
As season three launches on Netflix (which sees Retsuko encounter a pop idol group that might change her life), here’s a ranking of my top five characters.
(A note on watching the show: the original in Japanese, with English subtitles, is much darker, funnier and poetic than when it's dubbed in English)
Our underdog and main character. Many might relate to her struggles to feel seen and heard. When she lets her rage out, it’s a cathartic release.
“I've learned anything; it's that life doesn't go the way you expect. There are surprises, good and bad, and sometimes you fall on your face. But even if it's awkward, even if it hurts, you keep moving forward because when you do, you're already a little bit stronger than yesterday.”
Retsuko’s colleague, and a fennec fox. She's a social media lurker/stalker and is very dry. Her perceptiveness and opinionated nature makes her an interesting supporting character. Her laugh is wonderful.
“Your chill game is something to behold.”
Works alongside Retsuko and has a secret burning crush on her. He is a spotted hyena who loves punk, and is often portrayed either fawning over Retsuko, or drunk. His hapless nature makes him endearing.
“Could I be more pathetic?”
Ever stylish, Washimi is Retsuko’s wise and close friend and works as the secretary for the CEO of the trading firm Retsuko works for. Her no-nonsense demeanour is the perfect foil to Retsuko’s anxiety prone behaviour. A calming and elegant presence. She's an literal Secretarybird.
“In other words, you get a sculpted yoga body, land a boyfriend who makes good money, marry him a year or two from now, quit your office job ASAP, and live happily ever after. Roll credits.”
We’re introduced to this intimidating-at-first character in the latest season: a leopard in smart-casual business attire who manages the up-and-coming indie idol group OTM Girls.