If You Love Aggretsuko, You Might be A Pushover
Sometime in early January 2017, Sanrio released its new character to every inch of the internet gushing, “Too damn real!” and “I don’t think I’ve ever related more to an animated character in my life!”

All of which doesn’t come as a surprise.

Aggretsuko is a beer guzzling, head banging office worker just trying to make it through the banality of daily life.

In a way, she’s all of us. She’s also the first Sanrio character to be given a horoscope and a blood type.

Yet strangely, the narrative around Aggretsuko is populated by coping mechanisms. There’s nothing about empowerment. Nothing about standing up to her supposedly thuggish colleagues. Alcohol and heavy metal karaoke sessions are portrayed as cathartic indulgences—which they often are—but we also know that they aren’t sustainable.

While most people have seen the promotional video and now the Netflix Original series, few probably know that she’s also described as having “ultimately become a pushover,” despite it “being a dream of hers to work in this field.”

It makes you wonder if at some point, she’s going to show up to work, still drunk, last night’s Iron Maiden still ringing in her head, and whether she’s going to jump to her death when her boss assigns her yet another dumb errand he was too incompetent to run himself.

This is essentially my gripe with Sanrio’s newest character. It might be relatable, but it’s also very passive. It doesn’t make you want to snap out of it. Its cuteness makes you go, “Omg, that’s so me!” rather than “Omg, I need to fucking stand up for myself!” And this, to me, is where the extremely subtle and sinister commercialism starts creeping in.

By stopping short of giving Aggretsuko any kind of actual agency, Sanrio proves that it has no interest in empathy. It knows that all you poor, frustrated office drones need some consolation, and so it’s going to appeal to that, all while getting you to turn your pain into purchasing power.

I mean, what are you suppose to do now that you’ve met Aggretsuko? Buy cute Aggretsuko folders you can use to file away all those resignation letters you keep drunk-writing but never actually intend to submit? That sounds fun!

I would be less annoyed if Aggretsuko turns out to be an axe-wielding American Psycho like character. At least that would mean that she finally does something. But this doesn’t seem likely. This is what makes it so much less compelling than a character like Gudetama, and the reason why I think Sanrio has missed the mark this time.

With Gudetama, the struggle is real. He just can’t, but he tries anyway. That makes us want to do the same. Aggretsuko, on the other hand, just takes the abuse. Her situation is relatable, but that’s about it. Instead of encouraging you to take control, she fuels your need for material distractions.

for every victim who allows themselves to be bullied at work, that’s one more shitty, entitled boss given a free pass.

Sure, you may argue that this new character is for those simply destined to languish at the bottom of the food chain. For these guys, maybe it’s enough to know that someone out there has acknowledged their suffering and their lack of willpower.

And I get that. For some of us, doing something can be an impossible task. It’s much easier to just stay, suffer, and self-medicate afterwards.

But this also ignores the real reason we need to take control of our working lives. Which is that for every victim who allows themselves to be bullied at work, that’s one more shitty, entitled boss (or colleague) given a free pass.

The thing is, even if people cannot find it in themselves to stand up to bad bosses, they need to know it’s an option. It’s not enough to enjoy the occasional relatable moment. That’s how people keep going.

Aggretsuko might be a cute, non-serious take on a very real condition; something meant to inspire laughter and comfort. But such transient good feelings also need to show a way forward, which Sanrio has traditionally shown an understanding of.

Kirimi-chan, for instance, vocalised our need to belong. Hello Kitty celebrated friendship. Even Badtz-Maru bounced between fancy ambitions and having a snarky sense of humour.

In comparison, Aggretsuko seems to further entrench the key problem of our times: That having grown up with an education and opportunities, constantly told that we can do or be anything, we’ve realised that the world is not in fact our oyster. And we have no idea what to do about this disappointment. But that’s okay, because we can always buy cute Aggretsuko pens???

Perhaps, after all this theorising, the only real question Aggretsuko’s existence poses is this: Being a red panda, she’s used to coming in second to the perennial favourite Giant Panda. Is this somehow an explanation for her inability to overcome her career troubles? Deep inside, maybe she knows that even if she tries her best, it’ll just go ignored.

If anything, surely this is relatable for many of us.

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