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A part of me feels weird that I am even writing this review in the first place. After all, season three of Aggretsuko ended in a really good place, demonstrating the presumptuousness of others during times of personal trauma. Retsuko screams into Haida’s face while doing some karaoke, and ideally, he gets the message, right?
Unfortunately, no. As much as I was, at least initially, pleasantly surprised about a fourth season of what has since become one of my comfort series, the reality of its quality is much different. I often try to stay away from others’ opinions of a show before actually watching, but Hiding in Public’s excellent breakdown of Aggretsuko’s fourth season just so happened to pop up in my YouTube recommended, and they pretty much hit the nail on the head.
Now, honestly, I could just leave it at that because of how well-structured that video is, but that feels kind of lazy. So, I will do my best to break down what works about the season and what does not.
Remembering the Point of Aggretsuko
From its initial debut back in 2018 up to the best points in season four, Aggretsuko has always been a hilarious satire of Japanese work culture. There is the asshole boss who barely hides his disdain for those below him in Ton, the workplace gossiper who seemingly knows everything about everyone in Kabae, and the one who seems like they honestly might kill someone in Anai.
Limited personal experience aside, I have heard enough stories from others with similar office jobs to validate these experiences, and ya know what? They are genuinely funny because they come from a real place. As I talked about back in 2019, the series deals with some sad realities of Japanese work culture, especially for women, even more so younger women. Given how extreme these situations can be, satirization comes across as justified.
Additionally, what makes Retusko’s character so compelling is not just the aforementioned sad realities, but that she is treated like a real…
red panda? person rather than a helpless victim. What comes across as more disturbing in a lot of these instances is not so much the behavior itself, although it is absolutely terrible, but rather the normalization of that behavior. All of this is to say that Aggretsuko‘s best moments come from its comedy, not
Oh, golly gee Batman, where to start with this…
The more dramatic moments in Aggretsuko have always been a bit weird because while they are never particularly bad, few stand out as particularly good either. The best I think happens during seasons one and two when the topic of marriage becomes a serious one for Retsuko, as pressure from her parents combined with her fling with Tadano has her questioning what she wants to do with her life.
Though they do become more prominent and take up more screen time as the seasons go on, at the very least, it creates a new dynamic in the relationship between Retsuko and her co-workers. The Drama in season four, however, is a bit different.
The season starts out simple enough, with the new CEO of the company taking a much more active role and asking Ton to fire some people. Of course, his hatred for everyone there is only overtaken by his respect for the people who do honest work and tells the CEO exactly that. A solid comedic bit with room for light-heartedness.
However, as the season reaches its halfway point and it seems that romance between Haida and Retsuko is finally attainable, Aggretsuko, well, just throws it all away. Doing a total 180 with virtually no warning, everyone seemingly turns into a different character, and the latter half becomes a soap opera level drama about Haida and the CEO teaming up to *checks notes*
…forge the company’s sales numbers before the final quarter as a way of increasing profits? Oh, and did I mention Haida becomes accounting director and Ton gets fired leading to Ton and the other accounting department members collaborating on a scheme to take Haida and the CEO down?
Literally, nothing about the fourth season’s second half makes any bit of sense. I was honestly more concerned that Netflix had just forgotten to put up some of the episodes, but no, this is apparently the creative direction they had, so…yeah.
Some Good Character Moments with Ton and Kabae
Even though it was pretty bad, I do not want people to walk away from this review thinking there was zero positive reception on my end. In fact, there are definitely hints of a few good ideas, most notably the arcs of Ton and Kabae
Directo Ton has always been a sort of villain character for the series, making Retsuko and others’ lives living hell. Still, the dude is only human. He has a family he needs to provide for, and it is not like being a middle manager necessarily means he is swimming in money. No, what works about his character in season four is how willing the show is to humanize him as someone who wants to do right by the people he cares for.
The same can be said for Kabae, whose story about “voluntarily” being ousted by higher-ups and making the decision to stay at home for her kid is both heartwarming but also tragic, again speaking to the realities faced by women in the workplace that Aggretsuko as a series is so well versed in.
These two are highlights of the entire season. Both of them are humanized in a way that plays towards their personalities. Sadly, though, both of their moments get cut fairly short. If this season had chosen to focus on them as opposed to whatever the hell those last 5 episodes were then it might have ended up being a fair bit better.
I wish I could say that the bad outways the good here, but that just is not the case. Season four ended up taking a really solid formula for relatable comedy and heart-warming moments and apparently forgetting it entirely. This will probably end up being one of the bigger disappointments for me this year.
How did you feel about Aggretsuko’s latest season? Let me know in the comments below.
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