Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max

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Publication date – September 29, 2020

Summary: Aggretsuko, the hit Netflix show in production for season three, stars Retsuko the Red Panda, a young office worker stuck in a thankless job, whose only stress release is singing death metal at the local karaoke joint. With the help of her friends, can she ever find the job satisfaction she craves – – not to mention adventure, the approval of her mother, and even… love?! These comics explore all these issues and more, brought to life by today’s top talent!

Thoughts: I love Aggretsuko. I was super excited when the 3rd season was finally added to Netflix, and no lie, I kind of want a couple of the character plushies, because I’m absolutely that kind of geek. I love the idea that someone can be shy and sweet most of the time without it being pretense, but that they also have less-sweet emotions and thoughts that they need to release by means of screamy death metal music. I love the way it presents people as multi-layered and complex, and also that even if someone’s less-public side might be surprising, there will always be people who understand and accept that. If you haven’t watched the show yet, I highly recommend you do so; it’s gained popular status for good reason, and don’t let the fact that it’s made by the same company who made Hello Kitty fool you into thinking it’s some cutesy little childish thing.

So hell yes, I was thrilled to get my hands on Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max.

The first story in the comic collection, Down With the Sickness, is about an illness spreading around the company where Retsuko works, one that’s unique to that company and is caused by employee stress, poor self-care, and bad management. And I honestly can’t tell if, given the current pandemic, this story is in poor taste or brilliant. On one hand, when there’s a devastating disease still infecting thousands every day, maybe playing an virus for laughs isn’t the best option. On the other hand, the idea of a viral infection getting really out of hand due to poor management at higher levels, and the demand for people to go to work even when they’re sick and ought to stay home… You know, I can see why that might resonate with some people! It’s also playing off the whole “zombie virus pandemic” thing that’s still popular, since infected employees just sort of rush around in hordes and try to infect others. Yeah, not sure if it’s secret brilliant or in poor taste. Maybe a bit of both?

The second story involved Retsuko and Tsunoda going shopping and Retsuko getting annoyed with Tsunoda’s superficiality. Nothing too special there, but amusing enough. The third story, though, was about how an employee satisfaction survey showed that the company’s Japanese employees were less satisfied than ones in the West, and so a Canada goose named Karen is sent to change up how to office works, to improve employee happiness. She does so by getting in everyone’s way and making a bunch of suggestions that the employees are resistant to, and I’m sure she was meant to come off as… well, as a karen, and doubly so when you consider that she was trying to change things in one culture based on the sole perspective of her own culture.

But, I mean, one of the suggestions she made was updating the accounting software so that things ran more smoothly and efficiently. And the idea was met with, “Nah, it’s fine, and it would waste so much time having to be retrained.” Most of her suggestions were out of place and very much unwanted, but her literal job there was to find ways to improve company happiness, and “more efficient workflow” is absolutely a valid way to do that and it wasn’t an unreasonable suggestion. But it was treated as being an unreasonable as saying there should be more motivational cat posters, or the whole, “I want to speak to your manager,” thing she did toward the end of the story.

Ditto her problems with Ton being a bad boss who takes advantage of the people under him. Retsuko had a point that she has to stay and live with the consequences of not appeasing Ton whereas Karen gets to leave and forget about it if she wants, but Karen also had a very good point about bosses getting away with too much, and sometimes that can get very very bad. Hell, that very issue came up in an episode of the show!

(Also want to point out the irony of Karen saying that having dinner with coworkers was “out-of-the-box thinking” for boosting employee morale, since a lot of company in Japan mandate employee drinking parties at least once a month, and from what I hear, a lot of employees hate them. It’s hard to get out of them without seeming like you’re not a team player, and all they do is make you waste time and money and result in you going into work hungover the next day. “Out-of-the-box,” my ass! I’m not sure if that was meant to be Karen’s ignorance of Japanese work culture, or just something the comic’s writer wasn’t really aware of, but either way it gave me an ironic chuckle.)

I will say that some of the characterization seemed kind of off to me, but I have to concede that might be because when I watched the show, I watched it with Japanese audio rather than English, so the characters might be spot on for the English dialogue used. I really can’t tell. But for the Japanese version I’m more familiar with, there was a bit of a disconnect. It’s tough to see Retsuko saying, “What the hell?” for instance, and while Tsunoda might be very concerned with her appearance and manipulative, I can’t remember any hints that she might be super rich and think nothing of spending $700 on a dress or buying out a jewellery display case. Friends who watched the English dub, can you chime in on this one and offer clarity and context?

The art was good, and very true to the source material, and the stories were fairly creative, but I think there was a bit too much of a disconnect in some areas for me to like Metal to the Max as much as I enjoy the anime it was based on. The characterization wasn’t quite there, and 2 of the 3 stories had some sticking points for me that kept me from just reading and enjoying them; I felt too much like they were trying to make a point but missing the mark just a little bit. It wasn’t bad, far from it, but it was the little things that kept coming back to me, and the little things added up in the end. Fans of the anime will probably enjoy this supplementary comic, so long as they don’t look too deep or want it to be 100% true to the show, I think.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)