Aggretsuko: Metal to the Max

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Publisher’s website
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.)

Fangs, by Sarah Andersen

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 1, 2020

Summary: Elsie the vampire is three hundred years old, but in all that time, she has never met her match. This all changes one night in a bar when she meets Jimmy, a charming werewolf with a wry sense of humor and a fondness for running wild during the full moon. Together they enjoy horror films and scary novels, shady strolls, fine dining (though never with garlic), and a genuine fondness for each other’s unusual habits, macabre lifestyles, and monstrous appetites.

First featured as a webcomic series on Tapas, Fangs chronicles the humor, sweetness, and awkwardness of meeting someone perfectly suited to you but also vastly different. This deluxe hardcover edition of Fangs features an “engraved” red cloth cover, dyed black page trim, and 25 exclusive comics not previously seen online. Filled with Sarah Andersen’s beautiful gothic illustrations and relatable relationship humor, Fangs has all the makings of a cult classic.

Thoughts: While it may seem strange to end Manga Month with a non-manga title, I couldn’t let August end without highlighting Sarah Andersen’s latest release, Fangs. A love story between a vampire and a werewolf might sound like the most cliche thing imaginable, the subject of I don’t know how many novels and short stories over the past decade or so, but as with many things, a unique approach can really spice up what might seem like a tired outdated trope.

And Andersen does a good job at bringing this uniqueness, with an emphasis on humour rather than broody drama. It’s cheesy humour at times, like jokes about werewolves having fleas or vampires sleeping in coffins, but it works, and there was a smile on my face the entire time I was reading Fangs. The art style isn’t what I’d call minimalistic but it does emphasize clean lines and simplicity, making it really easy to visually follow and not get bogged down in a zillion tiny details.

Also, the relationship between Elsie and Jimmy is so freaking adorable. How could you not get behind these two when they have bizarrely cute conversations about eating people? (Okay, maybe that one’s just a “me” thing…) Or how they’re quite different people but find ways to work their differences into the relationship and don’t feel the need to hide or minimize things their partner might not relate to. The way their relationship is so honest and open adds to the humour, and yes, I am probably reading too much into a simple comic about a vampire and a werewolf who are dating, but dangit, I really enjoyed Fangs, so I’m going to have my moment to gush over it!

It’s a short and sweet read, a series of one-shots that chronicles the early parts of their relationship, and is definitely something that would be right at home on my bookshelves. Though I received a digital review copy, I know already that I’m going to purchase a physical copy when it’s released, so that I can share the humour and adorableness with my partner. Fangs is 100% something we both enjoy and will want to dive into again.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)