Welcome to Episode 56 of Anime Pocket Reviews – A Netflix special!
We spoke when reviewing the Netflix anime B: The Beginning back in March that Netflix has big plans for its animated series and we are beginning to see the first glimpses of this over these last few months. Later on we review one of Netflix’s biggest original series, and take a look at what Netflix could mean for the future of anime, but first of all we take a look back on a small Netflix anime you may have missed…
Aggretsuko (2018, S1, 10x15mins)
Based on a famous Japanese short of the same name, the story follows Retsuko (centre), a 25-year-old female working in the accounting firm of a large Japanese trading company in the middle of the city. Stuck in a cycle of uninspiring work with horrible work colleagues and seemingly single for the rest of her life, Retsuko lets out her frustrations by visiting the karaoke bar by herself every night, blasting out heavy metal songs as a way to release her true feelings on life.
Basically Plot: Follows Retsuko, a 25-year-old single salary woman who releases her pent-up anger about city life by screaming heavy metal songs at the karaoke bar.
Aggretsuko looks like a simple and easy slice-of-life comedy on the outside, and while its not exactly the most entertaining show in this very weighted genre there are some really interesting parts of this series that deserve your attention.
On the face of it a comedy about a woman singing heavy metal, it quickly becomes apparent that this series is actually much more than a cheap laugh. Following the life of a single 25-year-old woman working in the city, Aggretsuko is a commentary on the work-heavy, straight-jacketed life of twenty-somethings in Japan’s major capitals. Arrogant, sexist bosses, irritatingly chirpy young workers, obnoxiously loud-mouthed colleagues and the few normal people that surround her are just some of the facets of this series that finds a rare balance between comedy and social politics. The story in the later episodes descends into something of a romance which is when Aggretsuko falls back into the mass pool of slice-of-life comedies that do this, and at this point we struggled to keep our interest on this series.
The animation style is quite interesting, also. Anthropomorphic characters bring this story to life, but the fact that the world is populated by animals becomes an unconscious thought very quickly thanks to how well the animals are chosen. A plain, unassuming red panda for the main character, while her female work idols, a peacock and a gorilla, offer a glimpse into the hugely varied but consciously decided character appearances. The animation itself rocks something of a cheap look, with shaking faces and effect-heavy animations to express emotion giving this series a low-key feel.
While Aggretsuko is, ultimately, a short and relatively cheap-looking comedy with little pay-off in terms of storyline, there is still plenty in this series that deserves recognition. Brave enough to tackle head-on the painful reality of life in Japan’s cities with a measures sense of comedy and entertainment, Aggretsuko is a series that is easy to fall in love with. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to connect with it as much as we would have liked, but anyone can appreciate what this supposedly quirky series has tried to achieve.
ANIME RANKING: #83 – A ranking that sounds worse than it is, this limited-run series sits alongside series such as B; The Beginning and Aho Girl.
If you liked this you’ll love: Wagnaria (#45) – While it doesn’t have the ‘city life’ aspect of Aggretsuko, Wagnaria is still the go-to workplace comedy series. Incredibly entertaining and easy to watch, this comedy set in a franchise diner follows the restaurant’s many quirky workers, and with a romantic edge thrown in, you won’t be disappointed by this series!
Bojack Horseman (2018, S5, 12x26mins)
Following on from season four, Bojack Horseman is given the starring role in a new online tv series, where he gets to know the hopeful actress working alongside him. Meanwhile Diane and Mr. Peanut Butter work out their new relationship post-divorce, and Princess Carolyn continues her search for an answer to her inability to give birth.
Basically Plot: Continuing from season 4, Bojack begins work on a new tv series in the hope (of others) of turning his life around.
A surprisingly successful American animated series, Bojack Horseman is still the number one dramatic animated series coming out of America. However, with such little competition it’s important to take what we’re seeing with a pinch of salt.
I doubt many people would have thought way back in 2014 – when Netflix was a relative fledgling and Bojack was one of its first few steps into the world of self-production – that we would still be talking about this washed-up actor all the way in 2018. A fantastic mix of drama and comedy, mixed with incredibly positioned releases of each series, has meant that this show still continues to deliver four years and over 60 episodes later, something that has to be hugely commended for any series.
Bojack Horseman has always been praised for how it blended dark comedy with genuine slapstick and, at the other end of the spectrum, some quite dark storylines. Over the last few seasons, though, there has been a noticeable lean towards a darker storyline, and that came to what surely must be its peak in season five, the darkest Bojack Horseman story yet. Comedy is very much second-fiddle to a tale about a man’s drug problem and the crippling effect it has on those around him – even the nice, grounded characters of the show end up looking as scummy as season one Bojack. The show takes this change in its stride, though, delivering some seriously hard-hitting television with the smallest sheen of laughter to remind you that you’re watching an animated horse and not some man’s life fall apart – credit to the incredible voice acting in this series for that.
However, I would just like to add a caveat to the obvious praise that Bojack Horseman is going to get following this season, and that is that I never felt like I was fully invested in these characters. Pardon the pun, but there’s something about Bojack Horseman that feels far too ‘show pony’.
As if the writers wish to show off their status as heads of a season five Netflix series, Bojack Horseman, for all the good stuff it shows during this season, is for the majority a giant collection of extravagant sentences and dialogue, a hipster style of conversation that is something along the lines of ‘we are better than everything else because look how long our sentences are and that, in the millennial’s minds, equals deep and meaningful conversation’. In reality I felt like I was stuck behind that same sheen I was talking about earlier because of it, and at the end of the series’ dramatic conclusion I found myself doubting that it was as good as part of me felt it was. Are the characters deep, or is the convoluted dialogue a smokescreen for a series of characters (not just Bojack) who have barely changed in the last four years?
In the end Bojack has done exactly what Netflix, and probably the writers, had hoped. Out of nowhere it has arrived back on our digital screens and has made a huge impact, creating conversation at a time when we had nearly forgotten the show’s existence. The series deserves huge praise for the manner of story it took on, and for all intents and purposes it did the serious storyline great justice. However, I can’t help feel like I’m being duped somehow – am I watching a drama, or is this a sit-com cosplaying, with a sixth season that will start and end in the same place, just like the last?
ANIME RANKING: #28 – A small climb up the rankings for this series sees it break the top 30, overtaking series such as Beyond the Boundary and Cells at Work!
If you liked this you’ll love: The Tatami Galaxy (#18) – As I mentioned the last time I reviewed this series, it’s hard to find a Japanese anime that balances mature and at times dark storylines with slapstick comedy. Although more psychological than Bojack, The Tatami Galaxy is a time-bending story about a young man’s time at university and features many dubious morals. While softer on the surface than Bojack, this is definitely a series that will get you thinking.
Netflix is one of the world’s biggest entertainment forces in the modern age, and it is a corporation that values the power and pull of the anime industry.
While we are only in the later half of this year beginning to feel the weight of Netflix on the industry, they have been dabbling in the medium for a surprisingly long time. While there has been the odd stinker, and more than a couple of shows that were just plain bland, the odd series is sticking. Bojack Horseman is the obvious one for western readers, but more notable has been the success of Devilman Crybaby, the Japanese anime receiving critical acclaim from a wide range of audiences worldwide. Add to that the fact that it hosts the English streaming rights to major anime titles such as The Seven Deadly Sins and Kakegurui, our 2017 Anime of the Year, and you have a powerhouse in the making!
This all opens up a big debate I had a long time ago about the differences between TV anime and online anime and the effect it can have on the viewing experience, but generally anime series that are available on demand perform better than the weekly TV series. At a time when I am thoroughly enjoying the second season of Castlevania and barely watching any of Japan’s current Fall 2018 anime cycle, there’s a feeling that this could be the beginning of a new era that is already being felt in traditional live action film and television.
Subscribe to The Culture Cove for regular Anime Reviews and Recommendations! Watch out for Episode 56, featuring another Netflix original in Castlevania Season Two!