Thoughts on Aggretsuko Season 3

Bobby Schroeder
13 min readAug 30, 2020

Note: This isn’t a comprehensive review. This is just one blogger’s spoiler-filled thoughts that were too wordy for Twitter.

Content warning for descriptions of misogynistic harassment and violence, stalking, and that sort of thing. No pictures, though.

Two years after its strong premiere season, Aggretsuko has become one of the most frustrating shows I follow. It still has tons of fun moments, but it’s also the kind of story that chickens out every time it’s close to an epiphany about its characters and themes.

Each season of Aggretsuko follows a cyclical pattern. It starts with Retsuko dealing with the hardships of life as an average millennial with a shitty office job. She wants a better life, but she doesn’t know what that means for her. She feels trapped. She’s relatable and easy to sympathize with. At some point she’ll latch onto some fairy tale fantasy that she thinks will save her. Things seem perfect to her for a while, but the cracks start to show. In the climax of the season she realizes it won’t work, and then things return to the status quo.

In season 1, Retsuko’s fantasy was getting married, having kids, and becoming a housewife so that she could quit her job. She tried to force herself into a relationship with Resasuke out of convenience, but this was doomed to fail. In season 2, she started dating the dreamy tech entrepreneur Tadano, only to realize that her own needs weren’t being fulfilled. The finale hinged upon Retsuko standing up for her own dreams instead of just accepting Tadano’s. I love this in theory, but the problem was that the only dreams the show could come up with for her were, again, marriage, kids, and her crappy office job. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with wanting those things, but she didn’t have a life or any aspirations outside of society’s default expectations for her, even though the show had previously painted other characters like Retsuko’s mother putting these expectations on her as a bad thing.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the poster for season 3 dropped, and it seemed like Retsuko would be joining a band inspired by Babymetal. I knew it would likely be another fantasy that fell apart, but it also seemed like a fun curveball that might help Retsuko learn more about herself. She’d finally have a life outside of work, dating, and venting about work and dating at karaoke.

And that’s… sort of what we got? But it’s more complicated than that.

So this time Retsuko becomes an idol

Through a silly series of events involving a parking lot fender bender with a manager, Retsuko eventually joins an idol group. Not a band. An idol group. That might not seem like an important distinction, but it is. Instead of her new music career being a creative outlet for her, Retsuko is roped into an extremely toxic industry that revolves more around encouraging an obsessive fandom culture to make a record label lots of money. (If this description is somehow news to you, Googling “idol industry” brings up endless articles recounting horror stories about current and former idols. Take your pick.)

While I won’t say this arc is all bad, I have… mixed feelings. It’s frustrating considering how close the show came to a big epiphany early on. Pushed to the limit by her debts, in one of her death metal interludes Retsuko literally screams “Screw you, capitalism!” and starts to rant about being stuck in the rat race. And yeah, I don’t expect a show made by Sanrio to go full anti-capitalist or anything. But for a little bit, Retsuko understands the real root of her problems. Instead of dwelling on that, the show just gives her a new side gig that placates her.

In this portion of the arc, it sort of feels like the show is devolving into some meaningless platitude like “if you enjoy your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Yeah, Retsuko is still working her ass off for a job where her coworkers talk shit on her (on top of still having her 9 to 5 office job). And yeah, she was basically forced into this. And yeah, she’s being paid next to nothing for it. But she’s kind of enjoying the hustle now, so it’s okay! Right?

Still, while I have reservations, I mostly enjoyed Retsuko’s arc in the first half of the season. After seeing her at her lowest, she suddenly had a job she was passionate about! She was utilizing her talents! She was getting more confident! Her growing friendship with the rest of the group is cute, and I like these new characters! There was finally more to her life than office work and wanting a husband! Even if it was never going to last, it felt like a step in the right direction for her.

Some fans will be disappointed that she didn’t remain an idol at the end of the season, saying she “gave up her dream,” but it was never really her dream to begin with. It wasn’t even her idea, and she had to be forced every step of the way to get there. It was this season’s pipe dream, like her past relationships with Resasuke and Tadano. My hope was that she’d realize that the idol industry wasn’t her perfect escapist fantasy, but maybe still get something out of the experience. Maybe she’ll hold onto that newfound confidence and start some dinky little garage band with some friends. Or maybe she’ll just be less shy about inviting people to karaoke. Who knows.

The show did end up grappling with how toxic idol culture can get before she quit, though. It went further than I ever imagined. But first, we need to talk about the elephant in the room — or I guess, rather, the hyena.


The show clearly expects me to find Haida’s crush on Retsuko cute, but at this point I just want to slap him, and I know I’m not alone.

Three seasons in, Haida still isn’t over Retsuko rejecting him, and he’s only gotten worse. Yeah, everyone feels like shit after getting rejected, but Haida’s way beyond that. It’s been two years. His crush has developed into this complex over a girl from his work. As several characters point out, he barely even knows her, and yet almost every single second of screentime he gets is spent thinking about Retsuko. Fenneko says he’s had his heart set on dating Retsuko for five years. And he only gets worse and worse.

Midway through season 3, Haida grows suspicious of Retsuko’s personal life, and decides to start following her. He spies on her leaving her apartment, follows her to the airport, buys a plane ticket to follow her across the country, follows her onto a train (staring at her from the next car over), and then follows her to a gig with her idol group. (Gori is also there because she’s nosy, but even she knows better than to get on the plane.) And yeah, they play it off as Haida thinking Retsuko might be in trouble, but come the fuck on. It’s obvious she’s fine at the airport.

In other words, Haida has become a stalker. I know some of you are rolling your eyes at that sentence, but put aside your opinion of Haida and just think about his actions in this season. The thought of a coworker acting like this, especially after getting shot down, is a nightmare to most women. (Haida also outright says that he and Gori are acting like stalkers at the beginning of the scene. If you’re mad at me for not criticizing Gori more: yeah, Gori is also behaving inappropriately, but Haida takes things way further and is ultimately rewarded for it.)

Put yourself in Retsuko’s shoes. This coworker she politely turned down two seasons ago still thinks about her every waking moment of the day, even though they barely talk. What she sees as a casual but supportive friendship is actually something completely different to him. He won’t explicitly ask her out again, but every single nice gesture from Haida comes burdened with the expectation that she’ll eventually reciprocate his feelings. Every day she doesn’t, he gets more upset. What if Retsuko turns him down again? Will he take “no” for an answer this time? If he just keeps bugging her, Retsuko can’t exactly avoid him— they sit next to each other at work. And Fenneko, Washimi, and Gori aren’t helping, flip-flopping back and forth between calling Haida an idiot and egging him on.

What makes this even more frustrating is that Haida is given the perfect way out on a silver platter. This season introduces a new character from another department at Retsuko and Haida’s work, a dog girl named Inui. She’s sweet, she’s cute, she shares Haida’s passion for old school rock, she’s a great cook, and, most importantly, she likes him. It’s almost absurd how perfect Inui is for Haida, and her only duty in the narrative is to try and date him. But after spending a good chunk of the season building their relationship … Inui gives up because Haida can’t stop obsessing over Retsuko.

Still, as agonizing as Haida was to watch, the season didn’t feel like a total wash. But then Retsuko and Haida’s storylines came crashing together.

What the fuck was up with those last two episodes

Again, major content warning for discussions of misogynistic harassment and violence, stalking, physical assault, and that sort of thing.

Throughout the season there are hints that the idol group has a stalker, but Retsuko tries to brush it off as a harmless fan. And then, in episode 9, the guy shows up at a handshaking event looking like a My Hero Academia villain and goes off the deep end. While keeping a vice grip on Retsuko’s hands, he goes into this lengthy incel rant for what feels like an eternity. Even for a show with as much swearing as Aggretsuko, I was stunned at how vulgar this guy got, insulting Retsuko’s singing, calling her a cock tease (his words, not mine), and saying many other misogynist things I’d rather not repeat. But because he has a bundle of handshake tickets, Retsuko has to just sit there and take it as everyone watches in horror. Nobody stops the guy. This is just part of the job.

This is already enough to leave Retsuko clearly traumatized in the following scenes, but it doesn’t stop there. The guy keeps stalking Retsuko and posting photos of her. Her manager tries to protect her, but Retsuko tries to pretend everything’s okay. The stalker buys a box cutter. And one day after work, he walks up behind Retsuko and tries to stab her.

I was in shock watching this scene, which is agonizingly long. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I couldn’t believe that this was where the cartoonish storyline about a parking lot fender bender leading to Retsuko becoming an idol ended up going. I couldn’t believe that this workplace dramedy series had turned into this. There’s even a bit where the show tries to psych you out and think Retsuko died!

It gets even worse. Haida swoops in and saves the day, pinning the deranged fan to the ground (and getting cut in the process). Suddenly this incredibly traumatizing event for Retsuko becomes all about Haida. Again, Haida was also stalking Retsuko just a few episodes ago. But the narrative rewards Haida for being so obsessive! The way it’s been written, his obsession is the only reason Retsuko doesn’t get stabbed. If Haida hadn’t been keeping an eye on Retsuko after work, she would have been killed by her other stalker!

While it was important to address the toxic fandom inherent to idol culture in some capacity, this grueling sequence in which Retsuko nearly got assaulted just felt like cheap shock value drama that didn’t fit the established tone of the series. Suddenly this office comedy wants to be Perfect Blue. And it wasn’t even for her own arc. Not really. She gets knocked to the ground and is unconscious for most of the attack scene. It was all to set up a heroic moment for Haida. Inui even shows up right after the attack (while Haida is bleeding, Retsuko is unconscious, and some passers by are still pinning the attacker down in the background) to be like “wow, Haida, this really proves how much you love Retsuko.”

After this sequence, things just go completely off the fucking rails. Retsuko stops coming to work and hides out at her parents’ house because she’s obviously traumatized by nearly getting murdered. She’s having nightmares about crowds filled with her stalker, all armed with box cutters. But Haida marches in and drags her to karaoke. In a climactic death metal battle, the two vent their feelings. Haida… chews out Retsuko for being traumatized? Here, this is the direct quote from Haida. (Yes, I’m sure the original Japanese dialogue is slightly different, but that’s not the version most people will get.)

That’s the trouble of having feelings… they get out. You want me to just bottle them up forever?
Squash your feelings — what the hell?
Playing the doormat is so neat
You too scared to meet the gaze
Of strangers you see on the street?
Walking on eggshells, that’s your plan?
All on account of some messed up man
Who gave you a scare, and yeah we all care
But now you’re a shut-in, and letting him win
Sounds chicken to me (x4)
So what the hell do you wanna do?
Figure that out and crawl outta your cave already

I get that he’s trying to jolt her out of her sadness, but repeatedly screaming at this girl who, again, nearly got murdered a few days ago, and calling her chicken for having PTSD, specifically over another guy who chewed her out… what the fuck? Then, of course, Haida once again confesses his love. Because, as he shows Retsuko, Gori’s work-in-progress dating app said they were a 100% match. He says that if he can’t restore her faith in the world then she should at least put her faith in him. So, basically, he chews her out for being traumatized, then says he’s the solution for her trauma. This scene is supposed to be showing how supportive Haida is of Retsuko and how much he wants to help her deal with her trauma, but he just spends the whole scene either yelling at her or making everything about his own feelings.

I’m not sure how intentional the parallels between the incel fanboy’s unhinged rant in the previous episode and Haida’s rant here are, but they’re there.

Against all odds, there was one last ray of hope. Retsuko gets her own verse jabbing back at Haida, and everything she says about him is spot on:

Grow up already, Haida. Your feelings aren’t my responsibility. You barged into my bedroom without a second thought. Where do you get off telling me how to live? How dare you. Because no matter what I decide, it’s not your decision, Haida — it’s mine!
Crisis averted, Haida’s here to save the day!
Trust in you, huh? It doesn’t work that way
You think that crap is helpful, but you couldn’t be more wrong
Idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot!
Leave me, leave me, leave me, leave me alone
I didn’t ask for any of this
It’s me against the whole damn world
And they punched first

But then Retsuko is cut off as Haida grabs her hand. He says “Then let’s go punch ’em back!”

And that’s where the scene ends! No, for real! Hard cut to Retsuko happily headlining her final concert as an idol, followed by the closing montage. Retsuko and Haida are back at work now and they’re making goo goo eyes at each other. Seems like Netflix is gonna keep stringing fans along for another season with this cliffhanger ending, but the implication is clearly that Retsuko and Haida are destined for each other.

Haida did it! Retsuko nearly got assaulted just so that he could save her and prove his devotion! And then he fixed her trauma in one scene! It was all for Haida’s personal arc! Her agency and her feelings don’t matter! He’s earned enough good boy points to redeem them for a relationship with Retsuko!

God, this sucks.

I don’t want all this to come off as me complaining about characters behaving in unhealthy ways, or cartoons getting into traumatic content. Believe me, I love heavier shows like BoJack Horseman and Tuca & Bertie just as much as everyone else. But those series have things to say about those heavy elements. They treat them with more care, and build to those moments more naturally. They’re thoughtful.

And I guess Aggretsuko also has some thoughts — just no good conclusions. Retsuko realizes capitalism sucks, but then she decides she just needs to find the right hustle for her. The show realizes that Haida‘s obsession is unhealthy, and has half the supporting cast call him an idiot over it, but then…implies that they’re gonna end up together anyway. There was a lot I enjoyed in this season, and I don’t begrudge others for feeling more positive about it. But in the end it feels like it was all in service of this tasteless ending with Retsuko and Haida, where Retsuko only makes it out alive because Haida doesn’t know how to take “no” for an answer. It feels like a waste.



Bobby Schroeder

Transgender indie game developer, artist, and cartoon enthusiast. Creator of Super Lesbian Animal RPG, the world’s premiere RPG about lesbian animals.