The Problem with Aggretsuko

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Remember when you couldn’t have a conversation with anyone without them asking if you had seen Stranger Things yet? Well, brace yourselves for the same question, only this time replace 80’s Spielberg Nostalgia Fest with a cute, Japanese anime based on a quirky, metalhead Sanrio character. 

Aggretsuko is the story of an adorable red panda – disillusioned with her unrewarding office job, she finds an outlet for her rage in the form of death metal karaoke. Think Metalocalypse-meets-Hello Kitty and you are pretty much there. 

The show is full of kawaii / death metal juxtapositions; wherein the protagonist Retsuko flips between humble office worker and furiously growling headbanger, according to whatever has pissed her off at work that day. For metalheads trapped in soul destroying, dead end office jobs: the content is extremely funny and relatable.

However, there’s just one thing. The main character, Retsuko, is a girl. When she is in submissive, office-mode, her character is voiced by a woman. When Retsuko transforms into Aggressive Retsuko and goes into full on death metal mode, her vocals are performed by a guy. That may seem like a petty observation, but why did it have to be this way? Oh, Netflix Original, you were doing so well.

There are plenty of women vocalists in metal, why couldn’t this character have a voice that actually reflects guttural female screams? Delving deeper, what attitude does it reflect – that when Retsuko becomes empowered through metal, her voice is then given over to a male vocalist? She loses her girl voice and a man steps in to shout for her. Why can’t an animated female character be represented by a female metal voice?

Maybe I’m reading way too much into this. For instance, young male Dragon Ball characters such as Trunks are voiced by women. Rather than institutional sexism perhaps it really is just a case of ‘whichever voice fits the role best.’ But, as a woman in metal, I must admit: it would be nice if we got the chance to represent ourselves in these contexts. Especially when this, otherwise brilliant, show is taking extreme metal to a mainstream platform such as Netflix. How else will we get recognition and respect, if we aren’t allowed to represent ourselves? 

So there we go. One complaint about how an animated show, based on a fictional Sanrio mascot character, doesn’t portray a realistic representation of women in metal. Yes, I realize that I need to get out more.

But despite its representational flaw, I will say this: Aggretsuko is well worth a binge watch. It’s hilarious, adorable, and metal as fuck. Just next time, maybe let the metalhead girl be played by a girl?

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