Aggretsuko season 4 strays further from the formula

A new season of Aggretsuko is always a highlight in the anime release calendar for me. Between the helplessly cute art style and the shockingly accurate portrayal of office politics on display, it strikes just the right chord for me as both a lover of cartoons and a mostly grown-up person. So when season 4 of Aggretsuko dropped in the middle of December, it was something that I needed to check out before the month ended.

After four seasons, does Aggretsuko still have the magic that made it one of the more unique shows on the Netflix anime resume? The answer, like most things, is a bit up in the air.

The continuing office politics of Aggretsuko

Aggretsuko season 4 character Himuro

Season four of Aggretsuko picks up right after Haida saves Retsuko from a crazed fan following her departure from the idol group OTMGirls. Retsuko has taken up self-defence classes and now carries a series of weapons on her most of the time as well as has moved to a different apartment building to avoid her stalker. It is a surprisingly dark opening to the season, though it provides Haida his best possible chance to make his move and finally ask Retsuko out.

Of course, because this show revolves almost entirely around the social anxieties of the main cast, he struggles to take that final step and change the dynamic of their relationship, despite clear signals from both sides that it is what they want. Shake-ups at work further complicate things for the pair and, despite the efforts of seemingly the entire office, it takes a lot of time for Haida and Retsuko to figure out what exactly they are to each other.

This part of the show will be pretty familiar to fans of the series. Aggretsuko has always used the adorable art style to hide the adult relationships on display. In this way, season four is a solid addition to the show. We get more development between characters and some returning faces that add a lot to the themes of the season. There are some surprisingly dark moments as the show explores the effects that working in a toxic environment has on people and how a sudden change in management can completely shift an office’s culture.

Characters who had once been at odds with each other all bond over their concerns in the office and the security of their jobs. There are a series of scenes where they are dangerously close to unionising, which may well be the way that the subtly announced season five goes. In a year where people around the world have realised the power they can wield together, this is a very timely message for people to hear. The frustration with how management treats its employees is something that everyone can relate to at one point or another.

Aggretsuko

The only thing I find myself wanting more of with this season is the music. Each season that we’ve gotten has given us fewer and fewer musical numbers to enjoy, which is a shame since they were definitely the highlight of early episodes. The reason for this is because Retsuko no longer needs to hide herself away at karaoke each night to deal with the stress of her job. She has a group of friends she can rely on and a new emotional maturity to know when to reach out for help. Still, it is a little bit sad to see what made the show stand out so much early on fall by the wayside so heavily.

Retsuko’s willingness to reach out to her friends is the biggest development for the character over the years and it provides some of the biggest highlights of this season. Particularly at the climactic showdown with the new CEO of the company at the end, when everyone has a part to play and has a moment to shine. There are some surprising guests toward the end that show up exactly the right amount, never overstaying their welcome or feeling tacked on without a purpose.

This season isn’t bad, by any means, but it feels more and like an animated office sitcom rather than the musical twist that it originally brought to the genre. Fans of the show will find a lot to enjoy and some sweet moments between characters that have been a long time coming, but it doesn’t feel as special or unique as it once did. Though they have given us a second shockingly sexy dog character this season so that is something, right?

If you want to get caught up with Aggretsuko, all four seasons are currently streaming on Netflix.

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