When a person not from Japan gets asked what the first icon of Japanese pop culture they could recall, if they happened to be around as far back as the eighties at least, there’s a chance they might mention #hello kitty. The anthropomorphic white cat with the simply drawn yet adorably cute face was one of Japan’s mightiest exports even before the days of videogames and anime. She’s now the face of #Sanrio, the company that became big because of her, and made her big in the world in return. But Hello Kitty’s not the only character in their stable, with a veritable army of diverse cute critters that are popular across a wide spectrum of fans; except perhaps for their latest creation from 2016. She’s still adorable, but she’s got so much more underneath.
The beleaguered office worker’s Sanrio mascot
Her name is “Aggressive Retsuko” or “#Aggretsuko” for short. She’s an anthropomorphic character like Hello Kitty, in her case a red panda. She describes herself as a “single 25-year-old working female; Zodiac sign Scorpio and Blood Type A.” Retsuko is an office associate or “OL/Office Lady” at a certain company, usually tasked to do clerical work and mundane domestic tasks like serving snacks and beverages. Here’s where the crux of her character lies. Unlike the cutesy and innocent nature and setting of Hello Kitty, Retsuko is living the stereotypical young working-class Japanese life and all the connotations good and bad that comes with it.
When Retsuko tries to go home early after finishing her usual shift her bosses and associates tend to saddle her with extra paperwork or chores, without consideration for her wishes. This causes Retsuko’s alternate “aggressive” personality to surface, making her cute face twist into a painted mask not out of place in the rock band Kiss and becomes prone to loud outbursts of indignation. When she does get off work, she tends to vent by drinking beer by the dozen and singing heavy metal at bars. This is no run-of the-mill Sanrio mascot here; this is Aggretsuko, who has already had her own mini anime series and whose image adorns some of the usual Sanrio merchandise. And she’s a hit with the office workers whose life she leads.
Topical viewpoint character
By now the world knows about the negative effects of Japan’s unreal work ethics, the sort that has already driven many a Japanese entry- and middle-level workers to suicide like Matsuri Takahashi in 2015. Sanrio’s conception of Aggretsuko has not only become a favored branding for the rank-and-file of Japanese businesses, but a mascot to somehow continue shining the spotlight on bad work practices in the country and somehow bring about reform.