I got drunk and watched most of this over the course of a single evening, then the rest in bed hungover the next morning. It’ll explain why I spent a lot of it in tears moaning about how hard life is for poor Retsuko who never did nothing wrong.
The season begins with her mother giving her a hard time about the lack of progress in her love life, and her boss giving her a hard time about her supposed lack of commitment to her job. She talks with her co-worker about their daily routine, consisting almost entirely of ‘work, go home, internet, sleep’ and how they’re not spinning their wheels but that most of the time you gotta make do with surviving the day.
Writer/Director Rarecho gets this, the power that comes with being a creature of habit. The arrival of a new hire gets everybody thinking about their reasons for doing what they do, especially since he starts poking at the culture of toxicity that they’ve all been living with.
It’s an interesting plotline that runs for a few episodes because he’s so obviously supposed to be a menacing figure. The characterisation is of the milennial ‘snowflake’ who can’t take any criticism, the desire to protect a fragile sense of self leading him to abuse systems designed to protect those legitimately being harmed. I dunno, maybe it would land better if the first season weren’t all about this workplace being an abusive, shitty place to be.
It ain’t even the case that the show argues a misdiagnosis of the problem, that the ever suffering Retsuko is the easiest target in a fundamentally inequitable environment. No, the kid needs to be mothered apparently and condescended to and eventually he’ll learn to conform with this world. As a representation of another form of workplace bullying it’s arresting, but not a representation constructed with much care.
Outside of work too we start to see the support systems Retsuko has built around herself start to fall apart. Her friends Washimi and Gori get in a protracted argument that busts up their yoga evenings and karaoke sessions. Her mother gets way too invasive in setting her up on dates, a duty she’s so desperate to avoid she takes up driving lessons she doesn’t really want to attend either. Slowly that comfortable life she has for herself starts falling apart.
Like the first season, it spends much of its latter half diving deep into the possible escape that a relationship offers, in the most out of left-field Cosmopolis riff that I think has ever been devised. Like, that movie has no footprint, why is it written all over this of all things? Anyway, Tadano this new crush is a total cutie and a leftist ally, he’s a sleepy boy and like terminally chill, and you kinda get the sense that this might not be all so great.
One of the things that I really admire about this show is how, despite it the lens being almost entirely subjective to our lead, it manages to also be critical of the interpretation it shows us. Love can really make everything feel so effortless, that the roadbumps are barely felt, yet they’re always there I guess, and disconcertingly obvious sometimes too when you come to look back on things.
I guess we don’t really ever want to see Retsuko happy with anyone. Even Haida would be something of a disappointment, she’s like #relatable and happiness don’t really jive with that. Late on she comes to something of a personal revelation, ‘I’ve only ever wanted to be told what to do.’ and that’s like heartbreaking and elating and I dunno, so real.
It comes within the context of moving her small-business-running friend from season one into and then out their first ever proper office having realised that they don’t quite have the budget yet to justify the rent, even if looking to expand. I have dreams, and things I wanna achieve with my life. Right now I’m finding a way to balance that with the sense of security that I’m so useless without. Working a job that doesn’t want to make me kill myself is part of the foundation of my life. It’s a fall that won’t fall out from under me. It’s a relief that come next month I’m going to be able to pay the rent and for some that’s absolutely totally essential.
And sure, sometimes it keeps me from doing things that I really wanna do. But I’m at ease with that now, comfortable. And like Retsuko, learning to drive so she can help a friend move, or visit a spa in the country, that’s what my self betterment has to take the form of. Sometimes even a prodigious tech genius boyfriend is going to get in the way of that. Especially if he’s got Cosmopolis vibes going on. Not that I’m saying I wouldn’t give it a whirl though and talk redistribution of wealth as he flies me to his favourite noodle joint.
I guess this show speaks to me because it’s about finding happiness in an inopportune place. Not because you’ve looked more at the place and found it better than appearances seem, but because you’ve gained greater understanding of yourself which accompanies new clarity about about your place in the world. And sure, that knowledge helps you learn how to leverage your status as best as possible, but it also helps you be okay with living.
The final scene sees a return to the karaoke booth that we’d basically foregone the entire season. It’s comfort sure, but also brings strength and security and understanding from folks who really matter. I still love that this is a goofy silly show that earnestly believes in the power of such things, all without undermining it’s characters’ struggles.
And good cute fluffy boyes.
I’m not a furry I swear.