Sanrio has made numerous past ventures into the world of anime, going as far back as the early 2000s. To this day, the company still produces anime that feature their signature cute and cuddly mascots, but none of them have really taken off with international audiences — this is, until Aggretsuko premiered on Netflix.
Here’s what sets Aggretsuko apart from Sanrio’s previous attempts to break into the international anime market, and why some of its peers have not found the same level of success.
Aggretsuko’s Story and Widespread Appeal
Aggretsuko follows an adorable red panda named Retsuko as she navigates through young adult life experiencing romance, friendships and the ongoing hardships at work. On paper, it sounds like a typical sitcom with the added appeal of having marketable plush-like characters inhabit its world, but the show’s real appeal lies in just how relatable Retsuko’s struggles are. From dealing with her literal pig of a boss to struggling to find the perfect life partner, it’s not hard to see why so many viewers would see themselves in Retsuko’s character.
But perhaps Aggretsuko‘s biggest draw is the unique way in which Retsuko vents her frustrations: heavy metal. It’s such a stark contrast to her usual soft-spoken attitude that it takes many first-time viewers by surprise — before they start rocking along with her. Retsuko and her struggles feel real, and this is where the show’s true appeal lies. Every person, no matter how insignificant they may seem, is going through their own things in life, and no one is free from that burden. It makes those watching Aggretsuko feel a little less alone as the show reminds everyone of that fact.
Aggretsuko Appeals to a Larger Demographic Than Other Sanrio-Inspired Anime
Previous Sanrio-inspired anime have mainly stuck to an established demographic to market the show toward. Onegai My Melody, Jewlepet and Mewkledreamy are all aimed at young girls while Sanrio Boys was aimed at teenage girls and young adult women. Some could argue that Aggretsuko‘s intended audience would also be young adult women, but it has a more varied cast of genders and ages that allow it to appeal to more people outside its intended demographic.
Another factor worth noting is each show’s main cast. Onegai My Melody, Jewelpet and Mewkledreamy‘s casts are mostly comprised of young girls while Sanrio Boys‘ cast is made up of teenaged pretty boys. Aggretsuko features both men and women of varying ages, allowing it to follow different storylines and viewpoints that are sure to resonate with someone in the audience instead of settling for just one major viewpoint. The only other Sanrio anime that has a bit more variety in its casting is Show By Rock!!, which follows different types of bands, including boy bands.
However, despite making an attempt to appeal to fans of both girl bands and boy bands, Show By Rock!! clearly favored the girl bands more; the boy bands would only get a few focus episodes out of an entire season. This didn’t stop them from overtaking the girls in terms of popularity though; one of the main boy bands, Shingancrimsonz, ranked second in Sanrio’s official popularity poll back in 2015, the first year that Show by Rock!! characters joined an official poll. But despite this impressive showing, Shingancrimsonz still often found themselves sidelined in favor of their female counterpart.
Many Sanrio-Inspired Anime Lack a Highly Relatable Protagonist
Most of the protagonists from Sanrio anime often find themselves in rather fantastical situations. Onegai My Melody, Jewelpet and Mewkledreamy all feature magical girl storylines wherein the protagonist teams up with a cute Sanrio creature as they work together to save the world and look cute while doing it. Onegai My Melody throws some fun musical numbers into the mix. Show By Rock!! mixes isekai with a battle of the bands angle and a bit of magic as its protagonist is transported into a world filled with music, wonder, and cute, furry creatures.
Sanrio Boys is a bit more down-to-earth as it focuses on teenage boys who struggle to fit into modern society’s general expectations of manliness. It’s a show that’s about embracing what you like and having no shame in it, and what these boys like are cute Sanrio plushies. Unlike the other examples listed, Sanrio Boys‘ story is a more textbook slice-of-life show — but it is unfortunately saddled with bad animation and middling writing, making it rather forgettable despite having an interesting premise.
Despite being set in a world filled with cute furry critters, Aggretsuko manages to tell a grounded story about a young woman that just happens to also be a red panda. The struggles Retsuko goes through every day are things that many real people have likely gone through as well. Falling in love, being rejected, wanting to quit a job then slinking dejectedly back to work when no other options present themselves, and finding healthy ways to cope with all the stress in between — all are present in almost every person’s life.
Although both shows are more textbook examples of slice-of-life anime, Aggretsuko feels more genuine in its messages compared to Sanrio Boys. It feels like it has something to say without throwing in plushies and toys that can be bought in between — although they certainly do exist. In contrast, despite having a more mundane setting, Sanrio Boys is actually the guiltiest of blatant product placement. The boys spend a lot of time gushing about Sanrio-related products and an entire episode is even dedicated to their trip to Sanrio Puroland, making the show seem a little less genuine in its overall tone as a result.
The Varying International Success of Sanrio Anime
Onegai My Melody, Jewelpet and Mewkledreamy were all successful in their home countries and spawned many seasons, films, spin-offs and merchandise. On the flip side, none of these shows have ever been officially released in English. Show By Rock!! has gained two seasons and two spin-off series — all of which have been dubbed and released on home video by Funimation — but it’s still a niche show among English speakers; even the game that the anime is based on is yet to be released in English.
Sanrio Boys was also released in English by Funimation, but it has never received any sequels or spin-off series, unlike the other examples. Aggretsuko is by far the most successful internationally, receiving five seasons and a Christmas special — all of which have been dubbed in multiple languages. The fact that it streams on Netflix rather than an anime-centered streaming service like Funimation or Crunchyroll may have also helped boost its audience reach.
This makes one wonder if the upcoming film Gudetama’s Eggcellent Adventure, which will also be streaming exclusively on Netflix, will see the same level of success as Aggretsuko. Gudetama himself already has a large following as a relatable egg that just wants to laze around all day. Regardless of how popular the film may turn out to be, it’s guaranteed to look incredibly cute.