“What if I’m just another face in the crowd?”

When season three of Aggretsuko hit, I was crushed under its giant furry butt cheeks. Not only had it adopted a season long narrative form, but it went in a completely wild direction, seeing Retsuko find her way into a career as an idol, and the ending hit like a third giant butt cheek. I was thirsty for more. What can I say? I love butts. Season four is upon us and I waited for that squishy butt like a horny doge. This time the show goes in a more grounded direction. That’s alright. That’s okay. That’s what I originally loved about the show: its brutal takedown of the Japanese workplace and personal, realistic storylines. While season four of Aggretsuko does suffer from sub-par execution of its ideas, the core of the show is still intact - so pucker up, butt fans.

The story begins more or less where it left off. Retsuko is back at work, but after the events of the finale she moves house and takes self defense classes. Haida walks her home every day, because he's nice and likes her a hell of a lot, but he keeps blowing off any further development because he's a dweeb with low self esteem. Meanwhile, a new CEO takes over the company looking to increase efficiency at all costs, and he gives Haida a chance to prove his worth. It seems it's easier for Haida to excel at work than love, but it’s not long before the gang catches wind of some shady dealings that Haida might be leading. Retsuko is determined to get to the truth, whatever the cost.

This season had some great ideas, but the story arc needed fleshing out to succeed. The problem is that it’s hard to tell where it’s going episode to episode, even though each moment makes sense. What's the bigger picture? No idea, but it might involve butts. I kept waiting for that butt to descend, yet it's impossible to see and feel the butt without knowing why there's a butt. I should probably drop this metaphor, huh? Let's just say I couldn't see the bigger picture because of a lack of signposts. So much so I didn't know what the point of the season was until the final scene. It didn't help that the season switches from a romance focus to a work conspiracy plot half way through. I understand the show wanted to have some mystery about Haida’s activity, but without knowing what he's doing, if it was good or bad, I didn't know how to feel. Scenes that are supposed to have impact, didn't. Thank goodness for the jokes and character attachment. There wasn’t enough holding this season’s narrative together. One single thread of cotton string doesn't cut it.

Thankfully, the show's strongest points: it's satire and character development get us through completely despite of and separate to the plot. It’s kind of crazy though, that the show began by hitting us with all these annoying characters to satirize the workplace and now, in later seasons, it’s making us care for them. Ton was an annoying, abusive boss. He did some genuinely terrible things. Kabe was an unstoppable gossip with an addiction to the behavior. Inai, the psychotic millennial, had real trust and confidence issues to a beyond tragic degree. Yet, we’ve had some heartfelt moments with them this season. It’s humanised it’s caracatures and I can’t say I’m angry for it. They’re all just people trying to do their best and there's no frills to it. The show hits you with exactly what it wants to say about them. In a way, it's more investing than regular characters. Ton, the big bully, getting an award for his hard work is tear inducing. I suppose it’s the inevitable result of a long running show. The first season or so always runs on the initial concept but eventually it becomes about the characters and you don’t care so much about the concept anymore. We’ve reached that point. The show is even brave enough to feature Haida as the main character of the season. Retsuko really does take a step back. Most shows wouldn’t be that brave. It almost works. The problem isn't Haida - unless you already dislike him. It's just the unfocused writing this season. We know about Retsuko deeply and it’s great to see her from the outside. She’s neurotic, but everyone views her differently. Especially in this case Haida who is worried about not being good enough for her. He has put her on a pedestal, but then she really was on a pedestal as an idol and YouTube star. That gives us a suitable framework to understand Haida's legitimate concerns. As a result, you're either going to sympathize with him even more or he is going to annoy you. I'm sorry to say that, in my opinion, if you find him annoying then you're just not aware of how a lot of mean think and feel. I like how it pushes through his most vulnerable moment and at the end we have a richer understanding of his character - one that I felt a deep connection with because I have similar issues with my writing career. The plot only needs more signposts for how he is thinking throughout the latter part of the season.

Despite the initial concept of the show not being front and centre, it's still very much a part of the show. Aggretsuko only goes to karaoke a couple of times this season, and doesn't sing as much as expected, but it works for the story. Instead, it focuses on an accurate portrayal of work life in Japan. There are a number of key plot points this season, which hinge on Japanese culture. I don't think it would confuse anyone but it might seem a little strange. A character gets transferred to another department because they are no longer wanted by the company. How the show deals with this and shows the circumstances and the character's development through the situation matches what I have personally witnessed in the Japanese workplace. Companies do not want to fire people because they fear legal retaliation and don't want the bad publicity. So undesirables are often transferred to a minor department or useless position. Such people might be consistently lazy workers, or have committed something heinous. I've heard of teachers who assaulted students who still enjoy a comfortable position not teaching and just sitting at their desk all day with a full pay check because the school doesn't want the bad press. It's crazy to western eyes, but is more common than you would think. Another aspect, the celebration of the mundane 9-5 has alway seemed strange to me, but the show does such a good job of showing support for this idea in a personal way for the characters, not for capitalist reasons, that make me agree with it - and that is no mean feat. The show is brutally honest - even in a positive way - and I love it for that.

Season four might not quite have hit the high bar of previous seasons but it's still an enjoyable, unique experience that will keep the audience going long enough for the inevitable fifth season.