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Netflix’s Aggretsuko has a surprising lesson about love

Netflix’s Aggretsuko has already proved to be more than a cute animated show capitalizing on the popularity of Sanrio’s all-too-relatable red panda, Retsuko. She’s the new and improved millennial Hello Kitty, a 25-year-old working woman battling sexism and microaggressions through death metal karaoke. Retsuko is the show’s heroine, finding herself and learning to fight back against sexist cultures, but another character appears as a tragic figure illustrating a powerful lesson about the pitfalls of romance.

In the latter half of the season, Retsuko meets Resasuke, a red panda from her office. Around the office, he’s picked up the nickname of “Space Cadet” for being an airhead. He runs into doors. He bumbles basic tasks at his job. He misses his train stop and is late to work because he’s too busy daydreaming. When the two wind up at the same table at a singles mixer, Resasuke is so quiet, Retsuko can’t even hear him. They trade numbers and chat over text, even though they’re sitting across from each other.

Retsuko falls hard for Resasuke, but, predictably, the relationship doesn’t last. Eventually, she cranks out a death metal karaoke ballad in which she confesses she loves to scream and sing and thinks he’s terribly bland. They break up.

The show takes steps to present Resasuke as a thoughtless weirdo, the kind of guy who splatters spaghetti all over his face while he eats and can’t be bothered to hand over his jacket when Retsuko is cold. His co-workers treat him like furniture, a filler friend they use when they need another body or someone to tease. Despite his lack of interest in dating at all, his bro-y co-worker pushes him into it, demanding that he takes steps to “seal the deal” with Retsuko, even as Resasuke quietly wonders aloud why he needs a girlfriend at all. Even Retsuko’s friends dismiss him based on a picture alone, remarking, “There is nothing cool about this guy.”

But where Aggretsuko could have dismissed Resasuke as a one-note character and a joke about the blinding power of infatuation, its final look at him offers a quietly devastating hint at his life. After the breakup, Resasuke returns to his tiny apartment. “I’m back,” he tells a room full of lush, well-cared-for plants. His inattentiveness to Retsuko is not, in fact, accurate to his entire character; it’s just true of his interest in a relationship. Resasuke is an odd duck, but he’s never presented himself as anything else. Retsuko reimagined him, swooning over a fantasy version of him as a deep-voiced, sparkling-eyed hunk. In her visions, even his mole moves into a more pleasing position.

Love isn’t about blinding us to each other’s faults, but accepting them. Infatuation rearranges quirks into cute habits, but true love cements them as endearing traits that comprise a flawed, multifaceted being. In the end, Aggretsuko’s lesson in love is an all-too-important one: sometimes we fall in love with the idea of a person, rather than the people themselves.