Happy Sugar Life
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Happy Sugar Life ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Happy Sugar Life ?
We seem to get an anime that revels in the darkest and ugliest side of humanity at least once or twice a season. One of the two examples this season is Happy Sugar Life. (The other is Angels of Death, which I may draw comparisons to in later reviews if it becomes relevant.) Happy Sugar Life's title speaks directly to the feeling of acceptance, love, and peace that its protagonist desperately yearns for, even if she must go to dramatic extremes to achieve it. This gives the title an ironic tinge, as the horrid individuals she encounters in daily life are a far cry from the blissful life she's trying to manufacture.
Everything in the series centers on Satou Matsuzaka, a teenage girl who's pretty enough to get frequent attention for her looks. However, she finds that attention unfulfilling because she can sense the emptiness behind the many confessions she receive. Hints have been dropped that she comes from a disturbing background that may have left her emotionally damaged; some flashback shots suggest that her mother might have been in an abusive relationship that she conflated with love. We're told that her parents are now dead, and my guess is that we'll eventually find out that the history of abuse is directly connected to their demise. Whatever the case, it's implied that Satou had a psychotic break at some point, which resurfaces under stress and can result in devastatingly manipulative behavior. In episode 1, this happens when she confronts a manager who is trying to short-change her pay in an effort to dominate and intimidate her, and in episode 2, a sleazy teacher tries to coerce her into sleeping with him. In both cases, Satou successfully puts these wicked adults in their place in a haunting manner without resorting to violence.
Of course, that raises the question of whether or not Satou actually has committed violence, leading to the crowbar cliffhanger at the end of episode 2. The bags in her locked room are heavily implied to contain human remains, although I'm not ruling out some misdirection there either. Then there's the issue of Shio, the happy little girl she keeps hostage in her apartment. It's possible that Shio is a figment of Satou's imagination or a ghost, since her fear of stepping onto the balcony and lack of desire to ever leave the apartment is certainly strange. But if she's real, has she been brainwashed into enjoying her situation somehow, or did Satou actually rescue her from a more abusive situation? And how does this new boy, who's been looking for Shio since she went missing, fit into the picture? The whole marriage vows game between them isn't exactly normal, either.
There are so many questions and so few answers so far, but that's how it should be this early in the series. All that's certain is that Shio gives Satou the warmth and genuine affection that she has long wanted. This makes for cutesy scenes that stand in stark contrast to the darker content in both visuals and context. So far, the series has carefully avoided suggesting anything sexual between the two girls, and I'm getting the impression that it's meant to be seen as a more wholesome form of love – or at least as wholesome as a relationship that leads to double-suicide can be – with the sexual elements of the premise sloughed off onto the many predatory adults instead. Since the relationship is meant to be a counterbalance to the sleazy encounters Satou has with others, and her rejected male love interest has just been revealed to be a lolicon, that seems to be a purposeful contrast.
The technical merits so far are nothing special, although the artistry does an effective job depicting both the warmth of Satou's scenes with Shio and the altered state of mind that Satou slips into under pressure. The music is on-point and kudos also go to Kana Hanazawa for some nice voice work in performing the varied shades of Satou. I'm a little concerned that the story is going overboard in depicting the bad people in Satou's world, as three characters so far have been revealed as comically despicable when they might be more effective if their villainy was more subtly creepy, but through its first two episodes, this series is pulling off its twisted concept better than I had expected.
Happy Sugar Life is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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