Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Happy Sugar Life

GN 4-7

Synopsis:
Happy Sugar Life GN 4-7
Sato's lovely life with Shio is becoming harder and harder to maintain. Not only is Shio's brother looking harder than ever for his lost sibling, Taiyo is growing more desperate to see the last pure being in order to try to get his life back on track and the teacher Sato used to dispose of “garbage” is increasingly less willing to let things lie. When Shoko, Sato's best friend, starts to question what's really going on in her friend's life, things come to a head, and steps that can't be revoked are taken…Although as we learn about the tragic pasts of both girls, it starts to look like maybe those steps were already taken a long time ago.
Review:

In a review of an earlier volume, I said that the characters in Tomiyaki Kagisora's Happy Sugar Life weren't broken, just twisted to the breaking point. That still holds true (although right now they're so twisted that you can hear the creak of something about to snap), but the question of how that happened is still up in the air. Or at least it was – these volumes provide us with some concrete answers about what happened to Shio, Sato and Asahi, filling in blanks that have made truly getting a handle on them difficult.

None of the answers, if we think about it, are all that surprising, although like with everything else in this series there is a kink in the chain we thought we were starting to understand. Asahi's issue is perhaps a little more black-and-white than Sato's, although not as clear-cut as Taiyo's, whose sexual abuse created a phobia of adult women in him. As we could have guessed from earlier volumes, Asahi's problems started at home, with his abusive family, but what we learn now is that the abuse took more than one form. Long before the children were born, their mother was an innocent high school first-year. One day, on her way home from school, she ran into the man who would become their father in a relatively literal sense. He took advantage of both that and her innocence to rape her, and she later found herself pregnant. When her parents found out what happened and tried to get justice, they allowed themselves to be swayed by her rapist's father, a wealthy man who convinced them that having the two teens marry was the best solution.

When we see the story from the mother's perspective in volume seven, we understand more than when we're limited to Asahi's point of view earlier. In his eyes, their father was a physical abuser, and in order to save herself and her daughter, Asahi and Shio's mother left, but only taking Shio with her. Why she might have done this has many potential answers: she feared that her husband would sexually abuse their daughter, she thought she had a better chance of a clear getaway with only the younger child in tow, she worried that her son would turn into his father. That she later slipped down the same slope her husband did indicates that her own mental health wasn't the best, but what's most striking about Asahi's situation is that for him, his sister represents almost the exact same thing that she does for both Sato and Taiyo: purity and safety. Shio is the blameless party, and in his mind, she remains untouched by any of the abuse that existed around her. It never occurs to Asahi that Shio might also suffer from what happened to them, or that she might also be shaped by it; in his eyes, Shio is his one salvation, and by reuniting with her, all problems will miraculously be solved.

That this is exactly how Taiyo sees her, albeit through a lens of sexual purity, makes Asahi just as sad a character, perhaps even more so because unlike Taiyo and Sato, he doesn't know that he has a problem and, worse still, appears to be living on the streets. But he's also the one person who actually has a claim on Shio in any sense of the word (except perhaps legal; he's still a minor), and watching Sato try to get rid of him to protect her fabricated world is upsetting in that she's preying on a child. But what Asahi doesn't know is that their mother abandoned Shio, too – living in agony and poverty, she began blaming her daughter as a symbol of the marriage she's trapped in, and we learn that when Sato found her on the street, it was because her mother had deliberately taken her out and left her there.

That begs the uncomfortable question of whether or not Sato actually did save Shio, because their current living situation is anything but healthy. In that case, however, she may simply be doing as was done to her. Since volume one we've assumed that Sato's aunt was the body she had her teacher get rid of for her, and that Sato killed her because the woman abused her orphaned niece. That's only half-right, as it turns out – Sato's aunt did sexually abuse her, but she's not the body in the locked room. Her aunt is, in fact, alive and living nearby, facilitating Sato's deception of the authorities, and she's the poster girl for someone who under no circumstances should be allowed to take care of a child. She has a locked room, too, however it appears to be the room where she abused Sato and enacts her sexual encounters (she's not technically a sex worker). That Sato didn't dispose of her at first seems a little strange, because like Taiyo's abuser, she's unquestionably to blame for Sato's mental illness.

Or is it strange? If you think about it, all of the people Sato has disposed of have one thing in common: they've tried to separate her from Shio. That's one thing that her aunt has never done, even if it's because she has no idea Shio exists, much less that Sato has kidnapped her. (And given her treatment of her niece, she might not care even if she did know.) Sato's aunt hurt her, something she can live with because she's used to hurting; the only thing she will not tolerate is someone taking Shio away from her – even if that might be the best thing for Shio.

It's interesting that across volumes four and five we barely hear from, or even see, Shio herself. She's becoming less of a character and more of a blank slate others use to create what they most need to see. That all of them choose to view her as “pure” and “innocent” brings us to ideas of the supposed purity of girls, especially little girls, which is interesting because Sato herself should know that those are unattainable and unrealistic cultural standards. No one wants to see Shio as a person, someone who has gone through her own experiences of abuse, and that may turn out to be what ultimately brings the whole fragile spun-sugar sculpture crashing down, as we begin to see when she breaks her silence in volume six.

Everyone wants their happy sugar life. But sugar, like so many things, is beautiful in its fragility and all it takes is a drop of water to dissolve it away.

Grade:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Answers are starting to come clear, a few very good twists. Good use of point of view and how who's telling to story influences how it's told.
Sato does feel a bit stagnant as a character, may be upsetting for some readers even if it wasn't before now.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Tomiyaki Kagisora

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Happy Sugar Life (manga)

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