Happy Sugar Life's premise is nothing like its sweet title would have you believe. This week, Nick and Micchy explain why this shocking blend of slice-of-life comedy and violent mystery thriller leaves a more bitter taste in their mouths.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.
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Micchy, it's been a while since we last got to cover a good old-fashioned yuri romance. Sure, we've had some trashy stuff like Citrus
or NTR, but we're long overdue for a pleasant and uncontroversial viewing experience. Thankfully, we have Happy Sugar Life
, which is bound to be a nice, sweet, totally innocent good ti--
What, aren't you totally down for the show with a little girl taint shot less than five minutes in?
Now I'm gonna say something controversial: though my gut tells me to run, I don't think Happy Sugar Life is nearly as bad as the premise of "girl falls in love with and kidnaps a literal toddler" makes it sound.
I mean, that premise conjures images of a snuff film, so it would have to be better than it sounds.
It's messy as all hell and absolutely polarizing, but at its core this is a story about all the ugly emotions that come with trauma, as abuse survivors find solace in the company of a (supposedly) innocent child. Just, uh, Oh God tho.
So the basic setup of Happy Sugar Life is that Satou, a pretty girl who until recently was known for playing the field with boys, has somehow come into possession of Shio, a little girl who's just so sweet and loving that Satou's fallen in love with her and now keeps her confined to an apartment that she stole after killing the previous occupant.
From there, it becomes a slice-of-life comedy about living in a city where every single fucking person is a psychopath.
And I mean everyone.
E V E R Y O N E
You can count the number of psychologically stable characters in HSL on one finger.
Spoiler: it's not even the small child. So yeah, HSL has absolutely zero chill. Every single character in the show is violent to the extreme, taking every emotion to the absolute maximum. The nice boss is insecure about her age to the point of kidnapping and raping one of her employees, the teacher is a sleazy creep who craves suffering and the thrill of preying on his students, and so on. It's not enough for these characters to be subtly malicious; they've gotta be the most exaggerated depictions of abusers possible, to such an extent that it's almost difficult to take them seriously. But despite the show's utter lack of subtlety, I do think HSL taps into some vaguely human emotions.
I disagree. I think it's playing with emotions that could be humanizing - if very dark - in a different show, but I've mostly found its depictions of abuse too sensationalized to ring true.
That's fair, and I didn't mean to insinuate that anyone quite acts like a human being in this show.
For instance, take this dude:
Taiyo here is the aforementioned rape victim, and as a direct result of what he went through, he becomes convinced that he's been "defiled" and needs to be "purified." So he latches onto an image of Shio from a missing child poster and convinces himself that she's an angel meant to save him. That's fucked up on its own, but with more deft framing and dialogue, you could sell me on it. HSL instead spends 10 minutes having him slobber over a toddler, panting and heaving as he asks whether it's okay to touch her.
Yeah, that's definitely where the show falls down. It's not great to turn a character into a drooling predator as a direct result of abuse, and it's tacky to frame his non-sexual interaction with Shio erotically for shock value. HSL is interesting to me because this guy's been through some traumatic shit, and it's fucked him up pretty bad, which is engaging. The show just takes that emotional response and blows it up a few thousand percent, which either works for you or doesn't. I think it's got plenty of problems, but it's also making a fair attempt at portraying the fucked-up ways that victims can become abusers themselves.
I can respect trying to deal with messy or unpleasant emotions in fiction. I like plenty of stories with characters who do reprehensible things and are still presented in some sort of sympathetic light. But HSL just never works for me in that regard. Every new character with some fucked-up issue just feels like a load of cliches meant to be shocking, and I never feel like I'm seeing remotely realistic people.
what are you talking about, this is a man of culture
I just really question his workplace hygiene.
Jokes aside, I see where you're coming from. I'm not sold on the characterization either, and every so often there's a new moment that makes me go "what even." Like when the teacher calls the cops on Satou to expose the corpse he thinks she's hiding.
Sir, I don't think spines work that way.
My breaking point was when Satou's background character of a coworker suddenly reveals with zero foreshadowing that she's obsessed with becoming
Satou, to the point of, well
This comes out of absolutely nowhere, doesn't really accomplish anything with regards to advancing the plot or deepening our understanding of the characters, and it mostly just seems like Satou accidentally releases pheromones that attract crazy stalkers.
How about when Satou's aunt assaults the police officer and everyone just stands there watching?
Oh do not get me started on Satou's aunt.
On one hand, bad caretakers can absolutely screw with their kids' heads; that's what made Satou who she is now. But I think she's mostly there as an excuse to reference Utena
, what with the dead parents and all.
Frankly, the way HSL cribs imagery from Ikuhara is absolutely its biggest crime in my eyes.
What do you mean, gao gao?
Burn this. Forever.
But yeah, reminding me of Yuri Kuma Arashi
- a show that managed to portray toxic relationships and abusive authority figures with actual nuance and thoughtful framing - probably isn't the best idea.
Happy Sugar Life goes 100% for what abuse feels like from a victim's perspective, spraying those emotions all over the place without restraint, hence the omnipresent horror imagery. I think it's less interested in the realities of abuse from an outside perspective, if that makes sense? It's not Yurikuma and never will be, but points for trying.
I guess. I can appreciate that it's at least trying for something besides pure schlock, even if I'm put off by the result. I will say I was genuinely impressed by how it portrayed Asahi's father. Making an abusive parent a literal monster is pretty common, but the distortion on his voice and the way he shifts between the gruesome memory and mundane human body is pretty effective all the same.
such a great dad, this one
And hey, at least the weird marriage vows that Satou and Shio exchange eventually get recontexualized as a filial thing, so that's intriguing.
Okay, but where'd they get the toddler-sized
Overall, HSL isn't awful, but I've come out of it mostly unimpressed. It's got all the over-the-top edginess of Angels of Death
but deals with way more sensitive subject matter, and that mix just doesn't sit well with me.
Honestly, the best part of the show is the vocaloid-style OP that manages to sell its sweet/sinister dichotomy better than anything in the story.
I can't disagree! Even if the cracking konpeito is a little on-the-nose.
Because the show is so subtle otherwise...?
In a season like this one, I could see making time to catch up on HSL out of curiosity. If nothing else, it's not boring to watch, and I do have a morbid desire to see how it'll end.
Just remember, Happy Sugar Life
practice what you preach.