Ah the joys of discovering the meaning of love! In the world of anime, there’s no shortage of stories and characters designed around this eternal quest. On one end of the spectrum you have Violet Evergarden, which is pretty, happy, heartfelt, sweet, and good, full of humanity and life. On the other end of the spectrum you have Happy Sugar […]
Ah the joys of discovering the meaning of love! In the world of anime, there’s no shortage of stories and characters designed around this eternal quest. On one end of the spectrum you have Violet Evergarden, which is pretty, happy, heartfelt, sweet, and good, full of humanity and life. On the other end of the spectrum you have Happy Sugar Life, which, I must tell you, is not happy, not sugar, and damn well not life.
We’ve all seen the shows filled with depravity. This one is right up near the top of that heap. That can add value to a show, but in the case of Happy Sugar Life, it feels like it’s mostly just there for the shock value. And this show will shock you. So if you’re down for some serious sickness of mind, go ahead and press that play button. Otherwise, I’d say just don’t.
Some images and text are disturbing. Proceed with caution.
These people are f**ked up, and I don’t say that casually. They all have immense moral and/or psychological issues. Most of these issues arise from horrific experiences in their past (or very recent past, in one character’s case), and they all find themselves unable to escape the effects of those traumas. The result is a parade of some of the most vile human behaviors and mentalities you will ever see in anime.
Unless your name is Code 002 or Fujiwara, pink hair seems to be a terrible omen. We all know Yuno Gasai, the prototypical yandere psychopath. Satou Matsuzaka will make you fondly reminisce about Future Diary. Because even if your sanity was tested by that maniacal display, Matsuzaka will make you physically sick. On one hand, you have lots of sympathy for her. An unhappy childhood spent parentless with her maniacal aunt has left her incapable of living a normal life. On the other hand, the path she found herself upon, one way or another, will twist your insides.
Her unhappy quest to discover what love truly means has led her into many dark places. Before our story here, she’s lived promiscuously, going through a boyfriend a week or randomly accepting the solicitations of street predators. Mixed into that timeline is her unusual relationship with a neighbor in her aunt’s apartment complex, a young man who wants her to model for his drawings. We don’t know the details of that pretty little affair until deep into the series. She modeled for him, they talked, and he began to fall in love with her “expression,” one of deep unhappiness and loneliness. Then one day, Matsuzaka showed up with a little girl in her arms, seeking to shelter her from the rain. Her sad expression had subtly changed to a happier one. Imagining (correctly) that this was because of the little girl, he attempted to murder the child right there. Matsuzaka returns to the room just in time, and kills him instead. She then takes over residence in his apartment, finally separating from her crazy aunt, and packs his butchered remains into a trash bag which she has her pet teacher discard later.
Had enough yet? We’re just getting started.
All these dark paths have led Matsuzaka to “fall in love” with a little girl who probably isn’t even ten years old. She met her randomly on the streets after her insane mother abandoned her there, and from there went to the apartment aforementioned and the events of this tale begin to unfold. Shio Kuobe is a sweet child. Anybody could adore her as a child. But based on our observations at the outset of the show, Matsuzaka doesn’t seem to express a sibling’s or even a parent’s love for a child, but romantic love. Indeed, they exchange these odd “vows” every night if they can get around to it, and ultimately do so more formally in a kind of “marriage” ceremony, even exchanging rings.
After completing the series, I feel like there’s some redemption for Matsuzaka, for ultimately she only does good things for Shio. She may really be only loving her in a pure way, and trying to protect her from the harshness she’s seen in life. But through the first 11 of 12 episodes or so, you’re watching her behavior with Shio, and you don’t think any of that. It looks like kidnapping, forced confinement, and pedophilia. It will make you want to vomit.
I mentioned Shio is a sweet child. And she is. She smiles, laughs sweetly, says cute little girl things, and has a loving heart. This despite her unhappy few years. Her mother was married to an abusive man who she mercifully abandoned, taking Shio with her (leaving the brother Asahi behind at his request). When life continued miserably from there, never improving, the mother’s insanity continued to progress. Whatever her reasons, good or evil or neither due to insanity, she walked her little daughter Shio out to a bridge on one rainy night, let go of her hand, and walked away. She was immediately discovered by Matsuzaka, and so our story begins.
Shio has a couple of interesting aspects as a character. First, despite her happy appearance and behavior, she is a harbinger of disaster. Every time she makes a conscious decision, things start to go hellishly wrong. Usually those decisions are based on some childish, often cute, thought process or action. She goes out of Matsuzaka’s apartment in search for her once, against Matsuzaka’s orders, and thus spawns a great deal of unrelated incidents that bring a great deal of pain and suffering to multiple people, including the two thugs that get their eyes gouged out by Matsuzaka. She leaps out the apartment door once to hug Matsuzaka goodbye, where she’s seen by Hida, Matsuzaka’s friend from work. Matsuzaka ultimately murders Hida to ensure her silence as a result. Stuff like that happens multiple times. You’re super nervous every time you see Shio in a scene without Matsuzaka, and it’s completely justifiable. Trouble follows that poor child like disease follows filth.
The second interesting part of Shio’s character is how she elicits “love” from multiple characters. Matsuzaka’s immature and warped love is one variety. Asahi expresses a sibling’s love for his sister, but even that’s a bit on steroids. He wanders mindlessly placing missing person posters everywhere in their little town, hoping against hope to find his sister and bring about a happy life together with their mother. Then we have the unhappy Taiyou Mitsuboshi. He’s traumatized early in the show by the vile manager of the restaurant both he and Matsuzaka work at briefly. Matsuzaka extracts him from that sexually abusive situation, but it’s warped his mind into a fear of adult women and some weird need for “purification.” Of course he sees the missing person posters set up by Asahi and latches onto the underage Shio as an “angel” who can bring about this purification. It’s maniacal and monstrous, if it has the slight excuse of trauma to temper it. Shio’s mother loves her in an odd way too in the midst of her deepening insanity. Matsuzaka’s aunt expresses something like motherly love for Shio when they meet, in her bizarre way. So yeah, lots of warped displays of “love” directed at Shio.
As this anime is more story-driven, I’ll discuss more details about some of the characters in the Story section below. There aren’t many characters, which is always a plus for me. But the remaining few I didn’t touch on here will get some time below.
Wipe the sweat from your forehead and don’t plan on eating anything for a while, because while we’re done discussing these crazy characters for now, we’ve got plenty of sickness left on today’s menu.
I’ll be honest and say I couldn’t effectively evaluate the artwork in this show. 12-episode anime go by really fast anyway, so you have to really pay attention or something has to really jump out at you to get you to focus in on it. But in this case, you can probably guess the bigger reason I couldn’t focus in on the artwork. I was too busy trying to not throw up.
Thinking back, I can see how the artists tried to use contrast to good effect. Contrast and warped reality are at the center of this story, so it makes sense to mix the monstrous imagery of Matsuzaka’s shining red eyes and various instruments of death with normal schoolgirl outfits and those brief moments of sparkly, candy-like backgrounds that occur in every episode when Matsuzaka and Shio hug each other or whatever.
But the truth of the matter is this. I can’t separate the appearance of Happy Sugar Life from Future Diary. If you sit down and compare the two, they don’t look tremendously similar. Future Diary is in that Parasyte vein of horror artwork, where color contrast and details are used to focus our vision and enhance our horror when terror strikes. Happy Sugar Life is a little more abstract, a little more fluff and soft colors and less-distinct edges. The only real similarity is between Yuno Gasai and Satou Matsuzaka’s designs. But given their character type and their visual similarities, I can’t differentiate between the two shows on the surface. This single similarity absorbs my entire view of the artwork in this series. I can’t tell you how many times just writing through this review I almost wrote “Yuno” when I meant “Matsuzaka.”
It’s not an exaggeration to say I couldn’t focus on the art because of the combination of mystery and depravity in the story. This is rather unusual, particularly in anime, which is based entirely in visual arts. This could imply both positive and negative things about this show. On the positive side, the series succeeded in gripping my attention, so much so that I couldn’t even focus on the details of what I was seeing. But on the negative side, you could say that if there was something significantly of interest in the artwork, I would’ve seen it anyway. It should be impossible to avoid observing high quality art. So in that sense, nothing about the artwork succeeded in overcoming whatever distractions existed within the show. Therefore it must, at least, have not been as remarkable as those distractions somehow.
So between the indistinctness between Matsuzaka and Yuno Gasai and the possibility that the artwork is simply too ordinary to draw my attention, I put the artwork in the average category. It’s nice, the contrast is interesting (if an obvious choice), but I think nether well nor poorly of it.
The story has a number of character threads that run through the entire series. By that I mean each character has an associated storyline that ties into the main story and converges nicely at the end. But this great positive about the story is heavily overshadowed by a continuous display of depravity that I feel is simply another trite attempt to shock the viewer.
We’re plopped right down in the middle of this tale at the start of the series. Matsuzaka and Shio are already in the midst of their “happy sugar life,” living together in an apartment that’s normal but for the bloody room containing mysterious bags of trash, which Matsuzaka seals off with several types of locks. So the mystery of how this insane situation evolved is instantly thrown into our faces. It’s well done in that sense.
But from there, while mystery and story development build, mostly we’re simply exposed to one monstrous display of perverted humanity after another. Matsuzaka gets a new job. The manager at that job dislikes how much attention she’s getting and that the only male under her management wants to go out with Matsuzaka and not her. So she overworks Matsuzaka and then tries to cut her pay. Matsuzaka only extricates herself from that by blackmailing the manager, threatening to expose that she’s locked Taiyo away and is sexually abusing him daily. Of course this is the event that sets Taiyo on his insane path as well.
Then you have the teacher, Kitaumekawa-sensei. He seems nice initially (like most of the characters do initially), but we quickly find that he’s experiencing some kind of perverted love for Matsuzaka and is stalking her. Matsuzaka discovers him and threatens him into submission, visiting his home and threatening to expose her body right in front of him and his wife and child. She treats Kitaumekawa like a pet thereafter, having him do things for her as she hangs her blackmail over his head. He, in turn, becomes even more perverse, desiring not only Matsuzaka herself now but also her abuse, as well as some odd form of revenge on her.
So don’t become Matsuzaka’s enemy! But as a couple of men once said in a non-Eastern story:
“Once I get to liking somebody, they ain’t around for very long.”
“I notice once you get to disliking someone, they ain’t around very long either.”
Obscure Westerns aside, it certainly fits our friend Matsuzaka. You’re in as much danger as her friend as you are as her enemy. She drives the one girl, Miyazuki, away from work when she confesses love to her. She doesn’t want her in her life, and she says so explicitly. Although, this is after the girl confesses she’s gone through Matsuzaka’s locker at work, since she wants to have all the same things as Matsuzaka. She wants to imitate Matsuzaka down to the last detail, trying to style her hair the same and carry the same bag with the same things in it. Another hideous display.
And poor Shouko Hida. She just tries to be her friend. She’s done lots of bad things herself, but she wants to be a friend to Matsuzaka. But unfortunately for her, she randomly meets Asahi, and randomly meets Taiyo, and between that and Shio’s energetic jumping out the door to hug the departing Matsuzaka, she learns the secret of Matsuzaka’s love. Despite declaring her love for Matsuzaka–whatever that meant at this point–ultimately we don’t know if she would have kept Shio’s presence at Matsuzaka’s apartment a secret through, as Matsuzaka doesn’t let her survive the sun’s descent to night.
What about the crazy aunt? Turns out she’s pretty much responsible for all this mess one way or another. When Matsuzaka was turned over to her after the death of her parents, dear auntie continued her warped explorations of “love,” allowing many strangers into her apartment who she, literally, allowed to do anything to her. In the flashbacks, we never see any of this happening, and we never see little Matsuzaka witnessing any of it. But it’s just as bad. She hears all of it from behind a closed door. She sees her aunt bruised and smiling, a vacant madness floating in her visage. She hears her aunt tell her this is all a kind of love.
Oh, should I recall to you how everything is finally resolved? Asahi tracks them down, but Matsuzaka and Shio have escaped just in time. Matsuzaka’s aunt has Taiyo imprisoned, whereby he once more suffers sexual abuse, and she has agreed dispose of the evidence left in Matsuzaka’s apartment by setting the place on fire. Oh, that evidence is the bloody room that Matsuzaka never can get the stain out from, and of course the dead body of Hida dressed in Matsuzaka’s school uniform to make it seem like Matsuzaka was the one who had died in the fire. But they get away just in time! Or, they did. Matsuzaka removed her “wedding ring” while she dressed her friend’s corpse, and forgot to put it back on (imagine that). Upon discovering this, she returns to the apartment with Shio. And all hell breaks loose one final time. Ultimately, they can’t dodge Asahi and the fire sufficiently to escape, and the two agree to commit the famous shinjuu, the double suicide of forbidden lovers, by jumping off the roof of their “castle.”
I’d love to get into some of the more interesting parts of this storyline. Does forgetting the ring say something about Matsuzaka’s “love” for Shio? Why the suicide, beyond the Japanese literary tradition itself? Are the characters really all depraved and evil or are their actions all excusable due to insanity? Is there a connection between death and insanity in this story? Does the author wish to bring attention to the connection between abuse and subsequent crime? Did Shio really “die” on the bridge and all of this is just surreality? Is the author trying to explore the famous literary concept of the wastefulness of earthy life? What are the effects of pouring these kinds of materials into the human mind? How does the idea of “angels” play into this series? What role does the candy jar play in all this? Or candy in general? Or, my personal favorite, why we should all love yandere girls?
But I cannot, because I don’t know if any of that is really very present in this story. Given the sheer amount of depravity we have in this story, I can’t see any of it playing any greater role beyond simple shock value. While there is some validity to the attempt to create something that will simply shock the viewer beyond their limits, the constant barrage of it in this show cheapens this effect, even if it doesn’t lessen its impact on us. It just seems like the author wanted to include every kind of bad human behavior they could just to shock the viewer. Maybe interesting threads of story run throughout all that. But it’s too heavily overshadowed by this base attempt to stimulate our emotions and evoke a visceral reaction. I can’t see beyond it easily, so I think any quality in the story is lost in the hellish display.
The most interesting part of the story was how I found myself hoping Matsuzaka could ultimately succeed in her schemes. I had to catch myself a number of times, reminding myself that we needed Matsuzaka’s mad world to fall apart for things to be right again. We needed things to not work out for her!
If this effect was intentional by the authors, I give them credit for that. You find yourself sympathizing with Matsuzaka. When you catch yourself realizing you’re wishing she could succeed and maintain her “happy sugar life,” you subsequently find yourself looking for reason why you could justify her actions. Interestingly, some reasons are provided, or we simply strain to find them so much that we find them readily. I found myself wondering if Matsuzaka’s motives were entirely pure, and she simply doesn’t know how to act on those motives because of her past. I found myself considering that maybe Shio’s best chance for happiness in life was to continue on with Matsuzaka. I found myself wondering if the people Matsuzaka murdered deserved it.
It kind of pulls you into the darkness. Again, if this was done by design, very good. But if it’s just an accident of the story, then it is what it is. Either way, it’s kind of an interesting effect in this story. You really do have to stop and realize that Matsuzaka is really doing something really whack-clown-ass-wicked here, on some level. No matter how one frames it, ultimately what everyone does is evil in this story, whether justified or excusable due to insanity or not. I won’t get into the depths of why that’s so here, but ultimately that’s what you’re left understanding here even without the philosophical underpinnings.
So I think the story could have been good, but it’s so heavily overshadowed by the monstrosity we witness that I can’t give it too much credit. It’s mostly a shock-value story, at the end.
The history of anime is full of monstrous displays. I already mentioned Future Diary. But Monster comes to mind, with its twisting story and heinous acts piling on one after another. Berserk is another famous story that comes to mind in this vein, piling evil upon evil, sometimes right in front of our eyes. I could name many, and you could probably all name a few more. And while doubtless some of the acts depicted by the authors of such stores are meant to evoke strong reactions in viewers, not all of those shows have human depravity as their defining feature. Maybe that could be said of Berserk, but even there you have magnificent action sequences and highly compelling characters to go with the violence. But as I said, in Happy Sugar Life, the depravity feels pointless, meant for evocation more than anything else. It takes away from its potential quality.
If I looked beyond the trappings of depravity and had to pick just one perspective on this show, I’d say that we’re probably not supposed to imagine any of this is very real. Or that the reality of what’s happening is based entirely on individual perspective. Two things make me think this. Many times during the show, and once with Shio in particular, we see the confused, fuzzy drawings. I’m not just talking about the static-like, noisy drawings meant to enhance the feelings of madness in a scene. I’m also talking about moments where the characters look like they’re fading out of the scene. You can see that in the picture below this paragraph, where Matsuzaka fearfully holds a fuzzily-colored Shio in her arms (although it’s interesting to note, this is the scene when Matsuzaka first brings Shio home with her, and we’re seeing this from the original owner of apartment 1208’s perspective). But that could be attributed to other artistic motives. What really makes me think this show is all about individual perspective on “reality” is—no, not the pedophilic love between Shio and Matsuzaka—how completely selfish each character is. Twist it around any way you like, it’s an inescapable fact that everyone in this story acts entirely based upon self-interest and self-benefit. This is why no matter how you view Matsuzaka’s actions, she cannot be said to have good motives ultimately. She’s trying to sate her desire for love, and to be loved. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but the motive is nonetheless personal and selfish. The selfishness of all the other characters, even Shio herself, is very apparent as well, and I won’t take up any more space here or more of your time detailing the many examples of this throughout the show.
I will give this show credit for something that I’ve never experienced while watching anything, be it live-action, animation, or real life. It made my physically sick. I actually got nauseated watching this show, and had to stop for a while until I restored my health. If all the madness we see here is simply to curdle the blood and evoke visceral reactions in viewers, of all the weird anime I’ve seen, none have ever caused that reaction in me. So in that sense, the authors certainly succeeded.
Therefore, if you haven’t seen this series and you read through all that above to this point, and you’re more sensitive to visceral reaction, you might as well have the puke bucket nearby if you plan on watching this. Until things start to resolve themselves and we learn the truth behind some of the mysteries and we see that Matsuzaka might at least have a glimmer of good intentions, this show will lay you out on the floor. This is one brand of horror, and not the classical kind I prefer. It has those elements, like closed doors, heavy shadows, and crazy eyes, but mostly it’s a monstrous behavior and gore kind of horror. If that’s your thing, grab your good friend Yuno Gasai (and the puke bucket) and go for it. If you want to explore how clearly the separation is defined between good and evil, go for it. Otherwise, I’d put this in the Another category, and just let it be. Save your sanity and don’t look into the abyss.