Manga Adaptation by Ezo’la
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Satou Matsuzaka claims to have found her one true love in Shio, a young girl she is keeping locked up in her apartment. Satou is determined to let nothing get between her and Shio, no matter the depths she has to sink to.
Aqua’s verdict: Hard Candy
If Happy Sugar Life even had the intention to be the psychological horror series it could have been, the tale of a woefully disturbed girl who slips off the deep end trying to live out the kinds of fantasies anime is more than happy to cater to, it still wouldn’t in a million years have had the directorial chops to actually pull it off. It takes blood, sweat and tears to walk the tightrope this show so firmly puts itself on, and Happy Sugar Life doesn’t last long before it finds itself plummeting towards the cold, hard floor.
Problem in case here isn’t necessarily a lack of talent, it’s cowardice. It’s not exactly an uncommon problem for an anime to both have its cake and eat it, but Happy Sugar Life is especially egregious in its refusal to take a stand, all but entirely relying on the goodwill of the viewer to make sure it won’t be seen as a glorification of the depravity it’s supposed to shock us with.
The result is a show that fails to unite sweetness and terror into anything cohesive or genuinely disturbing, mixing the saccharine vapidity of the kind of show that’d lead its fans to sympathize with Satou, with the dullest psycho killer tropes in the hack writer’s toolbox. Rather than emphasizing the discomforting contrast, Happy Sugar Life utterly drops the ball where the its extremes meet. By pitting Satou against people who are just as bad as, if not worse than her, it opts to highlight her diligence, cunning and unwavering devotion — the slightest of slight slivers of moral superiority she has over the comically callous caricatures this show deigns to call its antagonists — over her hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy. It chooses to affirm her deranged savior complex rather than portray her as the unhinged lunatic she is. When those in power refuse to pick a side, the wicked always win, and that’s as true in politics as it is in writing.
And now to refute some unwarranted strawman arguments in defense of this show I hope no one in their right mind will actually have the gall to make…
But Aqua, how can this show advocate paedophilia when there is no indication of Satou’s feelings for Shio being anything but romantic? As a blatant bleeding heart snowflake, you of all people should know that romantic and sexual attraction are not one and the same?
Grooming a child into showering you with clearly romantic affections still stunts their psychological development and takes abuse of the power you have over them as an adult. A child like Shio lacks the emotional maturity and life experience to consent to a rapport the likes of which Satou has in mind, which is further aggravated by the fact that Shio’s childish innocence specifically is what attracts Satou to her.
But Aqua, isn’t yuri the purest kind of love? You’re always whining about more representation, so why can’t you be happy with what you’re getting for once?
There are only two arguments you could use to justify Happy Sugar Life as a yuri anime. On one hand, you could say it uses Satou’s gender to hide the alarms her relationship with Shio sets off under the veneer of “purity” and “innocence” — nota bene the same bullshit Satou herself invokes to justify her reprehensible actions — in which case it is merely irresponsible and sickeningly deluded. On the other hand, you could very well make a case for Happy Sugar Life, however unintentional, affirming the disgusting view many people already have about gay people, which makes it outright dangerous.
But Aqua, the age of consent in Japan is—
Go fuck yourself.
Zigg’s verdict: Artificial Sweetener
This isn’t quite as bad as I think we all feared it would be, but it’s still pretty gross and awful. Conceptually there’s mileage out of the contrast between perfect, sweet romance and weird, fucked up psychological horror, but the script doesn’t have anything approaching the level of subtlety and nuance to exploit that to maximum effect. As it is, we get a couple of vaguely creepy scenes, but nothing that really lands a full force blow. It doesn’t help either that the kind of abuse Satou undergoes is the most comically over-the-top, petty mistreatment possible, designed to make her seem righteous in comparison, which just makes the entire thing seem like a very artificial morality play.
Then of course there’s the weird child grooming stuff, and make no mistake that’s exactly what it is. I’m not necessarily saying you can’t play this scenario for drama, but you’ll forgive me if I’m a little sceptical that Happy Sugar Life will deal with it with the level of gravitas and disgust it deserves. The entire thing feels like a classic anime case of ‘have cake and eat it’ where we’re meant to be openly repulsed but secretly tittilated by all the stuff that’s happening onscreen, and I don’t have time for this sort of clumsy moral equivalence.