There’s nothing wrong with a little Happy Sugar Life

One night, I was murderously bored and could not sleep. Because a healthy night-time routine is out of the question (more blue light to chill the eyes), I often fill that dead time with lazy anime. Usually some mediocre tier-two seasonal show will fit the bill, but summer 2018 has mostly disappointed me: The 2.5 isekai anime I tried to watch this season either proved gross, intolerably vile, or just… plain. I needed something new to watch while I dozed off.

So, I opened up MyAnimeList looking for a new show. Weeks ago, I had flagged Happy Sugar Life as a “maybe” entirely for its colorful cover art. This time, I read the synopsis and let out a sarcastic “heh.” Oh, a yandere? And pink? I liked Mirai Nikki well enough, let’s give it a whirl, eh?

(At this point, I like to imagine that a bolt of lightning strikes the transformer outside my house and the power cuts out. As the explosive echo subsides, I hear only quiet rain and the mad, gurgling laughter of an anime girl dragging a bloody fire axe. One eye glows red behind too-long pink banges. I’m in for a crazy night…)

Mirai Nikki may well have been the greatest natural disaster to ever strike anime, but wow was it entertaining. Though the endless plot holes and criminal character inconsistencies made its psychotic yandere lead Yuno look sane, I can forgive any flaw with the mantra: n-o-t-h-i-n-g-w-r-o-n-g. If Happy Sugar Life could capture even half of Mirai Nikki’s mad brilliance, it would be well worth a watch. I needed a palate cleanser after that awful isekai overload. And woah ho, did I find one, if by “palate cleanser” you mean rapidly alternating between tastes so bitter to turn you to ash and so sweet to melt you away into a puddle of syrupy goo.

Happy Sugar Life is great. The first three episodes did not put me to sleep like I had hoped. Instead, I stayed up staring at the dark ceiling, grinning and giggling over the devious thing I had just watched. I wanted more. More candy. More crowbars. More happy sugar life. I was manic.

I wanted this blog to have a bit of writing rigor, so I’ll set out with a discussion question. What is the appeal of yandere archetypes and why… is this ketamine or sugar?

Nah, forget it. I don’t have a thesis. Happy Sugar Life triggered such a devilishly sweet mania in me that I can only express my answer with pure, meaningless meme:

👎😢💘🚫n-o-t-h-i-n-g-w-r-o-n-g👌👌👌💯

Let me try to elaborate on that…

Why do I find yandere characters so entertaining? I don’t want anything to do with one in real life, but at the same time, remember the mantra: n-o-t-h-i-n-g-w-r-o-n-g. Sure, Mirai Nikki’s Yuno date-rape sedated her boyfriend and kidnapped him and bound him to a chair and fed him “here comes the train” style and tended to him with a bedpan (ew, but also… ooo) and tried to murder his friends with poison gas out of obsessive jealousy… but hey, it was all in good fun, right? A lovers’ spat, a little game… It was cute!

Yandere are great because they are so divorced from reality that it is hard not to laugh. Again, I absolutely don’t want a stalker girlfriend to appear out of nowhere, murder my parents (to eliminate the competition), and drag me out to some disaster prepper cabin in the woods to keep me well sedated with a suspiciously perfect dose of ketamine… but for the memes… yeah sure, let’s give it a try. Remember the mantra: n-o-t-h-i-n-g-w-r-o-n-g. I’m sure it will all turn out fine, even if it ends in an FBI shootout and a lovers suicide (or with a yandere… homicide-suicide). The scenario feels so absurd that I can’t really criticize it. The thought just paralyzes me with giggles.

For all of my jokes about yandere though, I don’t want to give the impression that Happy Sugar Life is bad. To the contrary, it is shockingly excellent for what I suppose could uncharitably be described as a psychological horror genre exploitation piece. With our lovable psychopath yandere at the center of a cast of weirdos with their own unique madnesses, the whole show becomes disgusting, twisted monstrosity that I don’t even know how to unwind.

Perhaps I should start with the elephant in the room to, in a roundabout way, offer a summary of the premise. Some of the strongest criticism of Happy Sugar Life focuses on its loli-yuri yandere main character (bluntly, and without the protective anime jargon… pedophilic lesbian psychopath), with the claim that it reinforces the harmful “gay predator” stereotype. Though I would usually agree, in this case I don’t think the criticism precisely fits.

The MyAnimeList synopsis calls Happy Sugar Life:

a shivering pure love psycho horror story of a girl named Satou Matsuzaka, who has someone she likes. She experiences a sweet feeling when she sleeps with her, and thought it must be true love. Everything will be forgiven as long as she protects this feeling, even if she tricks, commits crimes, steals, or even kills, she thought.

That “her” is a young girl named Shio who lives with Satou in an apartment that neither of them seem to own. At a glance, loli seems appropriate: Shio is at least elementary age, if not younger. Yuri looks fine too with the implications behind “sleep” and “love” between two girls. And of course, “psycho” alone should give away the yandere premise.

But despite that teaser, I don’t think either yuri or loli really apply here. Happy Sugar Life avoids showing any pedophilic or sexual intention in Satou. Though this could change in later episodes, her indifference might even imply genuine asexuality. Satou does not care about her revolving door of boyfriends; with the telling line “But no matter what they told me or what they did for me, I never felt anything,” she suggests a lack of any sexual desire. Similarly, she chastises her masochistic teacher for wanting relationships built entirely on physical pleasure and her confrontation with her seductress manager over Taiyou’s rape drips with bitter disgust. She even outright tells the manager “You’re not supposed to go after underaged kids,” showing that she knows the basic rules of sexual morality. Satou maybe-kidnapped Shio, but she has no apparent sexual interest in the child or anyone else. She isn’t an obvious pedophilic “gay predator” stereotype.

Instead, Satou acts more as a mother or big sister than a lover. Satou has almost super-human self-control and personal responsibility, working multiple jobs and going to school to provide for Shio with no apparent adult support (the show stretches credulity by making Satou a high schooler, but I suppose the anime trope stands). Though the sleeping and bathing scenes might creep out an American audience, parents sharing a bed and bath with their young children is common in Japan (globally, America is the odd one out here: the majority of humans co-sleep with children).

In this context then, even the eerie wedding vows look more like a childish game than a symbolic yuri relationship. Shio is young enough that a romantic game of pretend seems age appropriate. But as a high schooler, even Satou has barely left childhood herself despite the admirable diligence worthy of a single parent. She imbues the wedding game with psychotic significance due to an obsession with Shio’s youthful innocence and (selfishly) her own happiness, but again, she is likely not a pedophile that literally wants to marry a young girl.

Of course, maybe-kidnapping is a maybe-bad thing, but remember the mantra: n-o-t-h-i-n-g-w-r-o-n-g. As Satou says, the world outside the apartment is a dangerous place and yandere exist to protect, regardless of the agency of the target of their obsession. She will protect Shio’s innocence, even if that means locking her up alone in an apartment for 16 hours a day.

And that juicy yandere contradiction… Mwah! Perfect. 👌👌👌 💯

Happy Sugar Life masterfully twists the psychopath yandere archetype (well-established by now with the likes of Mirai Nikki’s Yuno) to build suspense. For example, Satou’s meeting with her manager in episode one is unsettling because that threat of yandere violence hangs over the whole scene. It makes for a nice bit of dramatic irony: the audience knows that Satou’s archetype permits her to pull a knife or crowbar out of her yandere pocket dimension at any moment, but the manager does not. When the episode ends without violence, all of that suspense just rolls into the next conflict, like the inevitable hundred-year earthquake resting for over 160 years under the San Andreas Fault. In a genre that promises a yandere bloodbath, it becomes difficult to shake that feeling of being “due” for a disaster (statisticians go away, let me have this metaphor. I know how x-year events work).

And that constant unease… Mwah! Perfect. 👌👌👌 💯

Of course, Happy Sugar Life has its own solid horror sequences that do not rely so heavily on its yandere premise. At risk of spoiling an amazing moment, the elevator scene stuck out as excellent for building basic horror suspense. Satou cheerily and hummingly slips into an elevator and watches as it slowly climbs each floor on the number display. She hops out, skips over to her apartment, and takes out her key ready for a lovely reunion with Shio and… oh god, the door is unlocked. At this point, the audience knows that the apartment is empty and that Shio has already left. But Satou’s reaction is terrifying. You can touch the anxiety as she quickly shuts the door, dashes back to the elevator, and mashes the buttons to go back down and scour the city for her beloved.

Oooh that delicious dramatic irony… Mwah! Perfect. 👌👌👌 💯

The elevator scene is enhanced by excellent art. As a whole, the visual design in Happy Sugar Life is so gorgeous that I want to throw up. Most scenes are saturated with sugary candy colors, like Satou’s pink hair or Taiyou’s fashion-disaster lime-green jacket (if the title of this blog is any indication, I adore too-sweet candy pastels). When Satou comes home to greet Shio, sickly sweet candies and flowers and stars explode out of her happiness. It is disgustingly cute and so lovely, especially when contrasted with the bitter, black-as-tar yandere scenes with more conventional horror art. Though generally unnotable, the animation even has a few great moments, like when Satou skips down the street at the thought of reuniting with Shio. Except of course, Shio is not home, snapping Satou back into her eerily rigid, black-static silly-string yandere stance.

The synaesthetic taste of bitter, sugary tar… Mwah! Perfect. 👌👌👌 💯

Finally, I’ll give a brief mention to the sound, because I have little more to say than “this is good.” The voice acting on Satou is Mwah! Perfect. 👌👌👌 💯

Happy Sugar Life is the first show this season I would consider calling excellent. It isn’t just a dubious nighttime sleep aid like the summer isekai and despite my jokes, I think it has the potential to be more than just another yandere meme. Of course, I have only seen three episodes so it might still turn into an awful mess, but even if that happens I suspect it will smash into “so bad it’s good” territory like its pink predecessor in Mirai Nikki had. The legitimately unsettling suspense kept me on edge, but at the same time I couldn’t stop laughing at the thing. Whatever else it may become, Happy Sugar Life’s first few episodes are great fun.

Like candy, Happy Sugar Life is probably bad for me. But I can’t stop eating it. It’s just too sweet. Pop a few sugar pills and remember the mantra: n-o-t-h-i-n-g-w-r-o-n-g.

Enjoy the happy sugar life.

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