Happy Sugar Life – 07 – What are Friends? What is Love?

Satou’s teacher sees her with Shouko and doesn’t like the fact that she seems to be sharing “dirty little secret.” Of course, Sensei is operating under the assumption that Satou’s parents died early and she was brought up by her aunt in an environment devoid of the love humans need to grow up to become “normal.”

He believes Satou snapped one day, murdered her aunt, chopped her into pieces, and gave the bags to him to incinerate. It’s as good a theory as any judging from the evidence he has…but he doesn’t quite have enough for the whole picture, and as a result, he’s dead wrong.

Satou doesn’t take Shouko to the apartment where she lives with Shio; she takes her to her aunt’s apartment. Her aunt turns out to be very much alive, and the cops are at her door answering reports of a “suspicious smell” emanating from the apartment.

Satou’s aunt may be alive, but to the horror of both Shouko and the cops, she’s completely whacked out of her gourd. Seiyu Inoue Kikuko, a grizzled veteran of anime who’s played dozens of mothers, balances the sweet kindness of her voice with an underlying malaise.

Everyone who enters her apartment, and sees horrid room in which she sleeps, immediately wants to leave and take a shower. But before the cops can leave, having found nothing law-breaking, she literally jumps on the male cop, senses he’s lonely, and tells him he can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll accept it—sex, violence, violent sex…anything.

This, Satou later tells Shouko, is how her aunt considered “love”, being a receptacle for whatever other people wanted to give her, good, bad, and ugly…all of it. And she’s never changed, and likely never will, as the cops (and you could say society at large) are neither properly equipped or empowered to “do anything” about her.

The female cop manages to wrest her partner away (and turns down the aunt’s invitation to her), and then turns to Shouko, who she also senses is “lonely” and is looking for her “prince.” Satou comes between them and ushers Shouko out of the apartment. Halfway to walking her home, Shouko expresses herself honestly; that she thought Satou’s aunt was hella weird.

When Satou asks if, now knowing the woman who raised her and how she sees love, if Shouko will still be friends with her. When Shouko hesitates to answer, Satou tells her they can go back to being “just friends at work.” and leaves. Shouko wanted to know the truth, and she only got a small taste, and it was way too much, but she’s still ashamed.

After shedding her tail, Sensei, with some properly dominating language, Satou leaves her aunt’s apartment’s front door, marked 305, and walks up to her apartment with Shio, number 1208, where she continues her Happy Sugar Life, untroubled by what went down with Shouko.

But then we flash back to the rainy day she didn’t want to go home to her aunt anymore. Someone chatted her up, invited her to their apartment (1208), and asked her to model for them (they were apparently an artist). Now we know who she murdered: that artist and 1208’s previous occupant.

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Happy Sugar Life – 06 – Losing the Moon

Shouko, who is consistently the most normal of characters in this show full of loons, encounters Asahi, and she isn’t one to just keep walking. At her heart she’s a “good girl”, even as she once made a habit of staying out late at night to fool around with men.

She’s also good enough friends with Satou that she knows when she’s hiding something. She’s just not ready to believe Taiyo’s accusations. Meanwhile, Satou tries to hem in Taiyo from further interference by offering to let him meet Shio, while the masochistic teacher is dedicated to finding proof Satou murdered her aunt.

Satou’s far-too-together demeanor at work continuies to elicit suspicion in Shoko, who walks the same shopping district she and Satou used to hang out looking for guys. Only this time, she goes to the park to find Asahi sleeping under a bench, and gives him more food. She has no ulterior motives, she has no hidden neurosis; she’s just helping someone in need.

She wants to know how Asahi got into this state, and he tells her the story of how his mother and Shio escaped the house where her drunk husband was beating her. Asahi stayed behind so “the devil” wouldn’t go looking for his mom and Chio.

Staying meant enduring beatings and KGB-style fingernail torture, but Asahi it was worth it; he’d take the abuse so Mom and Chio could be safe and free. He had his moments of despair, but ultimately endured until his father drank himself to death.

The unbridled joy of discovering this fact is quickly marred when Asahi goes to his mom’s house to find Chio has been kidnapped. His Mom, who from the look of the place was not coping well with living and caring for her kid on her own (even though the alternative would’ve obviously been worse; at least she’s not being beaten) simply tells Asahi it was “too late.”

Shouko scores a day out with Satou, their first time hanging out as friends in a good long time. They have a lot of fun, but Shouko has a mission in mind: she wants to know the truth. Satou is initially totally unwilling to tell her, since it’s something she doesn’t want a good girl like Shouko getting mixed up in.

Shouko forces the issue by telling Satou that she wants nothing else but to know what she’s involved in, because she loves her friend more than anyone else. These words seem to move Satou, and she invites Shouko to come to her house to learn what secret she’s been hiding with a non-existent boyfriend.

Even so, I’m not convinced Satou is capable of trusting Shouko with all of the dark things she’s done that even she herself has compartmentalized. Then again, I find it hard to believe Satou would do anything to Shouko in the presence of Shio—which calls to mind how exactly Shio’s kidnapping went down. More concerning is the fact the masochistic teacher is tailing Satou. I can’t see any of this ending well.

Happy Sugar Life – 05 – Crime and Punishment

Just as she senses something’s off about Shio, Satou finds her latest challenge at work in her kohai Su-chan. After expertly disarming an unruly customer, Satou notices someone’s been through her locker, and that’s when Su-chan tells her all of the obsessive things she’s done to try to be just like her, from copying her bag to wearing the same makeup and underwear.

But it’s not enough, and Su-chan thinks it’s because there are still pieces of Satou’s life she’s missing…her home life. For Su-chan, getting into that is like stepping on a pink macaron land-mine. But Satou has become very adept at dealing with people without violence (like that customer) as much as with. You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar, after all.

So Satou calms down from the panic of Su-chan bringing up her home life…and proceeds to make out with Su-chan, confessing that she loves her “just the way she is” and ever-so-gently warning her to stop prying. Su-chan is so overwhelmed by the object of her infatuation all over her—and spooked by the warning—that she seems to fall in line. But who can be sure it will stay that way?

Meanwhile, Shouko is one of the only halfway decent human beings in this show. She takes a day off work and pays a visit to Taiyo’s house to see how he’s doing. She inadvertently enters his room, sees the dozens of Shio flyers, and freaks. Taiyo explains how the girl in the flyers is his purifying angel. Does that convince Shouko everything’s fine? Reader, it does not.

He then pushes Shouko against the door, grabs her too hard, and demands that she help him get Shio back from the one who is hoarding her all for herself: Satou. The unwanted physical contact and accusations towards her friend comprise the final straws for Shouko, who shoves Taiyo down and leaves, disgusted that someone “so hot” is so, well, disgusting.

But as she passes another Shio flyer in the street, the seed Taiyo planted begins to sprout—Satou couldn’t kidnap somebody…or could she? Shio’s brother Asahi appears behind her, no doubt to answer that question if asked.

Back home Satou finds Shio crumpled lying on the floor in the dark, talking about “punishment.” She confesses that while she was outside she did talk to someone, and believes her headaches and vision and need to draw a creepy image of her mother, who it seems was harmfully overprotective.

But Satou starts to think this bitter, bitter-tasting situation is her punishment, for lying to Shio. No, not about the people she’s killed, maimed, seduced, or extorted. Because she lied about loving someone else! That, to her, was the one and only crime she committed that is causing the bitterness.

After confessing, Shio forgives her, and the two seem back on the Happy Sugar side. But while Satou believes hiding and omitting things from her love isn’t lying, it ultimately has the same effect…especially if and when those lies are exposed. Too many people now have their eyes fixed on Satou’s life and Shio’s whereabouts. Her true punishment hasn’t really begun.

Happy Sugar Life – 03 – Escalating Bitterness

This episode operates within the same night that Mitsuboshi brings Asahi to the staff room of the cafe, and as a result, it feels a lot more claustrophobic; there’s no sunlight; only the brief but blinding light of Mitsuboshi offering to escort Asahi home.

Asahi doesn’t know he just survived a crowbar attack by Satou because she realized this was not the place to cut loose; to do so would end her Happy Sugar Life for sure. Unfortunately, that life is jeopardized anyway when Shio, scared that Satou still hasn’t come home, ventures outside the apartment to search for her.

Later, we’re reminded it isn’t just adults who are all horrible people in this show, but most people in general, as Mitsuboshi is just way too into the poster of Shio. By the time Satou gets home to find Shio gone, Shio has gotten lost, and since she’s not wearing shoes, has cut her foot.

Shio also continually has a hallucination of what I imagine to be her mother, who Asahi tried to get out of the house with Shio, and away from their abusive father (or whoever the man was who was living there). Shio only remembers bits and pieces; no doubt the memories of witnessing abuse are repressed.

Mitsuboshi finds Shio before Satou does, and that’s when things get weird. Mitsuboshi, sweating, panting, and barely able to restrain himself believes that being touched by Shio will “purify”, undoing the “corruption” of his old manager. He takes it a step further by saying that his touching her will have the same effect and…yyeeeaaah, anytime a guy is talking about touching a little kid, that’s when we have to put up our hands and say NOPE.

I hate to say it, but the return of two more awful younger dudes, the ones who beat up Asahi for no real reason, is a blessing in disguise for Shio. On the one hand, Mitsuboshi was himself the victim of sexual abuse, but that doesn’t entitle him to abuse others. It’s terrible that he gets beaten, but it does buy precious time for Satou to try to find Shio. Better the devil you know…I guess?

Happy Sugar Life – 02 – All Adults are Terrible

Are those bags of human remains Satou’s former classmates, Shio’s parents…or her former Aunt? Flashes back to her past seem to strongly suggest the emotional toll from that past is what molded her into what she is today, only clinging to normalcy with the knowledge there’ll be a cute Shio waiting for her at home…but how long will that remain the case?

It certainly feels so far like that aunt let her down after her parents died, and after having to deal with an awful adult in the cafe manager last week, this time Satou’s adult nemesis is a teacher at her school—one who the other girls fawn over for being “single and hot” but who is not only married with a kid, but gets off on the thrill of stalking girls.

This time, he stalked the wrong girl.

Satou pulls a personal alarm, and the teacher slinks away, and she’s able to get home to Shio and cancel out the adult’s bitterness with Shio’s almost overwhelming sweetness. The next morning Satou is at the gate of the teacher’s house, and his wife almost sees her unbuttoning her blouse.

Satou knows threatening an M like him will only get him excited, but she still does it to make it perfectly clear she won’t brook any more nonsense from him, especially comparing his version of love to hers. She also makes him dispose of her body part bags…which he also likes.

Meanwhile, we get some Shio day-in-the-life, where she tries to help out by cleaning but can’t grasp the need to plug in a vacuum, and has no idea how to cook. She also notices the locked door to Satou’s death room, and actually passes out when the outside balcony triggers a flashback of her own; perhaps to the time when Satou first snatched her.

Of course, it isn’t just adults who are awful on this show. Mitsuboshi, who starts work at Satou’s other cafe, may be a victim of an older woman (and the trauma makes him nauseous whenever another older woman touches him), but he privately reveals he’s a lolicon, with specific hots for Shio, who he knows from the missing posters Shio’s older brother has distributed.

Strange connections are made when Satou’s co-worker Shoko, then Mitsuboshi come across the brother getting beaten up by punks. The brother’s state of hygiene suggests his parents are dead and he’s all alone on the streets, desperate to find Shio. Mitsuboshi brings him to the cafe break room, where the brother starts muttering the same “marriage vows” she and Shio made.

All alone with the brother, who is a direct risk to her only recently-stabilized happy sugar life, Satou snaps into the mode she deems necessary to preserve and protect that life, and prepares to brain the brother with a crowbar. Does she end up killing him right there in her very public workspace?

Happy Sugar Life – 01 (First Impressions) – A Bittersweet Symphony

Sooooo, this is a show about a crazy person! She was once not crazy, but just kinda…there, sleeping around, feeling nothing. But then she felt something she never felt before: pure, true love. Interestingly, she felt it for a young girl, Chio, whom she keeps at an apartment she’s maintaining, and treats her like something between a daughter and a little sister.

Upon meeting her, Chio became Satou’s everything, so she now does anything and everything she can to ensure they can remain together and keep the lights on and their bellies full. And I mean anything.

She has to work in order to afford utilities, food, and the like, so Satou gets a job at a cafe run by an older (but still young) woman. When Satou becomes the toast of the town there due to her innate cuteness, and a waiter confesses and asks her out, her coworker snitches on her about rejecting him.

The manager then proceeds to make Satou’s life miserable, making her work overtime doing pointless tasks. But when she docks her pay, the very thing keeping Satou in her titular “happy sugar life” with Chio, Satou snaps, and fights back, proving she can be just as ruthless as those who wronged her.

Satou gets the manager to confess on video ranting about what she did to the rejected waiter (who is locked in her closet, naked and crying, the victim of sexual assault) but isn’t interested in justice, only blackmail and getting paid. The ordeal is a very bitter experience for her, but it all melts away to sweetness when she returns home to Chio.

The only problem is, their “home” is a house whose original occupants she murdered and still stores their hacked-up remains in a spare room, the bags drawn shut with, presumably, the hair ribbons of Satou’s victims. We also learn that Chio is a missing child, and that her older sister might be Satou’s only friend in the episode, whose body fat content she could calculate with creepy precision.

So it would seem her experience at the restaurant didn’t make her crazy; she was crazy long before that but was simply trying to keep it together. Obviously, it’s a bit difficult to root per se for a homicidal kidnapping monster, especially when her charge Chio is pretty much a cipher.

Chio may not be in immediate danger—she’s the one thing in the world Satou seems to actually value—but then again, Chio never once asks what’s going on, where her family is, or whether it’s okay if she can please go now. Does Satou love Chio enough to give her back to her real family, or is her love wholly dependent on possession? Hmmmm…

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 13 (Fin) – On Second Thought…Screw Duty!

Tada-kun never fell in love…until he did. And just his luck, it’s someone who is not only from very far away, but whose hand is promised to another. Against as a monumental, implacable an obstacle as Teresa’s stated duty to her country, he feels lost, defeated; like nothing matters anymore—even feelings that got him on a plane.

As Alec basically lets Teresa cry it out one more night (and cries right beside her, owing to her own unrequited love) Kaoru emerges from the sidelines to encourage Tada not to give in to despair or give up on saying what he came there to say to Teresa. While messing around, Kaoru accidentally lets the royal invite Rachel slipped in Tada’s bag.

That’s all the stimulus Tada needs to spring into action, retrieving the damp envelope at all costs. He’s regained the will and the imperative to see and speak with Teresa one last time…even if he’s being a bother.

Turns out Tada is far more of a bother to Charles and Alec than Teresa, but while Alec is quick to call for Tada to leave, Charles, who puts Teresa’s happiness before his own, lets her and Tada have some more time together. Nothing he says or does can change the fact Teresa simply doesn’t love him.

It sucks, but it’s not at all unexpected when two people are arranged, basically at birth, to marry one another. Love can certainly develop in such a scenario, but in my personal view it’s definitely putting the cart before the horse, and such arrangements aren’t a match for organically developing love such as Teresa and Tada’s.

When Tada finally confesses he’s loved Teresa since they met, she accuses him of being unfair. She left Japan so she could lock away all of her feelings deep inside for all time, but all it took was him following her to her home and saying a few words to break that lock.  There’s no “last day of crying” for Teresa, as long as she’s not in a situation where she can live with the one she loves.

As the credits roll, we return to Japan, where aside from Pin-senpai graduating, is more-or-less the status quo…with one very important development: Charles broke off his engagement to Teresa, rightfully acknowledging that it wouldn’t be fair for either of them to follow through with something that was not their choice.

In a bit of a surprise, Teresa not only seems happy to be free of her engagement to Charles, but took it further by “running after” Tada back to Japan, either delaying or outright cancelling her succession to the throne.

Tada is shocked that she would all but abdicate for him, but once they’re in each others arms, the whys, wherefores, and consequences melt away, and it’s just the two of them, Teresa, and Tada, no longer having never fallen in love. Is it a bit too neat and tidy of an ending? You bet…but who cares!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 12 (Not Fin) – It’s Not You, it’s the Royal We

First, I have to applaud TKnS for shedding its comfortable Japanese high school milieu for something completely different that expands the story’s boundaries a whole hemisphere’s width and lends it a sense of occasion.

Second, I applaud Mitsuyoshi for getting over his aviophobia to make the trip to Larsenburg, for he feared something far more than flying: not knowing why Teresa left, and not telling her how he truly felt about her. (Kaoru also cheers his friend on, but keeps his distance)

Larsenberg is gorgeous, as one would expect of a fictitious Germanic-sounding miniature kingdom. You can’t help but notice how different it is from the Japan he left, right down to the fact it’s now wintertime.

Mitsuyoshi arrives at the address his gramps stipulated as the place where he’d find Reiko, AKA Rachel, but has trouble gaining access, because it’s a goddamn palace, complete with a Royal Guard that won’t answer his questions…or speak at all.

Meanwhile, Teresa, Alec, and Charles are busy with the duties of a royal couple and their bodyguard…only with a little bit of palace drama mixed in. Alec reveals her lifelong love for Charles when Teresa walks into find her hugging his recently-worn jacket.

Teresa also picks up on Alec’s tell, a grabbing of the arm that signifies lying. Alec denies and denies, not because she doesn’t believe Teresa knows about her feelings (she does), but because she knows nothing good could come of her expressing her feelings for Charles; he’s supposed to marry Teresa, not her.

Before Teresa and Alec can continue their discussion, Mitsuyoshi pops in. He had the good fortune of being spotted outside the palace by Rachel, who invites him in and tells him how she used to work at his gramps’ cafe when she was in college, before moving to Larsenburg to serve the royal family.

Rachel and Charles present Mitsuyoshi to a very shocked Teresa. He apologizes for surprising her, but she knows she’s the one who needs to apologize and properly tell him what the dealio is. Their reunion came far later in the episode than I expected, and it’s almost painfully brief and cordial.

In a sumptuous gilded drawing room the two sit across from one another, Mitsuyoshi expresses his relief that she’s okay and relays Teresa the others’ regards. Then Teresa comes out with it: she’s the future queen of Larsenburg, and thus there is, in her mind, “no way she can live the life she wants”, i.e. either as an ordinary woman in Japan, or as queen, but getting to choose her man.

In the latter case, Teresa drops a second bombshell on Mitsuyoshi: her lifelong betrothal to none other than Charles. We never see if or how he reacts to this verbally after his initial pained look; we only see the aftermath, with neither Alec nor Charles able to approach a sobbing Teresa in her darkened chambers, while Kaoru finaly reveals he followed Mitsuyoshi here, only to watch his friend crying for the first time.

And it’s about here when I was wondering “Wait, really? You’re going to end it like this, show?” But the show didn’t. MAL misled me into thinking this was the last episode, but there’s one more. Thus, there’s hope everyone can walk away with some kind of closure!

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 07

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Valentine’s Day arrives unheralded,  and the specific nature of Tanaka’s chocolate—fancy and homemade with love—and Ohta’s—obligatory, cheap, and bitter—leave the two scratching their heads as to who it could be, while the ransom-style note gives it a sinister aura.

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Valentines ends up coming as much as a surprise for Tanaka and Ohta as it does for all their female friends. Miyano didn’t think of them as the opposite sex, Shiraishi forgot because she was a loner for so long such holidays were always meaningless, and Echizen…for some reason she’s not in the running as a culprit.

That leaves…well, no one Tanaka and Ohta know. The show teases us with cuts to other girls. Tanaka has a very frank talk with Ohta about how he’s interested in girls, but waiting for someone to inspire him to make the effort to act. Then, not long after a pocket voice recorder (which is recording) falls out of Tanaka’s bag, his sister Rino appears.

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Is Rino the culprit? Yes she is; the boys just don’t know it yet. At last we meet, Tanaka’s sister! I would not have guessed Valentines would be the vehicle in which she’d be introduced, but it’s clear she cares for her brother a great deal and sees Ohta as not only an enabler for his listlessness, but a rival for his time and attention.

Like all things in Tanaka, she’s not some awful crazed brocon little sister, but something a lot subtler. Giving Ohta dark chocolate and refusing to let him put milk or sugar in his coffee were inspired tactics; the voice recorder and ransom note…less so.

Rino was no revelation, but I liked her well enough and hope to see more of her as she works to be more present in Tanaka’s life outside of home, meeting more of his friends in the process. And knowing that Tanaka is at least romantically aware, if not particularly active, was another nice nugget in his character.

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