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?

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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…

3-gatsu no Lion – 10

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Another week, another weak opponent with a sad story Rei must face, another dose of caustic venom from Kyoko. Remembering back to a Christmas where Kyoko’s dad gave him a shogi set instead of her, Rei admits he wants to hear the poison from Kyoko.

He must believe on some unconscious level that he deserves punishment for the pain he caused her. Kyoko is all too happy to oblige, but her shtick is getting a little old, and not just with me.

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Predictably, Rei defeats Mr. Yasui. It doesn’t even take that long. He can tell Yasui is trying his best to bring a victory home to his daughter on the last Christmas before his divorce. But Rei sees Yasui’s mistakes before he does.

That means he can see more moves ahead, which means Yasui never had a chance. Throughout the game, Rei feels like he’s walking on eggshells around the faintly alcohol-scented ol’ bastard, and doesn’t feel particularly good about dispatching him so easily.

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When Yasui slinks away without the bag containing a gift for his daughter, Rei tries to be a nice guy and gets the bag back to him. Yasui pretends it isn’t his at first, but Rei presses the issue and Yasui angrily snatches it away before continuing off, probably to get drunk.

All the while, I was thinking about how unwise it was for Rei to involve himself in the personal lives of the sadsack opponents he beats. They’re not your problem, dude. You gotta focus on winning matches so you can eat and pay the bills.

Turns out…he listened!

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WRONG, Trump, WRONG! Not everything is Rei’s fault! It’s his opponents’ faults they lost, because they weren’t good enough to beat him. He realizes there’s a “beast” inside of him, fighting for his survival, that will elicit no mercy once the battle has begun.

No matter how he became a shogi player, the fact of the matter is, he’s a Shogi Player, and a damn good one. He’s sick of feeling like shit for beating people…and allowing Kyoko to keep that river of shit flowing. Could this be a turning point?

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3-gatsu no Lion – 09

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Rei isn’t feeling great about having to bring down a guy who’s been playing more than twice as long as he’s been alive, and that feeling doesn’t improve when he spots his opponent, Matsunaga, praying at a local shrine and acting very erratic.

The old man’s inscrutability translates to his shogi game, which Rei can’t quite suss out, even to the point he wonders if Matsunaga is placing pieces randomly. He also starts to doubt if his opponent’s stress is real or all an act. Neither can we; his opaqueness makes for some entertaining human observation.

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When the match is over, and Rei wins, Matsunaga nearly falls down some stairs (the same stairs Rei was going to use to sneak away), and ends up treating the old man to a sumptuous feast and more than he can drink. Turns out Rei is a nice guy like Kyouko said, because he doesn’t leave the man’s side as long as he’s not certain he’ll be okay.

But he will be okay. The liquor greases the hinges of the door to Matsunaga’s heart, and he opens up to us and Rei. Rei may not be able to fathom forty years of shogi, but hearing the old man speak of the addictive elation of victory despite the bitterness of defeat (and he’s suffered a lot more defeats than Rei), he’s able to finally relate. Those are the same things he feels.

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Even if Rei claims to hate shogi, and Matsunaga can’t answer the question of whether he likes it, the fact of the matter is, they are both shogi players. So when Kyouko calls to gloat over Rei having to “strangle an old dog”, Rei proudly announces that Matsunaga will, in fact, not be retiring from shogi after all.

Rather than serve as a young, beautiful grim reaper for the old man, Rei, their match, and the night that followed, made him reconsider quitting the game, even after Rei beat him (that, and he really doesn’t want to do house chores).

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Matsunaga this week, as I’m sure Rei didn’t. But I was pleasantly surprised by the swiftness with which his character was fleshed out. This week was a sprawling profile of the guy, from his knowledge of Fukushima history to the drive to play not snuffed out by Rei. Sorry Kyouko – no win for you!

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3-gatsu no Lion – 08

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3GL doesn’t conform to the usual one-twentyish-minute-episode per week, usually splitting into two or more parts. Never has the transition between two segments been as dramatic as this week, but it works in the show’s favor: Nikaidou’s teaching sessions and all the cat stuff was cute, but was also getting kinda old. I will say that it was nice of Nikaidou to buy Rei a sofa bed. That apartment needs more stuff in it!

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The hook for the much darker and emotionally dense second segment is beautifully illustrated when Rei recalls seeing a bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky: the harbinger of a storm. It’s one of his most powerful memories, and it appears – in a sense – at his doorstep when he comes home one night in the form of his estranged (I guess?) adoptive sister, Kouda Kyouko.

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From the moment we see this present-day, all-grown-up Kyouko, it’s clear the camera is a stand-in for Rei’s gaze. The camera loves Kyouko. Her piercing eyes, her golden locks, her painted toes – it’s all lovingly, enthusiastically captured, and evokes quite a bit of thought about what’s going on beneath the surface of this human bolt of lightning.

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What’s certain is that for all her talk of not knowing Rei very well, she does know one thing perhaps no one else does: she knows he doesn’t love shogi, or at least his relationship to shogi isn’t a simple as love or hate. I loved the ambiguity of Kyouko’s visit – at times she seems almost half-nice – before saying something she knows full well will upset her adoptive little brother.

Some scenes, out of context, make it appear like Rei and Kyouko might be involved in that way; which wouldn’t be a first, considering one of Rei’s darker memories has her on top of him. But the segment unfolds like a fantastic, seductive two-person play, brimming with atmosphere, tension, and malice, it wrapped around me like that overly-fluffy futon. The soundtrack that accompanied it was fantastic.

Kyouko saves her sharpest dagger for the morning, as walks out the door, warning Rei that the match he probably has to win will be against an elderly player who will be demoted and retire if he loses. Kyouko is the bolt that brings pounding rain to Rei’s life. Rei’s better at shogi, but she’s better at mind games. And yet…I don’t loathe, or even dislike her.

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