Happy Sugar Life – 12 (Fin) – Nothing But Fun

That’s what Matsuzaka Satou sought for her and for Koube Shio: a world without bitterness or pain; i.e. a world quite the opposite of the one they’d inhabited to that point. Their love for, acceptance of and devotion to one another is the fuel that keeps them moving toward that goal—that, and Auntie’s trash bag full of cash.

All that’s left is to go to the airport, let Auntie do her work, be rid of the old sad bitter world forever, and when they step off the airplane they’ll be in a happy sugar world, where they’ll never have to suffer or despair again, and where they’ll have each other.

That was the plan, at least. Ironically, it’s Satou’s love that makes her take off her ring, so it won’t be sullied by the work of dressing Shouko’s corpse (if she is, in fact, 100% dead when we see her). Forgetting that ring, that symbol of their love, and going back for it at the worst possible time, proves to be Satou’s undoing.

Auntie ties Taiyou up in between “abusing” him—rape is heavily implied)—she didn’t gag him, perhaps because she liked hearing him squeal. That preference is also her undoing (if she cared about self-preservation, of course), as he’s able to get a call to Asahi telling him where he is.

Asahi arrives just as Taiyou escapes—and happens to bump into Satou and Shio in the lobby. They should never have come back for a stupid ring.

Satou and Shio head upstairs to find Taiyou, but they get away from him as well (he’s tied up) as Auntie, who assumes Satou is well on her way to freedom (and damn well should be) ignites the fire on the twelfth floor that will engulf Shouko and supposedly, any evidence tying her to Satou.

Asahi hurries to Room 1205 and finds Shouko there, dead and surrounded by flames, inflaming his rage even more. When he, Satou and Shio cross paths again, he lets her have it with his bat, injuring her leg, but Shio steps between them to prevent further violence.

Shio, exercising her own agency, tells her brother she’s done with her family, and all she wants or needs is Satou, and he’s just going to have to deal. Asahi tells her that their mother only abandoned her because she was in over her head and didn’t want to become their monster father (whom she poisoned to death).

But it doesn’t really matter why she did it anymore; Shio has moved on and isn’t coming back. She’s going to live for herself now, as Asahi should learn to do, rather than defining his life as finding and protecting her. Just then, the flames cut their chat short, and Satou and Shio make a run for the roof…where they are trapped.

Shio tells Satou that it would be alright if they die together by jumping, because they’ll surely be reborn together in that new world they’ve been hoping to reach (but again, couldn’t thanks to one dumb ring).

That potential New Happy Sugar Life flashes before them as they fall, but Satou makes one small change to Shio’s plan: she doesn’t let Shio die, shielding her from the impact of the ground with her larger body.

Shio survives, but Satou does not. She and Shouko are mentioned in the same news report, but as casualties of the fire, not murderer and victim.

Rather, Auntie is suspected, and gladly surrenders herself, having done everything she could for the sake of her niece’s love. Satou’s teacher is arrested in front of his family, Taiyou continues to obsess over his angel in his room.

As for Shio, she’s in hospital, and Asahi comes to visit her, promising to fill the void left by their parents, by society, and finally, by the loss of Satou. But Shio smiles in a very Satou-esque way; there is no void, not from her perspective.

Shio believes Satou sacrificed herself and became a part of her—which is kind of true, in an emotional sense—and as such Shio feels she’ll never be alone again. She still doesn’t need Asahi. She gained more than she lost, and she’s resolved to live her best life for herself and Satou. How exactly she’ll be supporting herself, a minor with no money or job, is left unspecified.

HSL is the story of deeply damaged people and the different ways the consequences of that damage unfold in their lives. There’s a solid causality to everything that, while hardly absolving most anyone of their numerous crimes or obsessions, at least explains them satisfactorily, and makes them subjects of pity rather than simple loathing.

People can grow up to be decent people even if there’s abuse or trauma in their lives, and without traditional families, or no families at all. But that’s an ideal; it doesn’t always happen. It usually doesn’t happen. And when it does (see Taiyou) it doesn’t always mean someone will “turn out” “alright.”

But even in the darkest places, some small amount of light can emerge, some small amount of happiness can be found, and a sweet but twisted love can take root between kindred damaged souls, filling their jars and giving them reason to keep living.

Happy Sugar Life – 11 – Turning a Page

Kobe Asahi makes a big meal out of finally taking the gloves off, so to speak, but all he manages to do is threaten Taiyou to find Satou’s address. Even the slightest glimmer of hope he’ll find his angel leads Taiyou to obeying Asahi’s order.

Meanwhile, Satou is resolved to starting a new life with Shio…but she needs help, and calls upon the only adult she feels she can trust: her demented Auntie. Auntie is totally unfazed by Satou’s confession of murder—she lays with murderers all the time—and is even able to guess that the “little bird” Shouko was her victim.

But for all of Satou’s talk of her love being right and Auntie’s being wrong, Auntie points out to Satou that she is still legally a child, and cannot take responsibility. So Satou tells Auntie to take responsibility—for the messed up childhood she bestowed upon Satou, by helping her and Shio disappear.

Auntie picks up a semi-disguised Satou and finally meets Chio, who is easily taken in by Auntie’s kind and syrupy-sweet introduction. After taking them around buying both the means to fake Satou’s death, Satou procures passports from her kohai from work.

As for Taiyou, his dream of meeting Shio again becomes a nightmare when he ends up at the address on file at the cafe, which is Auntie’s apartment. While Taiyou becomes another doomed fly stuck in her web, Satou and Chio doll themselves up as brides and exchange vows and a kiss, marking the beginning of their new Happy Sugar Lives together.

With Asahi depending on Taiyou and Taiyou, well, doomed, one wonders what obstacles, if any, remain on Satou’s path to achieving that life. We’ll find out in the finale.

Violet Evergarden – 05

Violet must be making a name for herself with her unique yet compelling ghostwriting style, because her latest request comes from the royal family of Drossel, whose princess Charlotte is arranged to marry a prince of Flugel, a former enemy.

Violet must ghostwrite love letters to Prince Damian, on Charlotte’s behalf, which will be public and meant to “sell” the match to the two nations’ subjects. One could scarcely live two lives as differently as the coddled Charlotte and the tortured Violet, who are both around fourteen.

Still, Violet assures her client that she will accomplish her mission without fail. Her first love letter is well-written and has the desired effect among both the royal families, resulting in a favorable and just as well-written reply (no doubt from another Auto Memories Doll).

As such, the reply only frustrates Princess Charlotte (Nakajima Megumi), who is quick to emotion and tears, and knows the prince she only met once would never have written such a letter. Four years ago, she fled her “birthday” party, which was nothing but an endless parade of suitors.

The only one to go looking for her, and tell her it was okay to cry, was Prince Damian. When Violet hears of this, the genesis of true love between two people acting genuinely to one another without airs, she institutes a bold plan: let Charlotte write letters, by hand, from the heart, which Violet will refine as necessary.

A stirring correspondence between her and the prince ensues, captivating the public even more with their brutal honesty, modesty, and emotion. Violet assists, but the words are purely Charlotte’s, and once she gets into a rhythm, she has no trouble speaking her mind and voicing her concerns.

The replies she receives are similarly, refreshingly self-deprecating, suggesting the two are more alike than different, each finding the mantle of royalty—and even maturity—an ill fit.

Finally, the time comes for the prince and princess to reunite in the same moonlit garden where they met for the first and only other time. Damian, fully convinced by the letters that Charlotte will be a splendid match, offers his hand in marriage.

Through the power of the letters and the memory they shared (or perhaps the memory Violet told Cattleya to bring up on Damian’s behalf) the royal couple’s love became real, making their marriage not merely one of political expediency, but a strong and lasting bond that reflects the potential for the two nations to embrace each other in equal measure.

Charlotte, like every other “guest” character in VE so far, is quickly and wonderfully depicted, starting out as your prototypical spoiled princess but gradually revealing much more humanity, ironically thanks to the still very doll-like Violet. Her close bond to her maid Alberta was particularly poignant.

While Violet had to force a smile upon meeting Charlotte, her face bears a real one, without trying, on the beautiful day of Charlotte’s wedding, which neither she nor Damian’s doll Cattleya attend, as they must return to Leiden to tackle their next missions.

That smile is huge, because it means that through Violet’s interactions and education dealing with people whose emotions she must suss out in written form, is gradually rubbing off on her. She is learning how to be a person with feelings and desires of her own.

So it’s particularly troubling for someone from her past (Gilbert’s brother Dietfried, if I’m not mistaken) to appear, condemn her for the bloodshed she committed when she was nothing but a vicious weapon, and make her relive one of her many past slaughters.

It occurs to me that Violet Evergarden’s stoic, doll-like, emotionless demeanor was not something hastily achieved; it was the result of an entire life of fourteen years bereft of mercy, kindness, and love…until Gilbert. Now he’s gone, and someone who remembers what she once was and what she did, and threatens to tear down all her progress.

Yet this is also her first real test: Violet must not simply take Dietfried’s scorn and abuse lying down. Whatever she did, she had to do, because she was never given any other choice at that point in her life. Now that conditions have allowed her to claim a life all her own, it’s up to her to defend that life from those who’d drag her back into the shadows.

Violet Evergarden – 04

Violet Evergarden delivers yet another bravura character study, this time with a focus on Iris, the young, feisty, but not-yet-distinguished Memoir Doll. She’s so excited to get her first personal request—from her hometown of Kazaly, no less—she overdoes it, and ends up spraining her arm falling down some stairs.

That means the ghostwriter will need someone to ghostwrite for her—a ghostghostwriter, if you will—and newly-certified doll Violet accompanies her for that task. During a conversation on the train, Iris is miffed by Violet’s assessment of her hometown as lacking in valuable resources.

But what she doesn’t get about Violet in that moment is that she doesn’t have a mean or even passive-aggressive bone in her body. Violet actually considers Kazaly’s resource dearth a good thing, because it meant warring factions didn’t destroy it fighting over resources.

When Iris agrees that it’s good no one in her town was hurt, she then apologizes to Violet, who was hurt. Violet doesn’t see the distinction between Iris apologizing for what happened to her, and apologizing for being insensitive with her words.

Upon arriving in Kazaly, Iris is approached not by her client, but by her loving parents; her mother sent the request under a false name in order to lure Iris home. Her parents’ true intention to throw a birthday party, with many single young men invited, in hopes she’ll return home, get married, and settle down. Thus, Violet, on behalf of Iris, will type up invitations.

Among the invitees is Emmon Snow, whom Iris asks Violet not to invite. But the day of the party, Emmon shows up and offers his salutations, which throws Iris into a rage. She runs into the house and away from the party.

Violet is confused by Iris’ “change of condition”, so Iris spells it out: Emmon rejected her already. When Violet immediately relays this information to Iris’ parents, and Iris’ mother tells her they’ll find another, better match for her, Iris is furious at Violet for being completely incapable of understanding peoples’ feelings.

Then Violet issues an apology that’s as thorough and revealing as it is heartbreaking:

I’m sorry. I thought I’d come to understand them a little, but people’s emotions are extremely complicated and delicate. Not everyone puts all of their feelings into words. People can be contrary, or at times, untruthful. I can’t decipher them accurately. It’s proving all too difficult for me. I’m truly sorry.

Iris’ attitude towards Violet softens considerably, once she realizes the difficulties Violet faces and battles without complaint.

And despite Violet having parroted almost everything Iris has said to her, Iris opens up even more, giving her the details of her confession to Emmon and his subsequent, devastating FriendZone-ing. The words that “activate” Violet are “I love you.”

The way Iris used them, she deduces that it must take a great deal of courage to say them to someone, and she wonders if the Major felt the same way. Iris, in turn, learns that the Major Violet speaks of was the first person in her life to show her love. Then Violet suggests she help Iris write a letter to her parents, to tell them how she truly feels.

While last week’s letter from a sister to her troubled brother was so short and sweet it could have been a fluke, this week’s letter is no fluke. Violet strikes a balance of cold, straightforward facts and warm, resonant sentiments.

In the letter, Iris properly expresses her desire to return to the city and continue on the path she set out for herself. She is grateful to her parents for their love, and sorry for causing them to worry, but hopes they’ll give her more time and watch over her.

Iris narrates the letter, which is to say Tomatsu Haruka does, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. By the time her parents finish reading it, they’re near tears; as am I. On the train ride home, Iris assures Violet it was a fine letter, and that her feelings reached those she loves.

Iris is given a bouquet before leaving: one of irises, which were in full bloom when she was born and which are in full bloom when they depart back to Leiden. When Iris tells Violet how her parents named her, she remembers the Major doing the same thing with her.

Gilbert spotted a solitary yet stalwart violet off in the distance, lit up by the sun, and decides that’s what his new charge will be called. It’s his hope she “won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name,” yet another episode-ending title drop that gave me all the feels.

P.S. On a lighter note: with the number of close-ups of feet, particularly Iris’, one could be forgiven for thinking this episode was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, well-known as one of Hollywood’s foremost foot enthusiasts.

Mayoiga – 03

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Dozens of people of every disposition and background suddenly isolated in a strange place full of mysteries…Mayoiga, I’ve decided, is the Lost of anime. This episode made that decision a lot easier, especially with the group’s need to hastily grope their way through some kind of rudimentary justice system after one of them tries to harm another.

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One reason “Jack” is looking for a new life is that he was heavily bullied in school, lost it, lashed out, and ended up in juvy. Just because he was released doesn’t mean all his trauma and neuroses are gone; so when Judgeness prods him too far, he lashes out again.

That gets him tied up, and ultimately it’s decided they’ll throw him in a creepy undergound prison for the night, even though some (cough-Lovepon-cough) wants him swiftly executed for his wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Valkana searches feverishly for Yottsun after Masaki is found, with a story of him leading her along until he went off on his own an vanished. Valkana’s obsession with finding him stems from his absolute need not to be called a scapegoat—after just such a thing happened in his “previous” life as a systems engineer (ah, the flashback…one of Lost’s primary narrative devices).

That obsession makes Valkana very short-fused, and Koharun gets a taste of his wrath when she suggests deep down he’s lonely, otherwise he’d never embark on an adventure involving so many other people. The truth hurts some more than others.

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In case anyone was in doubt, Maimai kinda likes Mitsumine, despite her standoffish demeanor towards him. When they encounter one another on the bridge, she’s clearly flattered by his desire to keep her safe, even if that desire extends to, say, Masaki.

Lovepon, meanwhile, remains as loopy as ever about doling out swift justice to those who upset the balance or safety of the group. She believes Jack deserves execution, and anyone who stands in her way deserves it to, as she grabs Mitsumine, falls off the bridge, and tries to drown him.

She does not succeed, but while fighting her off, Mitsumine notices the drowned body of Yottsun floating down the stream. Did Masaki kill him when he tried to rape her, or did he just get killed by a bear? The mind races with possibilities based on the scant information we know. And once more, an episode ends with a hook I can’t quite escape from…

…AND YET, were I to keep saying “One more episode”, I may one day turn around and see that I’ve watched the whole thing, and wasn’t worth it. I committed to watching three episodes, and I’ve watched those three. As enticing as the mysteries ahead may be, I think it’s time to move on.

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Mayoiga – 02

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Mayoiga makes liberal use of its CGI bus model…until it careens down a muddy hill, leaving all the passengers to continue on foot…but not before tossing the bus driver all their wallets as compensation for getting them this far.

The thirty clean-slaters are all different, but they’re alike in one regard: they don’t much care about the driver’s dignity; or at least those who do don’t speak up strongly enough when it counts.

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We learn a little more about Mitsumune, like how Speedstar AKA Hayate is his classmate, friend, and long-time protector…and how he’s easily wooed by girls, due to not having much experience with them (all boy’s school).

With Koharun and her map, the group trudges through the forest, hoping to avoid bears (or bear-like monsters) and eventually come upon a bridge that leads to a village that matches the descriptive details Koharun has at hand. They’ve arrived at Nanaki Village.

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They soon determine that there’s nobody home, which is kind of strange to start. The village has been abandoned for at least a year. There’s no talk of food or lodging, just exploration in various random groups branching off from the whole.

Mitsumune had hoped to accompany Masaki, but he’s snagged by two other girls who seem to have plans for him. Speaking of plans, the sunglassed Yottsun seems to have unsavory ones for Masaki, and manages to end up alone with her. A strange shadow in the woods catches her eye, and that’s the last we see of either.

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Mitsumune, meanwhile, manages to ruin a potentially fun time with Maimai by congratulting himself on not getting so hot and bothered in her presence, which is a little insulting. Maimai then reveals she was only going to toy with him, but they’re interrupted by the sudden emergence of the bus driver from the woods.

Was the driver the shadow Masaki saw? And what did the driver see after everyone left him? Who sent Koharun the anonymous email telling her how to get to the village? And, of course, what happened to Yottsun and Masaki? Is this group only the latest of many who have inhabited this lost village, and have they suffered their first two losses?

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Mayoiga – 01 (First Impressions)

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Huh…Well, that was strange. My first taste of Spring 2016 had me riding along with no less than thirty passengers in various states of sanity on a seemingly dubious”Life Do-over” bus tour to the mysterious Nanaki Village, where they’ll presumably all start their lovely new lives.

The word “bizarre” came up in my head again and again as I was watching this. The characters, though we only get a line out of most of them, are bizarre. Their online aliases are bizarre. The pitch blackness of the world outside the bus is bizarre. The whole premise is bizarre.

Everything is so bizarre, I was not, after one episode, able to determine whether I actually liked all this bizarreness or not…but I do know I want to learn more.

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After everyone introduced themselves and their various reasons for being there (which, for many, included the various problems in their lives they’re trying to escape), the bus driver chimes in, almost as an audience surrogate, calling them nothing but a bunch of self-involved babies.

The ostensible MC Mitsumune is also intentionally normal and dull, at least on the outside; he has some very disturbing dreams that may or may not be related to his past…or his future. For all the introductions of all these people, we leave week one knowing next to nothing about them beyond their most outward personalities.

Mitsumune starts taking care of a little wounded baby bird of a young woman named Masaki, who seems to have some OCD to go along with her carsickness. Then there’s the cynical Hayato, who hasn’t come because he’s bought into what the operators are selling, but to find out the truth about Nanaki Village.

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So everyone here has their reasons for being on this bus. The driver’s reason is to make some money, and his frustration with the loonies he’s transporting almost provoke him into driving the bus off the road, but he regains his senses, and after one last stop, they reach the gloomy bridge to the village where everything is supposed to happen.

This episode creates far more questions than it answers, which is almost always a good way to entice an audience to stick around to learn more, bit by bit. Pitfalls may include a vast cast of characters, none of which we may end up caring about, and the hard-to-shake sense that the show and its mysteries aren’t as clever as they want to be.

We’ll see if Mayoiga can avoid or at least minimize those pitfalls. One thing it’s clearly got down is the overall creepy gloomy atmosphere suffused with that most dreaded of elements: the unknown.

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