Happy Sugar Life is a tragedy. I mean this in both literary and quality terms. Despite how interestingly and enticingly crafted this tragic tale is, and how effectively some of its presentation is, this show has one fatal flaw: overemphasis. One wouldn’t think that this is so catastrophic, but Happy Sugar Life proves why “show, don’t tell” is a thing.
There are two forms of this devastating lingering. The first one is the monologuing. This is what damages Satou as a character and drags this anime down and out beyond belief. Her personality is interesting, almost as if you put a mary sue and a yandere in a blender and watched them eat away at each other in the process of having an overprotective pedo lesbian try to keep her image and ideal life intact. It’s hard to care when the majority of her screen time is spent in her headspace, as she monologues about damn near everything. Regardless of what anyone thinks of this tragic hero on a moral level, it’s easy to see how this can feel grating and unnecessary. These scenes of her expositing her thoughts on any given situation can go on for minutes on end when almost every single time, her expressions alone are enough to tell us next to, if not everything she is thinking and feeling.
Shrinking it all down to a sentence or two maximum to clarify something or truly encapsulate a scene for her, and letting the visuals do the rest would have been far more rewarding. It would have truly taken advantage of the imaginatively disturbing directing and presentation, both making Satou a far more interesting lead to follow, and making several scenes to be far more impactful and dramatic. It would have also kept a myriad of scenes from dragging out to more than double the length they needed to convey everything properly. Keep in mind that this applies to several scenes from several characters later on as well. You could cut down entire episodes worth of monologuing and probably improved the pacing dramatically, both in terms of an episode structure and scene-by-scene basis. The worst part of all is that the show understands this to an extent, with some of the most critical and stylistic scenes in the latter half of the show truly showcasing how powerful this approach can be.
The second devastating, drawn-out form of overemphasis is a more gratuitous, self-indulgent kind. It’s what destroys practically everyone else in this show. It’s no secret that the vast majority of the characters in this show are damaged, mostly reprehensible people. You can show that off while keeping the audience engaged and disturbed in a proper way. This show takes the worst approach possible with this. Whenever a character is established doing something fucked up, we linger on them licking something, drooling, and/or panting after sniffing something for extended periods of time or interacting with their target in some way. At that point, it’s more tiresome than creepy, and more aggravating than repulsive. It’s even worse when the show constantly reminds you of this with small moments and scenes that add nothing and could be cut out entirely. It’s bad enough that the progression of certain characters’ descent into pedophilic or stalker-like madness is utterly nonsensical, but when that becomes their defining trait, and when the show just lingers on about it, it becomes a nightmare to sit through for the worst reasons imaginable.
To really paint a picture of how bad this can get, a male police officer is sexually assaulted for minutes on end, with several characters watching, and it takes his partner so long to intervene. On top of that, all they do is leave, rather than arrest the perpetrator or do anything for committing a crime of sexual assault on an on-duty police officer. It’s beyond wild how bad the gaps in logic are, and how much this show just wants to linger on the more disturbing elements for its own self-indulgent, narrative and character-damaging purposes. I’m not sure if any of this was the fault of the material, the director/screenwriter, or both.
It’s a pity, really. Outside of all of this, there’s an interesting, enticing tragedy at play, with some truly potent moments, both sweet and sour. The reveals are paced out well and tend to be brutal. The core narrative is theoretically engaging without too many glaring issues in terms of logic or consistency. On the audiovisual side, the visuals by newcomer studio Ezόla can be incredibly imaginative, even if their background and CGI endeavors are sometimes distracting and needless. The disconcerting feel the directing and imagery go for is a sight to behold. The music is generally good at bolstering emotional scenes with their own melancholic and beautiful tunes. The ED theme -"SWEET HURT" by ReoNa- deserves special mention in that regard. If the show just showed more restraint and used its artistic flair to more consistently tell its story properly, I genuinely believe this would have been one of the better shows I’ve seen all year. Alas, the sweet that interested me was a tad too bitter.