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Happy Sugar Life – 04

「砂糖少女は気づかない」 (Satou Shoujo wa Kidzukanai)
“The Sugar Girl Does Not Notice”

In the first episode of Happy Sugar Life I spent some time talking about tragedy. Since Happy Sugar Life ostensibly frames itself as a tragedy we might as well talk about it a bit more. I’ve fussed about the general nature of tragedy elsewhere, but very basically they are stories about great heroes who inevitably fall because they have some fatal flaw. And these stories are usually named after that guy. For example, Oedipus, Hamlet, and Othello. Instead of a show named ‘Matsuzaka Satou‘, though, we have one named ‘Happy Sugar Life‘.

The focus on heroes and their flaws is because tragedies are, in a broad sense, about mortality. They portray these towering figures who, despite their ability and status, are not gods. They are human, and come with human failings, and so they fall. Now, Satou is not really your conventional hero. Sure, she is capable, sometimes frighteningly so. She is, in her own way, admired by her peers (sometimes, it seems, perhaps too much). But is she… heroic? Classical heroes are not necessarily bastions of morality (with ‘goodness’ and ‘virtue’ being two different things), but Satou goes beyond that. Satou, from all observations, is amoral, and her thinking does not conform to human notions of right and wrong. Satou is a monster. An argument can be made, perhaps, that just as heroes are still fundamentally mortal so is this monster, and indeed Satou discovers pieces of her humanity for the first time in her interactions with Shio. Humanity is not exactly portrayed in a positive light. We could wish for a flip of the classical tragedy, where humanity redeems a monster instead of bringing down a hero, but I fear that down is the only way to go.

In my opinion, what actually plays the role of the perfunctory ‘hero’ in this tragedy is something more abstract. If the story is titled ‘Happy Sugar Life’ then that’s what it’s about. Specifically, Satou’s and Shio’s idealised love is, even from conception, too good for sinful earth. I’ve discussed before that Satou is ‘pure’. She has nothing but her single-minded, laser-focused devotion to Shio. In turn, because Satou is pure, she cannot fall in love with mere mortals. We are, on the whole, flawed and broken. So Satou fall in love with essentially an idea, a symbol of purity: Shio. Shio is just a little girl. There is not an ounce of guile in her. She appear to love Satou singularly without distinction of complication. As a child she is completely dependent on Satou, which is how Satou likes it. But, in the end, Shio is still human. She is still flawed. She will not prove to be the purity that Satou demands. This is not even factoring in Shio eventually growing older. As is the way of Happy Sugar Life, not even the little girl is exempt from being terribly broken.

Thus the ‘Happy Sugar Life’ is doomed to collapse. The only question is how. The real test of Satou’s humanity, if she truly has some within her, is how she comes to term with Shio’s impurity. If Shio is burdened with a past, will Satou accept it? Or will she seek to bury it?



August 4, 2018 at 12:40 pm
  • August 5, 2018 at 11:15 amAngelus

    There’s much I can agree with there, but not I think about tragic heroes. Certainly classical tragedy usually focused on great people, but really the protagonist doesn’t have to be great. You can still have a very affecting tragedy about a very ordinary person because in this case it’s the audience’s ability to identify with the protagonist that makes it affecting.

    Interesting point though about the title, perhaps it should be “The Tragedy of the Happy Sugar Life”!

    • August 5, 2018 at 6:04 pmPasserby

      That’s just a sad story, though, not a tragedy.

      • August 6, 2018 at 12:29 amAngelus

        The role of Hero is useful in tragedy but by no means essential. To take it back to Aristotle, a tragedy requires mimesis and catharsis. To put it simply, you need to be close enough to the fire to feel the heat (mimesis) and then feel refreshed when you step away from it (catharsis). The writer of tragedy needs to get the emotional distance between the audience and the action just right. If you’re too far or too close you won’t get the catharsis – in the first case you won’t feel anything and in the second you’ll just get burned.

        So, we need to identify with the protagonists at the fundamental level of their humanity, but we also need a distancing factor that (just as in Horror) allows at least plausible deniability that such things could ever happen to us. And this is where the Hero comes in as a convenient device for achieving that distance. The average audience member has never been a monarch or the offspring of a god or commanded a nation’s armies or whatever, so if you make the protagonist one of those then it’s job done for the distancing. If you don’t have a Hero, you’ve made life more difficult for yourself as you have to find some other way of doing it, but you can still have a tragedy.

      • August 6, 2018 at 2:28 amPasserby

        1) Aristotle was wrong about everything (except maybe philosophy) 2) I wouldn’t be so quick to compare tragedy to horror like this, because some of the most effective horror is when the monster is us (and whether this is so in Happy Sugar Life seems to be a question it wants to ask). What counts as a ‘hero’ is a matter of context; they do not need to be demigods or kings, just have status, and such a protagonist can easily be anything from an athlete to a professional. The ‘distance’ from us is not just a matter of keeping them at arm’s length — why does tragedy have to be pure schadenfreude? — but, rather, it is the distance they fall. And when they have fallen then we look upon them and see that they were like us after all i.e. mortal and imperfect.

      • August 6, 2018 at 8:42 amAngelus

        Aristotle was wrong about everything

        Nice meme. And nice strawman too :)

        I wouldn’t be so quick to compare tragedy to horror like this

        I won’t deny that “the monster is us” trope can make especially good horror, but really horror is tragedy without catharsis, so yes I can compare them like that.

        The ‘distance’ from us is not just a matter of keeping them at arm’s length…

        If there were any schadenfreude involved in classical tragedy, I’m sure the Greeks would have had a word for it. The distance is there not as the measure of the character’s imperfection but more simply because of the risks entailed in mimesis – it’s for our safety, like the lines on train platforms. In modern theatre, Brecht deliberately abolishes mimesis by his use of alienation and his endings deliberately try to deny the audience catharsis. It’s not that Brecht thought Aristotle was wrong about tragedy, instead he wanted to create something totally different where the audience isn’t safe and can take damage.

        But yeah, mortality and imperfection, that is indeed where it’s at in the end.

      • August 6, 2018 at 7:38 pmNene

        Angelus: I really liked your posts about Aristotle. Well done! I was thinking about posting myself something about Brecht, since you had already tackled Aristotle — but you even beat me to that, haha. :) It’s good that there are people like you in our fan community, so very knowledgeable about the classics.

        Btw, “tragedy without catharsis” is a great definition for the horror genre. Simple and to the point. I probably am going to shamelessly steal it and use it from now on. :p

      • August 6, 2018 at 8:00 pmPasserby

        1) If you’re going to ‘take it back to Aristotle’ then ‘Aristotle was wrong’ is not a strawman.

        2) If you’re going to at once say that setting an emotional distance between the audience and the protagonist is fundamental to tragedy, that the monster being us can make for good horror, and that horror is simply tragedy without catharsis, there is a logical inconsistency there.

        3) Nothing to do with Brecht. I would argue, rather, that Aristotle did not much understand how empathy works and perhaps confuses supposed elements of tragedy with bad writing.

  • August 8, 2018 at 1:08 pmK