Contrary to what some of my reviews might imply, I don’t actually watch shitty anime for the fun of it. Every show I watch is one that I feel would resonate with me on some level or which was recommended to me by other people. Even then, I like to do research about what I am about to get myself into. Something which proved to be an arduous effort when it came to Happy Sugar Life.
When I dropped Hybrid Heart, I did so because the show crossed a line for me. That happened when the allegedly-adult loli character Sylvia was lying naked in the protagonist’s bed, after the story contrived a reason for why she needed to have her cherry popped for the good of all mankind. This left me suspicious of Happy Sugar Life. Because this anime was once recommended to me as a horror show about a pedophile.
I had one simple question: does this show present the pedophilia of its protagonist as a positive quality. Boy did it take a lot of effort to get that question answered to my satisfaction. Is the pedophilia played as straight horror as in Higurashi, is it comical and totally not serious as in Monogatari, or is it played as genuinely romantic or, God forbid, erotic. This one question led me down a Google rabbit hole of old forum arguments and websites I have never heard of. I found my answer, but not before finding a whole lot of filth and people who probably need to be on a watch list.
A standout example was this response on Wattpad to an excellent article by Anime feminist, which nicely illustrates the kind of cesspool I waded through. AniFem reviewed the show’s first episode, which royally upset this individual who goes by the alias LuunaaPhase. She calls AniFem blogger Vrai Kaiser’s credentials as a feminist into question and lectures the blog for not finishing the show. Despite their article being a preview written when Happy Sugar Life first aired.
Regardless, the Wattpad post eventually gets to its core argument; the anime doesn’t promote pedophilia merely because it addresses it, and that this should be obvious because it’s a horror anime. AniFem actually addresses the horror part well, which was key in my decision not to pursue the anime after all. The post then provides examples of other works of fiction and how they didn’t promote their themes according to the author as well. Most prominently touching on Attack on Titan and its depiction of Imperialism.
While the post is all kinds of wrong—and tries to poorly argue various angles that the AniFem article already countered beforehand—it’s this tendency to argue a lack of meaning in anime that I want to focus on for now.
I see this kind of behavior a lot in both the anime and gaming scene. We love to talk about the artistic potential of these mediums that we love, and discuss how deep and meaningful our favorite shows and games are. There are entire YouTube channels and blogs dedicated to creating extensive essays on the philosophies of media and unraveling their true meaning. This is fantastic stuff.
Yet, when a work is scrutinized for potentially troubling subtext, people shoot to the other extreme. They begin denying any such meaning. Suddenly, our anime and games are “just for fun” and we shouldn’t read so much into it.
We shouldn’t look at Happy Sugar Life and question what it has to say about pedophilia; it’s just a horror show with a yandere character.
Attack on Titan is just an action show; it has absolutely nothing to say about imperialism or militarism.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is just a show about giant robots.
It may seem like a convenient first defense, but it also quietly implies these mediums should not be taken serious ever. By saying they just exist to be fun and hold no artistic merit or subtext, you put them on the same level as toys. And you know what governments do with toys that they deem weird and unsafe for kids? When questions arise surrounding the subject matter of an anime and whether it is tasteful for “a cartoon” to depict such things, it’s the hour-long essays exploring the meaning of these shows that I look towards for our defense. If it was Monogatari being criticized, I’d take serious insult with anybody who’d suggest that it’s devoid of meaning.
LuunaaPhase’s post does feature additional arguments, but it’s overall a rushed and belligerent retort to a much more professional article. I am particularly fond of this bit:
“God, I hate it when people sugarcoat.
Stop sugarcoating sensitive topics!
This is the real world.”
Happy Sugar Life may be a lot of things, but I very much doubt it’s “real world” stuff.
To conclude this bit, I do want to add that I did find a number of excellent reviews for Happy Sugar Life which were positive and did a great job at explaining why the reviewers enjoyed the show. I have heard compelling arguments for why people felt the depictions of pedophilia were acceptable, but ultimately felt that the counter-arguments were more relevant to me and what I look for in anime. This post is not meant to critique the show or its fans; I am merely using a bad apple here to illustrate my issues with a common defense I see in arguments and how we, as the community, should find better ways to talk about our anime when they are criticized.