First Look: Scum’s Wish

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Alternative title(s): Kuzu no Honkai
Manga Adaptation by Lerche
Streaming on Amazon Anime Strike™, the brand new streaming subscription for people with way too much money! What do you mean, “is it too much to ask for all licensed anime to be hosted on one and the same service, like Crunchyroll and Funimation did?” Out, you damn communist! Back to Netflix with thee!

Premise

Hanabi and Mugi seem like the perfect couple, but in reality, their hearts belong to someone else: Hanabi is head over heels for her homeroom teacher, who she’s known ever since she was little, while Mugi has the hots for his former tutor. No one knows they’re only dating to share their grief and soothe their own loneliness. Yet how much longer can they keep up the charade when the targets of their affections start getting closer to each other?

Aqua’s verdict: Gets Me Closer To God

Hey kiddies, do you want to watch a never-ending downward spiral of self-destruction slowly swallowing everything you care about before your very eyes? Do you want to be taught that romance is shallow, that love is naught but manipulation and that you’ll always be alone unless you choose to be a terrible person? Do you want to watch teenagers having really uncomfortable sex? Of course you do! Scum’s Wish is one of my favourite manga of the moment, a deep and twisted tale of cannibalistic dependency not dissimilar to the works of Inio Asano (Goodnight Punpun, A Girl on the Shore) and Shuzo Oshimi (The Flowers of Evil, Inside Mari). Yet while these works mostly explored the male psyche in all its freudian, power-hungry complexity, Scum’s Wish is a decidedly more feminine take, from the perspective of a troubled young woman whose borderline masochistic submissiveness and unrequited longing for a “forbidden” crush are entirely her own, rather than manufactured by an author with all the self-awareness of a paramecium.

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Nevertheless, Scum’s Wish is blunt to a fault and surprisingly hard to watch even for someone who knows what’s coming, Lerche pulling little punches in portraying the characters making the biggest mistakes in their young lives, yet always retains a fundamental level of respect, even when the characters themselves are fundamentally lacking in that regard. With its soft colours, pencil-like lining, mellow soundtrack and occasional gag, Scum’s Wish goes all-in on the shoujo aesthetic, and as a result does risk romanticising some of the highly disturbing stuff going on here. Like the original manga, director Masaomi Andou initially frames Hanabi and Mugi’s hookup as a fairly straightforward love story, without any of the intangible sense of dread that did loom over, say, The Flowers of Evil. Functional as it may be, Scum’s Wish occasionally presents itself as a show it decidedly does not want to be, and the alienating effect this may have had on first-time viewers saddens me – especially as this might just be the show so many people in this fandom are looking for, even when they don’t realise it.

That said, I’m probably not the best person to judge this episode on its own merits. I’m reviewing an anime, after all, not the manga it is based on. For what it’s worth, Scum’s Wish’s deviations from its source material are virtually negligible, but this isn’t necessarily always a good thing. While its use of manga-like split panels, for example, effectively conveys the strong animations on display and neatly supplements the camera’s tendency to get so up close and personal you can pretty much see the damp of the characters’ breaths on the screen, the same can’t be said for its rather straightforward adaptation of Hanabi’s incessant navelgazing. In comic format, extensive internal monologue doesn’t hurt the pacing nearly as far as it does in film, simply because the reader is used to a character’s thoughts existing outside of the story’s flow of time. While good adaptations have ways of overcoming this problem, Scum’s Wish generally doesn’t take advantage of its medium in the slightest, leaving Chika Anzai with the burden of carrying Hanabi’s angst all on her own.

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Nitpicking specific aspects of adaptation and presentation may seem pedantic, but it’s ultimately all that can be said of a pilot that doesn’t so much scratch the surface of the vicious, irresistible monstrosity Scum’s Wish will become. There’s a thousand more metaphors I could come up with for describing the ride you’re about to set out on, but it’s a ride you have to be willing to take. It’s a beautiful burning train wreck in slow motion, a savage cocktail of tears and hormones, a web of use and abuse so intricate they’ll need to discover a new shape to name it, a confrontational journey into the darkest corners of the human mind, a perfect antidote for the umpteenth entitled sex fantasy or shallow saccharine slumber party matched in its awkwardness only by its unsparing sincerity. You’ll love it, and then you’ll never love again.

Artemis’ verdict: Colour Me Intrigued

Well that was certainly way more explicit than I was expecting. Bearing in mind that I’m not a manga reader at all and usually don’t bother to watch anime trailers, and therefore typically have nothing to go on other than a synopsis – which is exactly how I prefer to go into a new series. I love being surprised. Not that Scum’s Wish is what I’d call an ecchi title by any means, but this is coming from a genre where even holding hands is typically seen as an incredibly bold move. The fact that we have two high school kids talking so openly with one another about sex, as well as engaging in some unequivocally intimate acts themselves took me aback, and mostly in a good way. So far at least, the show has avoided the obvious creepy power-play pitfalls by making Hana the main protagonist and point-of-view character, and also by having her make the first move. It eases my mind a great deal to know that she isn’t being forced or coerced into anything, and that her character comes across as neither stupid nor a pushover.

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Of course, there are still several things that make me uncomfortable about this dynamic, but as far as I can tell, that’s at least partially the point. Personality-wise these characters seem totally indifferent to one another, yet they decide to form a sexual relationship based on mutual loneliness – and yes, the mutual physical need that arises as a result. I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen that kind of thing dealt with in a televised anime before, or at least not so directly (although I do get echoes of Evangelion, purely in terms of some of the psychology at play here). I think Scum’s Wish is going to have to be veeery careful about what exactly it portrays and how in order to refrain from getting sleazy, and it’s already toeing the line for me there in a couple of ways. Less really is more sometimes, and implying rather than explicitly showing one or two more details wouldn’t be a bad thing in my opinion. I also think the voice acting/sound effects are a bit too on the nose at times – specifically, a bit too much in the gasping and kissing department. The very soft art style helps to negate the otherwise fairly blatant eroticism though, and I can already tell I’m going to love the entire soundtrack.

In all, this feels like it’s going to be a refreshingly frank yet emotionally fascinating title, and I’ll definitely be sticking around for more.

Iro’s verdict: Do Not Use This Show As Relationship Advice

Boy, isn’t this just a barrel of laughs. Scum’s Wish has some of the most blatantly dysfunctional relationships I’ve seen since Evangelion, and is willing to actually depict them as such, which I feel like is a rarity in the genre. Unrequited crushes on much older, might-as-well-be relatives are probably unhealthy, as are shallow physical relationships built upon lies, even if they are agreed upon lies. That said, with just the first episode to go on, I can’t quite tell if Scum’s Wish plans to go full psychological drama as these teens spiral down into the depths, or just end up as a somewhat dark romance where they eventually get together and everything’s hunky-dory. I’m told it’s the former, but I’d prefer the anime telegraph that more effectively, since the tone shifts quite a bit over the premiere. I’m not sure I’ll keep watching much since my heart can’t take too much despair, but here’s hoping we get a good adaptation.

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4 thoughts on “First Look: Scum’s Wish

  1. This anime certainly got people talking. It’s a shame I won’t get to see it while its airing but I’m kind of intrigued by the idea of a story actually acknowledging the unhealthy relationship the characters are engaged in instead of trying to make it cute or endearing. Looking forward to your final verdict on this one.

  2. If it adapts the manga faithfully, the story will carry this anime through. Lacking any other competition, this is probably going to be the best show of the season..

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