“Show me Love (Not a Dream)”
Thursdays on Anime Strike
Struggling to cope with Sanae’s confession, Hanabi runs back to Mugi, who has his own sexual frustrations to deal with. Things get complicated even further when the couple runs into Akane during a frustrated late-night date.
The facade of wholesome teenage romance Scum’s Wish has been trying to sustain is crumbling into a million different pieces as its characters start to sway like pendulums between suitors past and current. It’s in the chaos that follows that the show starts to get into the swing of things, clearing a path through the pacing and tonal hiccups that plagued its debut and beginning the arduous process of weaving its complicated web of angst and abuse. The resulting wreckage leaves us with a lot to unpack, though it’s arguably the three main themes of Scum’s Wish as a whole that feature most prominently here: indecision, (psychological) abuse and teenage sexuality in a context of gendered expectations–– hey, wait, come back!
No better line to highlight Hanabi’s nigh-fatal indecision than her desperate promise to Mugi she’ll try and fall in love with him. Ebato’s confession understandably poked some holes in the belief Mugi and she could just go on with their charade as they please, but eventually, it’s Moca who bursts the bubble entirely. Both she and Ecchan rightfully call Hanabi out for the sheer absurdity of her behaviour – if she’s not in love with Mugi, if she’s only looking for intimacy for comfort, why does she refuse it from someone who genuinely wants to give it to her? If anyone will do, why doesn’t she leave Mugi for someone who does actually love him? Why would she choose to be selfish when giving everyone exactly what they want would be that much easier? Through – quite literally – running away from these questions, Hanabi eventually provides the answer: she’s fatally addicted to her own misery. She simply refuses to acknowledge that she could possibly fall (or may already be) in love with either Mugi or Ecchan if she tried, because she simply can’t imagine herself longing for anyone other than her beloved Kanai.
It’s this one-sided obsession that eventually fuels her utter disdain for both Moca and Akane, not only because they’re her direct competitors for the affections of her fake and future boyfriend respectively, but also because their viewpoint on unconditional love is so different from Hanabi’s own. Disgusted by her wavering, bargaining, compensating self, whom she considers too weak to even ‘save herself’ for her one true love – sorry if that phrase made you throw up – Hanabi sees Moca as little more than the embodiment of all her failings: A fellow longing maiden who does have the virginal dedication and ‘purity’ Hanabi could only hope for. Yet the envy doesn’t turn into straight-up unfiltered hatred once Akane reveals herself to be – at least in Hanabi’s eyes – the very opposite extreme. Her most immediate rival doesn’t so much disregard Hanabi’s ideals for what love should be like, she outright defies them, leaving our capricious protagonist forced to reconsider everything she’s clinging to, but overwhelmed by the options. It’s not the dichotomy between “madonna” and “whore” that bothers her, it’s the zone in between, the one she’s stuck in, the home of drifters too proud to admit they don’t know what they want. And when you don’t know what you want, you end up wanting everything.
Abuse is the second theme, and it’s quite honestly the word that can sum up every single relationship in this entire show. Hanabi and Mugi take advantage of each other, albeit with a bizarre form of mutual consent, but that barely even scratches the surface. Sympathetic as she may be, Ebato doesn’t hesitate to get a lot of mileage out of her best friend’s pity either, implicitly guilt tripping Hanabi into taking advantage of her, and then there’s Akane who manipulates both Kanai and her boy toy on the side by two-timing them in equal measure. Heck, judging from her meaningful glances at the end of the episode, she might even be waving her blatant disregard for any lover’s dignity and well-being in Hanabi’s face just for shits and giggles. Yet in spite of the spiral of selfish, sadistic urges it revels on, Scum’s Wish cares more about the victims than the perpetrators. It’s no wonder then, that the biggest punching bag in the cast has the ‘honour’ of leading it, even if victimhood to Hanabi sometimes feels like more of a blessing than a curse. In a world where sadists prey on one another, the sole masochist will flourish.
The most explicit depiction of abuse, however, comes in the form of a revelation that Mugi may or may not have been sexually abused in the past, which says a lot about the rather clinical, apathetic way in which he vents his frustrations on Hanabi – often heralded by the obscuring of his face whenever the pair gets intimate. Free from exploitative or romanticizing undertones, the brief flashback to his encounter with Mei provides a nuanced explanation for the uncomfortable mixture of aloof arrogance and deep-seated shame with which he goes about intimacy. Perverse as it may be, the unintentional abuse he suffered at Mei’s hands seems to be as much a fond memory as it is a mental scar. That brings us to the third, and perhaps most interesting core theme of Scum’s Wish: gender patterns and how people deal with them. Mugi has a subconscious desire to dominate and direct the objects of his affection. He is the one who sets the rules in his relationship with Hanabi, and the one to break them – no matter what you may think, dude, getting her to masturbate you totally counts as sex – not only because he’s a man and therefore expected to be the dominant partner in a relationship by a continuously toxic society, but also because he feels a need to compensate for his ’emasculation’ at Mei’s hands.
Notice how the above screenshot frames Mugi the same way Hanabi is usually portrayed – confused, ashamed and at the mercy of a (supposedly) more experienced lover who becomes a anonymous device of raw, sexual intimidation. Mugi’s need to purge this perceived humiliation from his memory causes him to be the cold, yet cringe-worthily assertive lover he is today. It’s this, paired with Hanabi’s self-destructive masochism, that makes their relationship so disturbing arguably far more than the fact they’re just using each other as stand-ins for someone else, and I hope that Scum’s Wish has realised that as well. With two willing candidates for their affections waiting and their unrequited crushes farther away then ever before, the two could possibly be closer to wholesome happiness than they’ve ever been. But the question remains… is wholesome happiness even still what they want?
Meanwhile, in the real world…
The live-action version of Scum’s Wish has been chugging along nicely as well, with this week’s episode roughly covering the events of last week’s episode of the anime. While it tends to more faithfully adhere to the manga’s structure, allowing for a more natural pacing unlike the awkward grouping of scenes that marred its animated equivalent, considerably more content seems to have been cut – though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With actor Dori Sakurada having all the charisma of a sack of bricks, Mugi has been all but delegated to a side character, and despite appearing on the cast list, his other two “love interests” – Moca and Mei – have yet to make an appearance. This allows the drama to more organically establish Sanae as Hanabi’s best friend to contradict the rather awkward introduction she’s given in the anime, and make her crush feel all the more genuine. Miyu Yoshimoto and Sarii Ikegami have genuine chemistry as the two, and while this version somewhat unwisely eschews the effective flash forward that led to the “cliffhanger” is last week’s anime instalment, it nevertheless portrays Ebato’s outburst without too much fetishism and pointless melodrama. Respect.
Otherwise, the live-action version – unlike, say, the Death Note or Future Diary dramas – remains pretty similar to the anime, surprising frankness and middling budget and all. Heck, it even uses the same theme song! As a result, it ends up being both exactly what fans could ever ask for and nothing worth caring about all the same. In short, the continued lack of English subs available isn’t robbing us of anything of particular value, but for a slightly too obsessed fan like me it’s quite enjoyable to drop in on this bizarre, alternate universe version of Scum’s Wish every once in a while.
- Contrary to my statement last week, Moca is actually supposed to show up in the live-action version at some point. Furthermore, she’s played by Shiho, who previously starred as Tomoko Nozama in Kamen Rider Fourze.
- Ebato’s falling in love with Hanabi because she saved her from a molester is about as lazy as these things come, but on the other hand, at least they had the dignity to eschew the whole ‘I’m a lesbian because I hate men’ thing. Maybe this sort of stuff is just necessary to really hammer home the point that her love for Hanabi is genuine?
- If Akane’s a music teacher, how come she used to tutor Mugi? Not like anyone would ever need tutoring for music.
Scum’s Wish continues to intrigue and frustrate me in equal measure. It’s aggravating because there’s clearly an extremely compelling tale to be told here, and we occasionally get hints at its greatness, but too often the presentation is clumsy and cliched, and that conspires to rob a lot of the pathos and effect from some of the stronger scenes.
With that said, this episode was definitely the strongest yet, with some compelling insights into the psyche of the main characters. Mugi’s revelation that he was deflowered and used for sex by an older girl in his middle school days is nicely handled. There’s a pall of creepiness and slightly abusive overtones, but the show is also careful to point out the Mei never intended to hurt Mugi, and that she seems like a good person at heart. The script wisely leaves the issue of his emotional attachment to her unspoken, and it’s better for it as he’s clearly not sure himself, and that ambiguity helps further confuse his feeling for Hanabi and Akane. It’s real hard to write sex in any capacity but the show does a decent job here, capturing the weird awkwardness of teenage fumblings with just enough humour to make it feel real.
The other scene I really enjoyed was the ending, which finally begins to deliver some of the darkness and bite that I so crave from this show. The hints that Akane may not be the angelic figure she seems are tantalising and speak of good things in the show’s future, and the mind games being seemingly played deliver some of te uncertainty and speculation which I want from anything which labels itself a psychological drama. With the scenario firmly established direct conflict between the characters is what we need.
Elsewhere, there are still issues to be sorted. I loathe the show’s occasional dips into generic anime-style humour, cartoony faces and all, as it kills any sort of atmosphere that is being built over the course of an episode. It’s also a generic looking show, one which lacks much strong imagery or visual storytelling. The show could really benefit from someone like an Ikuhara or Shinbo who could inject a unique sense of style and pathos and grab the plot by the scruff of the neck and channel its strengths more effectively. As it is, Scum’s Wish is improving but I’ve yet to be fully convinced.