Thursdays on Anime Strike
Her mask of wholesome innocence shattered, Akane sets Kanai up to profess his love to her before Hanabi’s eyes. Scared to confront Mugi with his beloved’s vicious true nature, Hanabi decides to risk her friendship with Sanae in search of relief.
Well. Yikes. Akane having a hidden dark side probably won’t come as a surprise to viewers who’s ever read fiction before, but I don’t think anyone could’ve figured out just how deep down the rabbit hole she’s truly gone already. Hanabi’s mirror in myriad ways, Akane has cared only about her desirability to others from a young age. Fuelled by a nasty cocktail of narcissism and psychotic sadism, she won’t rest until the mad love she harbours for herself is acknowledged not only by any man that catches her eye, but any woman who has the gall to think she can compete with her as well. Her innocent facade doesn’t so much hide a ravenous nymphomaniac – in fact, the only reason she seems to even care about sex at all is because it’s something she can get and others can’t – as it harbours a monomaniac opportunist who lives for the hunt, rather than for the reward. Yet despite being the only character in this entire show who’ll unapologetically vindicate their – in this case deeply cynical – interpretation of what love is, Akane deals with differing opinions in the exact same way as Hanabi does. Anyone foolish enough to believe in courtly hogwash like unrequited love graduates from mere victim of her insatiable hunger to its very target, and Akane is very quick to assert that there are no levels she won’t stoop to to put dissenters in their place. Gluttonous, lustful, proud and vindictively petty? The Bible couldn’t have conceived of a more perfect embodiment of sin if it tried.
Nevertheless, there is something about Akane that doesn’t make her as instantly despicable as someone who manipulates and torments her students for fun ought to be. If anything, she’s more compelled to do the things she does than eager, only because of a lifetime of being loved for the most base and banal of reasons. Almost tragic in her irredeemability – if not just fun to hate in that classic Dio Brando sense – Akane is so thoroughly infested with lust she doesn’t have any room left for plain old love, not unlike a certain other hormonal disaster who can’t for the life of her decide what the heck it is she wants. Akane isn’t Hanabi’s foil, she’s a terrifying glimpse into her future, now ironically setting the poor girl on the very path that made her the unrepentant wretch she is today: someone who vows revenge on people who’ve never wronged her, who only finds happiness in the pursuit of misery, and who doesn’t know what love is because they’ve never really truly felt loved by anyone. Knowing that, it’s hard not to at least partially blame Hanabi for her own downfall, as she’d be blind not to notice just how true Sanae’s affections for her really are. Then again, this is Scum’s Wish we’re talking about. Feelings may be true, but they’re never pure.
As a result, Sanae’s behaviour in this episode will obviously spawn a lot of discussion, if not outright backlash, and for a good reason. With genuine and respectful portrayals of queer sexuality in anime already few and far between, it’s not ideal to have one of the rare unequivocal romances be based on psychological abuse. Anime fans love to turn a blind eye to some of the less savoury aspects of their favourite “ship”, but it’d be deeply disturbing to claim that there’s nothing wrong with the ways in which Hanabi and Sanae take advantage of each other. Sanae’s tactics to get closer to Hanabi when her heart is broken and her guard is down are blatantly abusive, and despite the constant attempts to retain a faint semblance of romance and mutual consent (“do you want this?”, “tell me if it hurts”, etc.), she knows full well that Hanabi’s only letting her do this because she’s afraid of losing her best friend on top of everything else. It’s not the representation anyone asked for, naturally, but essential nonetheless, not only to show that friends don’t always make the best lovers, but especially to take down the barrier that separates sex from love in Hanabi’s fragile mind.
To Hanabi has always been a platonic affair – not platonic as in nonsexual, but literally, as in according to the teachings of Plato – a strict distinction between storge (familial affection), philia (friendship), eros (sexual attraction) and agape (unconditional, ‘higher’ love), the latter three represented in Ecchan, Mugi and Kanai respectively. Ecchan is an equal, Mugi a tool and Kanai not so much a person as a greater ideal, the very embodiment of the unrequited longing Hanabi is all but drunk on. Miserable as she might have always been, Hanabi continued to feel comfortable in this delusion of a trichotomy until she began to realise that the people around her don’t operate in the same way. To Sanae, philia, eros and agape are seemingly one and the same, and it’s under the pressure of having to bear so much love on her own that Hanabi utterly snaps. When her past, “unsullied” self confronts her with the trainwreck of a person she’s become, it’s not because she slept with another girl, because she ‘cheated’ on her one true love, or even because she’s becoming the very person she hates. It’s because she bungled upholding her carefully mandated barriers – not only did she allow philia and eros to seep into and “taint” each other, she also failed to pursue the latter as a strict substitute for her unreachable agape. And she knows her relationship with Mugi is no better, no matter the excuses she makes to herself.
Quite funny that half-assed interpretation of Plato’s theories on love have contributed greatly to twenty decades’ worth of repression and vilification of anything remotely resembling sexual attraction. No wonder then that Hanabi continues to be the biggest obstacle on her own path to happiness, wilfully blind to the notion that true love – if there even is such a thing – may be right around the corner. At least with Mugi she has an excuse. Or at least she can convince herself when she claims he doesn’t really care about her. But now she’s slept with someone who’d do anything for her, who loves her with every fibre of her being, and she’s still not satisfied, still trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that don’t even fit. At this point, she’d be nostalgic for a time when she merely didn’t know what she wanted, because right now, she doesn’t even know what the options are anymore. Maybe Plato and the many, many people who took his teachings far too literally had a point after all. If you take down the barriers between the different kinds of love, maybe all that remains is madness.
Meanwhile, in the real world…
If you think Mugi is too often demoted to side character of his own show in the anime, wait until you’ve seen the live-action drama, an adaptation that knows the strengths of its source material and all but cuts out the rest. Whether the choice to even more prominently stress the female perspective is the result of the writers’ personal biases – one they’d admittedly have in common with both the original author and about ninety percent of the existing fanbase – or simply of the more female-leaning target audience for drama, it results in both a more detailed emotional core and a pacing so slow it makes the anime’s navel-gazing look positively frantic. It’s not that the drama is starting to lag behind, in fact it might actually overtake the anime’s head start if it goes on like this; it’s just that by tossing out virtually anything Mugi-related, it leaves a lot of breathing room for the remaining scenes to be dragged out for all they’re worth. The result is a far more melodramatic show that substitutes the anime’s uneasy, destructive spiral with more readily digestible tragedy, which – while not my preferred take – is more than viable.
In light of this different angle, the Scum’s Wish drama isn’t afraid to take some chances with the characters. Miyu Yoshimoto’s Hanabi – though just as complex – is more energetic and cheerful than her rather dour and cynical anime counterpart, while Sanae has gone from assertive and precocious to passive and introverted, possibly to make her look even more miserable than she already is. The switched-up dynamic doesn’t always work, but it does make for a more relatable dynamic between the two, and certainly makes the story of how they met a lot less contrived. Rina Aizawa on the other hand gets to play Akane as every bit the sadistic jerk she is in the anime, going from generic, demure facade – obviously a better fit for live-action than the bubble ditz act Aki Toyosaki puts on in the anime, to mugging, snivelling ham at all the right moments. From the bargain-bin production values to the cringeworthy directing, there’s a lot wrong with this weird decaf version of Scum’s Wish, but I can’t fault the cast and crew for not trying, which for a live-action manga adaptation is quite an achievement in and of itself. Just for the love of God, director guy, never do one of these subliminal shot insertion sequences again. You’re not David Fincher.
- In the live-action series, Sanae’s exam form lists her birthday at being October 19th. NoitaminA’s official Twitter account, on the other hand, celebrated it on January 19th. At first I thought someone somewhere could’t tell ’01’ from ’10’, but it turns out October 19th is just Sarii Ikegami’s birthday in real life.
- Someone actually made an Ecchan x Hanabi AMV set to “Closer”. I sincerely hope they realise just how incredibly (in)appropriate that is.
- An interesting note regarding the continued symbolism of faces being obscured or hidden that I talked about last week, as soon as Sanae reveals her true intentions for comforting a heartbroken Hanabi, the latter notices “Ecchan, I can’t see your face like this”.
- This episode featured a considerable downgrade in production values, with a lot of limited movement, still frames and missing in-between animation as a result. But hey, at least we got a noticeable animation dump to capture Hanabi and Sanae’s sex scene in all its atrocious, uncomfortable glory. Priorities, I guess?
- You could argue that Hanabi simply isn’t (sexually) attracted to women, but I’d say that this exchange, plus Hanabi’s later behaviour in the manga make it plenty obvious that that’s not the problem.
- Seriously, if I got a dollar for every single time some deluded doofus fawned over Ecchan and her ‘relationship’ with Hanabi, I’d be a freaking millionaire by now.