Thursdays on Anime Strike
In spite of the easier solace they’ve found in the arms of others, Hanabi and Mugi fail to let each other go as Akane’s manipulations of the two grow ever more blatant. Torn apart by the risk of losing the tree people she cares about the most, Hanabi asked Mugi to take their relationship to the next level.
What in the world is wrong with Hanabi Yasuraoka? Scum’s Wish provides countless possibilities, but no answers. Is it a traditional Electra complex, instigated by the disappearance of her father, her love for his replacement and her bizarre, sexually-charged hatred for her surrogate father’s surrogate mother? Is it repressed sexuality, perhaps, a refusal to accept that Sanae can give her what she wants causing her to overcompensate on the other side of the Kinsey scale to the point of hurting herself? A traumatic history of abuse? Bipolar disorder? Puberty? Lord if anyone knows, especially Hanabi herself. Her actions have become predictable in their unpredictability – at any given moment, she can be expected to make the worst possible decision, like a visual novel completionist trying to find the quickest way to the nearest bad ending. Yet of course Hanabi doesn’t do the things she does for shits and giggles. The same abandonment issues that coerced her into sleeping with Sanae now prevent her from cutting ties with Mugi as well. There’s a brief spell of clarity in this episode, one perfect second when Hanabi realises that all the way out of her predicament is clear and right in front of her. Ditch Mugi for Ecchan, and at least someone will be happy, she ponders. And then, of course, she does the exact opposite.
At this point, however, it’s hard to give the poor girl the full share of the blame for her own misfortune. Even a doormats have their pride, and Akane has been deliberately pushing her buttons for no other reason than because she has the gall to be a romantic. Question is how long that wide-eyed idealism is gonna last, though. Offering Mugi her body is Hanabi’s pathetic, perverse attempt at getting back at Akane, trying to beat her at her own game by claiming the boy who loves her for herself. Unsurprisingly, however, the whole thing backfires spectacularly because Hanabi doesn’t even know what kind of enemy she is up against. Akane doesn’t believe in true love like Hanabi claims to, so why the heck would she care if Mugi gets ‘taken away’ from her? She doesn’t want to be loved, she wants to be desired – and for that, all Akane needs to do is look and act the way she does. As soon as she catches any man’s eye, the twee tragic unrequited maiden bullshit of other girls vanishes like ice in the sun – because in the end, sex is all that men want and all that they’re capable of. But then there’s Kanai, that hopelessly gullible, bumbling goof dumb enough to actually fall in love with her mask; to not know as well as she does that it’s just a blatant invitation, a thin veneer of diplomatic modesty to be ripped off like all her other clothes. Is he any less shallow than any of the other men she’s slept with? Perhaps not, but at least he is shallow in an entirely different way. And that makes him interesting enough to try out.
It’s important to consider this fact, that Akane’s whole ditzy music teacher act was never intended to fool anyone. According to her, men don’t want virgins or whores, they want whores who act like virgins; so that’s what she’ll give them. And Mugi knew all along. For all his youthful delusions, even he couldn’t fool himself the way Kanai does. While Scum’s Wish has until now always portrayed him as a the noxious dominant to Hanabi’s damaged passive – the overly eager ladykiller fuelled by shame and experience he never asked for – this episode revealed that nevertheless, he might be just as much of a miserable masochist as Hanabi is. Of course he knows who Akane really is. He’s consistently proven himself far more preceptive than your average anime dude before. Yet even when he was fortunate enough to face the facts before his crush even had the time to properly settle, he keeps pursuing her, in spite of that pragmatic side of his he’s so proud of. After all, he knows you don’t need to care about someone to have sex with them. He knows it’s dangerous to fall in love with someone you’re just using for physical comfort. Yet still he pines after a woman he knows will never give him what he wants; still he reciprocates Hanabi’s advances even when he knows they’ll only drag her further down her spiral and still he remains surprised when Mei judges the heck out of him for calling her up just to get laid.
Mei’s return was a surprising development indeed, and key evidence for Scum’s Wish‘ ability to develop complex characters even with a bare minimum of screen time. Given that she’s a character in Scum’s Wish, Mei is obvious still pretty keen on taking Mugi up on his offer, but her quick departure after the deed seems to show a hint of regret. Did she leave out of regret after realising she made Mugi into the person he is? Out of shame for letting herself be used like she used him? Or is it fear, fear of losing a boy she once held dear, fear of overcomplicating their relationship, fear of mixing up friendship, love and lust into a single, indigestible, toxic mush – the very same fear that drives every single character in this entire show? If there’s any relationship advice to be taken from Scum’s Wish, it would be that “friends with benefits” are a myth. Either the friendship part will erode over time as you realise you’re only using each other (yay!) or one of the two actually falls in love or at least thinks they have fallen in love because they couldn’t for the life of them tell the difference anymore between friendship and love and love and lust and lust and pleasure and now begs the other to go all the way out of some misplaced guilt for the additional benefits their other friend is giving or out of fear to lose either friend or the benefits to the point where they are now actually physically incapable of having sex because the other person is too close or not close enough or too rough or too male or too alike and being told they’re useless because of all that emotional baggage and oh God everything is on fire–
Gosh. Remember when harmless misunderstandings were like, the very summum of drama in high school romance anime? Yeah, me neither.
Meanwhile, in the real world…
This is the price we have to pay for sacrificing Moca? An exponential increase in scenes with Kanai? While Scum’s Wish‘s live-action adaptation has so far done a pretty decent job closely following the anime’s exemplary pacing, this episode brought the events to a grinding halt – ending on events that marked the midway point of last week’s anime instalment. I’m not a fan of the increased time Hanabi and Kanai spend on screen together in the drama, not necessarily because Kanai is an intentionally boring character, but simply because it does away with both the literal and metaphorical distance between the characters in the anime. Highlighting just how completely out of her reach Kanai is, is integral to understanding Hanabi’s psychology, and the drama takes a lot of that nuance away by making him a living, breathing, awkward physical presence in her life, rather than a romanticized ideal.
Speaking of things that are awkward and physical, was it really necessary to open up the episode of three minutes of hilariously clumsy… whatever the fuck that was supposed to be? Extended humping aside, Akane’s backstory mostly survived the jump to live action in one piece, ominous grins and all. They even got her a bombastic music sting – think Trent Reznor remixing your average Hiroyuki Sawano soundtrack – just in case it wasn’t obvious enough already how evil she is. While the anime certainly isn’t mind-blowing in this regard either, the drama version of Scum’s Wish somewhat completely lacks the directing chops necessarily to make Akane come across as anything other than ‘just’ a reprehensible harlot, despite Rina Aizawa’s efforts. Besides, hasn’t anyone told the staff that flashbacks with teenagers played by the same actors playing their adult selves only ever work in comedies anymore? Gosh.
- This exists, for some reason. What do you mean, you don’t want Hanabi to whisper sweet Valentine-related nothings into your ear? No? You more into emotional manipulation, maybe? Or do you just really hate yourself?
- Given that the show’s very point is to address how societal stigma regarding purity and female sexuality is driving Hanabi off the deep end, I’m surprised at the sheer number of words being wasted on entirely irrelevant discussions whether or not she’s still a virgin.
- If you wanna watch a good live-action drama about manipulative teachers sleeping with their students, horribly self-destructive unrequited love and abusive sexual politics, why not check out Riverdale? Yes, that’s the Archie show. Reminding me of Scum’s Wish. I’m as surprised as you are.
- In all fairness, at this point I’m spending so much time on these posts that anything will remind me of Scum’s Wish.