“A Kind God”
Thursdays on Anime Strike
Troubled by her seemingly genuine feelings for Kanai, Akane joins him on a trip to a hot springs resort – where he confronts her with a startling proposal.
This anime adaptation of Scum’s Wish has always done a great job at delivering the core ideals of the manga’s often rather oblique monologueing, using directing and careful treatment of the original dialogue to clarify what the heck it is these characters are actually trying to say. Unfortunately, however, even this more tightened focus can’t save this whole Akane-focused mini-arc from feeling like a puzzling slog – one that that ultimately teaches us very little new about the characters involved and leaves the validity of its hackneyed happy ending a bigger mystery than ever. Granted, providing a character like Akane with some kind of ending is a tremendous undertaking, but a necessary one nonetheless. To once again make the comparison with The Flowers of Evil or heck, even Evangelion – while these kinds of stories may be eternally condemned to be remembered mainly by the sheer shock factor of their most disturbing bouts of psychological horror, none of this darkness will have served any genuine purpose if it didn’t actually take the characters anywhere.
It’s in trying to wrap up Akane’s arc with the most conventional of endings that Scum’s Wish drops the ball, however. While my frustrations with the pacing might be partially attributed to the month-long wait between manga chapters that started once I reached this point in reading, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Akane’s sudden decision to settle down with Kanai came out of nowhere for a woman who just an episode ago could serve as the textbook example of an unrepentant sociopath. The core ideas may be valid – you don’t need to be able to rationally explain why you love someone, sometimes you need to take a leap into the unknown, yada yada yada – but I refuse to believe that Akane could ever be turned into a blubbering mess, let alone realistically redeemed by a man as comically, infuriatingly nice as Kanai. He’s like a manic pixie dream girl in reverse, albeit without any of the charisma. Kanai exists only to be entirely, unconditionally devoted to Akane, and is defined only by his niceness and a single off-handed remark about his mother – which eventually turned out to be little more than a hint at an edge that wasn’t there. His character may have worked in a breezy wish-fulfilment rom-com, but Scum’ Wish is anything but. And neither is Akane the kind of relatable, down-on-their-luck loser who could function in a relationship fueled solely by high-fructose corn syrup.
The biggest problem, however, is that Kanai is simply not developed enough of a character to really stand out amongst Akane’s harem of suitors. In fact, I’d say he is just as blinded by unrealistic, unconditional love as any of his students are. There’s simply nothing there that would make her want to fight for him, to become a better person for his sake, except for an absolute, unwavering dedication based on nothing. Sure, it’s true that he’s been the first and only person in her life who isn’t into her just for the sex – though it’s not that there’s no sexual attraction between them at all, it’s just that to Kanai, sex seems to be but one of many methods of expressing a predominantly romantic love. That would make him healthier boyfriend material than any of Akane’s other boy-toys, certainly – including Mugi, whose romantic love for her is the result of sexual desire, rather than the other way around – Nevertheless, the question remains where the heck that romantic attraction is even coming from. Let alone why someone like Akane would want to reciprocate it.
In the end, any justification Scum’s Wish tries to throw out to sell viewers on this coupling ends up falling short, or even backfiring. Does Akane welcome Kanai because she’s realised he’s the only one who’s ever wanted more than just to have sex with her? If so, then why is having sex the very first thing she does upon that realisation? Because he’s the only one who understands her, then? Who doesn’t try to ‘save’ her, like Mugi, or sees her as little more than a pro bono hooker? You could argue that Kanai doesn’t even try to understand her, though. If anything, he seems to cling to an image of her, tolerating her adultery as long as she keeps up appearances for him. Heck, the fact that he still sees her as the bubbly, innocent girl he fell in love with even after she’s flat-out told him she’s, in her own words, “a massive slut”, begs the question if he’d even be devoted to a literal serial killer as long as she looked like his mother. Being attracted to promiscuity? Fine. Having no problem with adultery? Sure. But unconditionally throwing yourself at a woman who clearly isn’t planning on giving you what you want in a relationship, just because she’s a convenient stand-in for the abstract ideal you’re truly in love with? Now where have I seen that before…
Yeah. Maybe not unintentionally, there is a certain tragic irony to be detected in the otherwise unfathomable travesty that is Kanai and Akane getting married. Perhaps the ‘adult’ of the cast was doomed to mirror his teenage suitor after all – unconditionally longing after a person he barely even truly knows, or even wants to know, a target he almost arbitrarily selected to project his overly romantic, vaguely freudian idea of what love should be on, like he himself used to be to Hanabi. Akane could be no more different from Mugi if she tried – he wants to matter, she wants to be forgotten – but Kanai and Hanabi are like two peas in a pod. If anything, then, that parallell is a kind of relief to be found in this otherwise more than a bit questionable resolution. Like I mentioned last time, Scum’s Wish isn’t interesting in telling you what the right way to love is – it just wants to show it to you in all of its brightest and more desperate complexities. It’s not trying to tell you whether Kanai and Akane made the right decision, only that they made one that, at least for now, makes them happy. Yet no care for judgement doesn’t warrant no care for justification, and that’s where Scum’s Wish might have barked up the wrong tree.
It’s quite confusing, then, that an extensive arc lasting two full episodes taught us more about the guy who’s had maybe 10 minutes of screen time throughout the entire show than about the character it was supposed to be al about. Akane always seemed to embody the vision of a worst possible future for the rest of Scum’s Wish‘s cast – the kind of person Hanabi or Mugi might become if they fail to drag themselves out of the nihilistic void in time. The show has given us an exorbitant amount of time to figure her out, but after this episode, Akane unfortunately remains a bigger mystery than ever. The material Scum’s Wish has provided to help us work her out simply doesn’t add up, and reeks more of a rush to get the manga done in time for the anime to end than the kind of nuanced, organic character development we’ve come to expect from this series. It’s a rare misstep in a show that has been consistently on point until now, and all we can do for now is hope Hanabi and Mugi won’t have to share the same fate.
- I one hundred percent approved of that gratuitous shot of Kanai’s butt. Dude’s pretty ripped for a high school teacher.
- Mad props to Aki Toyosaki – yes, that Aki Toyosaki – for successfully acting out all of Akane’s jarring shifts in demeanour this episode, from deliberately ditzy to jaded and back again.
- Even though it hasn’t been translated by Crunchyroll yet, spoilers for the final chapter are out there, so take heed if you like to browse around on social media.
- Then again, the only thing of value you’ll find is this. Does anyone even still get this in the year 2017?