“A Story of Two”
Thursdays on Anime Strike
Months after their hearts were broken, Mugi and Hanabi reunite amidst their school’s cultural festival.
From the moment Scum’s Wish had fully lifted the veil on its unholy constellation of unrequited crushes, I knew there were only ever going to be be two ways for Hanabi and Mugi’s story to end that wouldn’t betray the core values of this story – either they’d end up with everyone, or with no one. Given that honest depictions of wholesome polyamory in fiction are so rare they could make millions on eBay, the second option seemed to be the logical one, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t still come as a surprise to find out that Hanabi and Mugi don’t end up with each other – or at least not for now. Despite the grumblings of some, however, this turned out to be the correct decision after all. There’s too much baggage between the two of them, too much questionable ethics and worrisome games of chicken in their history to ever make a relationship work. Heck, for a show that is all about rejecting the idea of a ‘one true love’, it’d be absurd to hook its two main characters up just because they’re the main characters. Upon closer inspection, no possible justification for why Hanabi and Mugi would work as a couple makes any amount of sense. No wonder Zigg vowed to personally come punch me in the face if these two ended up together, back when we were watching the very first episode.
What does remains between them is a strong spiritual bond of sorts, an acceptance that shared loneliness and misfortune is a far better fundament for friendship than it is for romance. Though as lovely as it may be to see Hanabi and Mugi talking at length without any need to have the whole thing escalate into another meaningless make-out session, it’s a let-down we never really got to see these supposedly great talks they used to have before their relationship devolved into a mere exchange of bodily fluids. The show’s somewhat lacklustre focus on Mugi’s side of the story is probably to blame here, as this episode as well narrates the not-hook-up of the year entirely from Hanabi’s perspective. Granted, Scum’s Wish has mostly been her story, from lovelorn damsel dependent on an abstract, dated ideal of love to justify her own existence to a melancholy, but ultimately confident young lady comfortable with her own loneliness, relying on love to be a pleasant surprise, rather than a crutch. As has become standard for this show, this ending is anything but a clean break. Hanabi knows love will never be easy for her, and that eventually, a lot of her misery may end up being her own fault. Yet if it weren’t for all the mistakes she’s already made – looking for love in all the wrong places, pursuing a one-sided rivalry with a complete sociopath, abusing others through their abuse of her – she’d still be that girl who can’t function without devotion to a phantom.
Though somewhat unnecessary, given the grandiose send-off she was already given, Noriko shows up one final time, to give Hanabi a good idea of what taking control of your own life looks like. If her last two cameos indicated she’s trying to ditch the wholesome princess act and go back to being the boisterous ball of confidence she used to be – Remember that girl who accused Hanabi of cheating in the flashback way back in the first episode? That was her. – her final scene here showed that elaborate dresses and fancy makeup are nevertheless still very much her thing, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. More often than not, these storylines tend to forget that the identities people construct for themselves, even if it is for the wrong reasons, will always remain a part of them. Just think of that disastrous epilogue added to Persona 4 Golden, with Kanji ditching his bleached hair and skull T-shirt for a stuffed shirt and a pair of glasses, for example. Scum’s Wish realises that even if Noriko knows she can make her own choices now, and doesn’t need to play the princess part for Mugi’s sake anymore, that whole frilly lolita shebang is still a part of who she is. While overindulgence made her a social pariah, taking the gas back a little and cultivating her image on her own terms ironically allowed Noriko to genuinely become the person she wanted to be. She stopped caring about Mugi, and all of a sudden, everyone started caring about her.
And then there’s Sanae. Despite my love for how her storyline was wrapped up, it did leave me somewhat worried we’d never get to find out what became of her. Luckily this episode managed to lay these concerns to rest in spectacular fashion. Now blessed with a positively handsome new haircut and an attitude that just screams ‘love interest in the world’s most predicable yuri manga’, Scum’s Wish‘s most controversial character seems ready to show the world who she really is. While the lack of an explicit apology or at least acknowledgement of her toxic behaviour towards Hanabi – if last week’s episode is any indication, this seems to be Mengo Yokoyari’s biggest stumbling block – keeps me wary of her intentions, her assertivity and general cheerfulness in this episode is enough implicit assurance that her next relationship won’t be quite such a train wreck. Unfortunately, the question on everyone’s minds is about the only one that remains unanswered – will that next relationship be with another girl, or is Sanae yet another example of that ridiculous “childish whim as rehearsal for when they get with a man” thing Japanese society tends to interpret girls crushing on other girls as? Her somewhat stereotypically lesbian appearance and demeanour in this episode seem to blatantly hint at the former, but then there’s that bizarre final scene at the bonfire – more on that later. Granted, just because her first love was another girl doesn’t mean she can’t be bisexual, and Atsuya had a point when he pointed out just how flimsy her alleged androphobia is. On the other hand, is he really the one who should be deciding that for her? Besides, even if Sanae could fall in love with a boy, I still wouldn’t want said boy to be her own cousin.
With strong endings to each of its still dangling plot threads, Scum’s Wish provides its own adaptation with some strong fundamentals. With only two chapters to work with, however, the anime is forced to come up with some additional details of its own, yet unfortunately not all of this extra padding is equally welcome. Lerche have up to now mostly excelled when they took the axe to the source material – chopping down a lot of the wooly monologuing and keeping the creepy makeout sessions to a bare minimum. When they start adding things, however, the risk of ruining the ambiguity in which this finale is second to none, rears its ugly head. Two scenes in particular stand out – One, Noriko still insists on being called “Moca”, even though that quirk of hers to me always seemed like the very embodiment of her self-delusion. Sure, I said not having her abandon her aesthetic was for the better less than two paragraphs ago, but still, having her cling to the moniker of “most cutest angel” when the last time we saw her she was chomping away at a bread roll with renewed apathy towards what that may cause people to think of her, seems more than a bit contradictory. Change is a process, I guess. A bit more eyebrow-raising, then, is the aforementioned scene with Sanae at the bonfire. Who is the guy walking up beside her? Is it Atsuya, or just some guy who looks like him? Does Atsuya even attend their school? Or did she think it was Hanabi and look away disappointedly when she found out it was just some random dude? Why is he standing behind her when the previous shot clearly showed him moving right next to her? And most of all, what does this imply? I get the feeling Sanae wouldn’t have looked and acted the way she did during the graduation ceremony if she’d started dating her cousin – blurgh – during the time-skip, but at this point I wouldn’t even be surprised at an anime propagating incest as long as it doesn’t have to commit to its characters actually being gay. Scum’s Wish has done too good of a job portraying the futility of Sanae’s feelings without invalidating her sexuality to be written off as mere queer-baiting. It’d be a pity if all that got ruined by five seconds of filler footage.
Nevertheless, it’s pointless to judge a show entirely on what could or might be. The final episode of Scum’s Wish succeeded in everything it set out to be, putting a magnificent cherry on top of a twisted, ever endearing journey into the depths of human loneliness. The end product is a bit of a diamond in the rough, an uncomfortable romance that might seem superficial and overly desperate for your attention at first – what with its jarring tonal shifts, melodramatic audiovisual stings and eroticism just a tad bit too conventionally sexualised to work within the show’s broader context – but ultimately peels back the layers on a psychologically taxing, yet ultimately all too human story that will make you never look at high school romance and unrequited love triangles the same way. For its thorough exploration of the blurred lines between love and lust, the weight of gendered expectations and the cyclical nature of abuse, Scum’s Wish is a show that merits watching not only if you have an interest in the human psyche, but especially if human relationships to you aren’t quite as silky smooth and saccharine to you as fiction often makes them out to be. It may occasionally shoot itself in the foot on the road to becoming the go-to antidote for teen drama, but ultimately succeeds in everything it sets out to do. As I said in our First Look, this may be the show you’ve been looking, and it’d be a bummer if you wouldn’t know that.
- I guess Hanabi’s classmates were clever enough to assign her a job that doesn’t involve any decision-making of any kind.
- There’s some scuttlebutt about Mengo Yokoyari planning a one-shot or limited series spin-off for Scum’s Wish. Seems like a phenomenal recipe for screwing up a ending as conclusive as it should be. Then again, if it’s true, my money’s on Sanae being the main character, if only because she’s not so subtly Yokoyari’s favourite character.
- Akane’s inexplicable turn to happy bride-to-be is still as bizarre as ever, but at least the woman can still find the time to – quite literally – shove her marriage to Kanai into Hanabi’s face. Some things never change, I guess.
- Perhaps the most bizarre thing about Scum’s Wish is how Mengo Yokoyari’s other works are all fanservice shlock of the most perishable kind, including a manga about a pornographer in a love triangle with two horny twins (yawn), an ice queen who’s cursed to become incredibly lustful for one hour per day (ugh), and a dystopian future where schools only teach sex ed in an attempt to boost declining birth rates (what). Well, I guess you know what they say about stopped clocks.
- Apologies for the irregular scheduling of this feature, and for dropping the drama coverage halfway through, but unfortunately I’ve been too preoccupied with other stuff to give the serious analysis my full one hundred percent. Regardless, I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this journey with me. Make sure to let me know your thoughts on Scum’s Wish in the comments!