“There’s nothing more revolting than the affection of someone you’re completely disinterested in, is there?”
Hanabi Yasuraoka and Mugi are a great couple – or at least, that’s what they would have you think. In reality, the two have no feelings for each other: their ideal lovers are unattainable, but using each other as substitutes to act out their forbidden love helps to dull the pain. Hanabi is in love with Narumi Kanai, a close family friend who is now her homeroom teacher, while Mugi is in love with the music teacher, Akane Minagawa, who was once his personal tutor. Can their make-believe world ever be enough?
This is the only new series this season where I’ve actually read the manga ahead of time. I love Scum’s Wish, and admittedly knowing where the story goes and how it handles its sensitive themes has definitely coloured my perceptions of this first episode. However, it does also mean that to anyone on the fence about the premise, I can tell you this much: there is very little to worry about, everything is handled sensitively.
When you’re writing a messy, angsty character drama, priority number one is good characters. Scum’s Wish delivers on this front. I immediately sympathised with Hana; she’s in a difficult situation, she’s lonely and closed off but desperately wants to feel cherished even if that feeling is nothing but an illusion. Mugi is assertive yet sensitive, and although the viewer doesn’t get a good look into his headspace in this episode I think people will find him more interesting as the show gets into his point of view. The character I’m most excited about is Akane Minegawa – it’s early days yet, but I can’t wait until we get a glimpse of her real personality.
Visually this episode uses some interesting techniques, even if there isn’t a lot of actual animation. One element I really enjoyed was the use of manga panelling – there are many scenes in the episode where panels will be overlaid on top of scenes to draw attention to characters’ expressions or certain gestures. This is something you don’t usually see in anime and for a deliberately slow paced anime like this I think it works really well. We are also treated to a lot of beautiful scenery shots, a welcome side effect brought about by the fact that the camera often keeps the viewer far away to create a certain level of emotional distance.
One of my favourite elements of the episode was the use of colour in several key scenes. Across the whole of the episode, the palette is mainly restricted to cool colours like pastel blues and purples while we explore the world in Hanabi’s headspace. The subdued, cool tones help to convey her loneliness and melancholy caused by the hopelessness of her situation. In the bedroom scene where she and Mugi take the first steps in their faked relationship the palette shifts to dark, gloomy greys and blues. Grey can symbolise detachment and loneliness – the very things that the two of them are trying to banish by comforting each other. In a scene at the end of the episode flashing back to when Hanabi left Mugi’s apartment after their first sexual encounter the palette shifts from sepia to saturated colours when he touches her face. In that moment their relationship reveals itself as a great source of comfort to her and the flush of colour infused into the shot conveys that without any words being necessary.
Scum’s Wish touches on certain subject matter that isn’t brought up a lot in anime: female sexuality. The way it’s portrayed is sensitive and realistic. Teenage relationships are messy, and also sometimes selfish or sad, and sex is involved more often than most anime is willing to admit. As the series goes on the portrayals of different women and their desires only gets stronger; we see so many different viewpoints, each with their own issues to contend with, and I can’t wait until the show gets to some of the more interesting (and often heartbreaking) dynamics.
As somebody who could eat messy, complicated character dramas for breakfast, Scum’s Wish is made for me. If you’re into more conventional romance stories then some of the content that’s to come may turn you off watching, but if you like exploring different dynamics in your romance then this show might just be for you. There’s not a lot of good romance to choose from this season, but Scum’s Wish is here to knock all the pretenders out of the park.