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Beyond Fan Service: On the messed-up people of Scum's Wish

4:00 PM on 05.31.2017 // Karishma Roy
  @karishma_roy

What are your sinful desires?

Scum’s Wish is twelve episodes of a mature, romantic and psychological drama set at a Japanese high school. I will emphasise the “psychological” tag because this series is one hell of a mindf*** and perhaps because of that it has made it into my all-time favourite anime list (woop woop!). It is based on a 2012 manga by Mengo Yokoyari and produced by Studio Lerche.

The story centres around students Hanabi Yasuraoka and Mugi Awaya, both of whom are in love with different teachers from their school. Hanabi has the hots for her homeroom teacher/childhood friend/ big brother figure (she calls him “onii-chan” - meaning older brother in Japanese) Narumi Kanai. However, her passionate and excitingly forbidden love is one-sided as Narumi has his sights set on his female colleague and music teacher, Akane Minagawa. Now, Akane is a spectacularly messed up, sadomasochistic woman who is the focus of Mugi’s tragically unrequited love. She used to tutor Mugi when he was in middle school and that’s where his ruin began. Ah, a wonderful love quadrangle!

To complicate things further, there are three other main supporting characters:  Sanae Ebato who has feelings for her friend Hanabi, Noriko Kamomebata (aka the only sort of likeable character) – a childhood friend of Mugi’s who is in love with him, and a creepy dude (Atsuya Kirishima) who is Sanae’s cousin and claims he loves her. Basically, everyone wants someone they cannot have but try to win them over anyway. They are desperate, VERY flawed (scum’s indeed), lack common-sense in some instances which had me screaming at my laptop screen, and appear to spend most of their time indulging in sexual activity. There is a LOT of sex and although it isn’t porny, I’m sure a lot of the viewers masturbated to this. But hey, no judgments here! 

 

It’s actually refreshing to see an anime showcase sex boldly as opposed to the frequent, unrealistic portrayal of teenagers who orgasm aka “nose-bleed” at the thought of holding hands. Like, no, that does not normally happen. On the other hand, like some of the viewers, I felt that instead of devoting so much time to very awkward (cringey even) sex scenes, there could have been more of a focus on the emotional and mental consequences of the characters’ actions. It definitely lacked balance in this aspect but nevertheless, the series is still worth watching.

We are taken through the journey of how Hanabi and Mugi deal with their pain and loneliness (often through sex) and eventually grow and develop into less unlikeable versions of themselves. I’ve seen that some viewers have been quick to label the female characters as “sluts” and “whores” but let’s not forget that the males are just as invested in sleeping around. More importantly, however, the sex here serves a larger purpose than mere shock value or fan service- it does contribute critically to the characters’ development. It’s not a strange idea that people may fill their hollow hearts with physical affection. The concept of friends-with-benefits and one-night stands is common in western culture and Japanese as well.

Hanabi suffers from low self-esteem and abandonment issues. It’s no wonder that she gets lost trying to find her way to true love. In fact, a lot of us can relate to some sort of intense, emotionally charged teenage past. This girl is a damaged human being and that manifests (albeit annoyingly) in her focus on primitive desires. In the beginning, dealings between Mugi and Hanabi lack warmth but slowly they start to open up a small part of their hearts to each other. There’s a sense that the two of them start catching feelings for one other (totally did not see that coming) but they choose to ignore it and focus on their unobtainable adult love interests. This web of desire and possibility makes the story riveting. Hanabi gets a chance to assess the kind of person she is and makes decisions on what and who she wants to become.

All the characters mentioned play into well-known tropes but their relationships with each other are what drives this show. Everyone, except that creepy cousin, transforms as a result of their interactions. For the most part, it is fascinating to watch although I found Akane’s character transformation unrealistic and very questionable. What the hell was Narumi thinking? Let’s talk about this biatch for a minute – she is by far the most twisted and fascinating one. Akane seems to derive pleasure from being the target of other women's jealousy. She sleeps with men (and underage boys) who are either in relationships or are wanted by someone else. There is a sadistically childish streak about wanting to essentially “steal” what isn’t her’s and Mugi was observant enough to figure her out as quickly as he did. Do people like her actually exist in real life!? In the end, she grows out of this toxic way of thinking which is great but I kind of wished she had an STD or prison sentence to go along with the new mindset. Other than this, I was very happy with the ending (especially Hanabi’s) because it was pleasantly realistic.

The art was neat with an appealing soft colour palette and animation was fluid – every emotion was conveyed with exquisite clarity. The feels do punch you right in the gut. The soundtrack, both the opening - "Uso no Hibana" by 96 Neko - and the ending - "Heikosen" by Sayuri - are major hits among the fans. I listen to it on repeat most days!

I rate this anime highly despite being unable to relate to or like most of the characters. I think that the idea of needing to empathise with every main character is limiting and one of the main reasons I watch anime, TV-shows or read books is to expand my knowledge on different fronts including religion, sexuality, culture, way of life etc.… so yeah. Should you watch it? Well, it’s a heavy, dark and sexual series where the tags “lust” and “obsession” would be more accurate than romance. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then go for it. My only advice would be to watch it privately with your headphones connected.

P.S. I saw that people were comparing this anime to School Days and yes, that was equally messed up but in a different way. Scum’s Wish is purely psychological and emotional – no-one gets hurt physically, and it’s a much better watch.

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Karishma Roy, Contributor
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