The romance genre in anime is often plagued by common tropes. Stemming from the way relationships are approached in Japanese culture, characters will often avoid talking about their feelings and interest in another person. Encounters with the opposite sex are usually awkward and rely far too much on comedic interaction. Very few anime have been able to delve into how relationships realistically operate and Scum’s Wish does it in a way that is both difficult to watch and captivating at the same time.
Hanabi Yasuraoka is the heroine of Kuzu no Honkai, or Scum’s Wish. She is a junior in high school and in the show’s opening moments she ponders whether unrequited love should be idealized as much as it is. She doesn’t believe so, and many of her thoughts and feelings are a stark contrast against those you would see in a show playing by the numbers. In the first episode we learn that Hanabi is in love with her much older childhood friend, Narumi, and has been for quite some time. She affectionately refers to him as “brother.” He sees her as nothing more than a younger sister figure and she pines for him on a daily basis. She fantasizes about acting on her feelings, but she knows the likelihood of Narumi reciprocating is low. To further complicate matters, her brother is smitten with another woman. Being a new teacher at Hanabi’s school, Narumi developed a crush on the new music teacher by the name of Akane Minagawa. At the same time, Hanabi has a boyfriend by the name of Mugi Awaya. Mugi has been in love with Akane and much like Hanabi’s feelings; they are unrequited and sealed away. Hanabi and Mugi decide it would be mutually beneficial for them to use each other as replacements, and try to seek validation through each other. This relationship is the first indicator that the various relationships showcased in the first four episodes will routinely show characters using each other and being brutally honest to the point no one’s feelings are spared, and this dynamic is refreshing to see in the romance genre.
With only four episodes having been released, it is difficult to get a sense of the full picture, but I truly believe this show will be one I remember for quite some time. Any time a show deviates from the norm, I find myself drawn to it more and more. White Album 2 functioned in a similar way with characters treating each other poorly for the sake of pursuing a romantic interest. It begs the question; do actual people ultimately act in the case of self-interest? Scum’s Wish certainly thinks so. What is important to note is that unlike the comedic hijinks of other anime, this show has incredibly realistic intimate moments between the characters. I have never seen a show treat sexual encounters with such maturity, while simultaneously including the scenes to show the selfishness of the characters. In one particular scene, Hanabi lies in Mugi’s bed with him as he has an erection. He tries to put an end to it before anything actually happens between them, but Hanabi encourages it. He shows her how to touch him and he is able to get off this way. In the process, he thinks about the person he truly loves and ruins Hanabi’s outfit as well. It is very clear that their relationship is a physical release for Mugi, whereas for Hanabi it is more of an emotional crutch. As an audience member, I got the sense that Hanabi was being used more than Mugi. At one point Hanabi tells him that she wants to try to fall in love with him. She is hurting an incredible amount. Mugi responds to this admission with silence. That is not the response of a person that is willing to meet halfway. This is not to paint Mugi as some type of villain, but as a person who acts in self-interest.
“There’s nothing more revolting than the affection of someone you’re completely disinterested in.”Hanabi’s relationship with her friend, Sanae Ebatto, or Ecchan as Hanabi calls her, is also particularly interesting. The sticking point is that she has feelings for Hanabi. Similarly to how Hanabi feels seeing her brother with another woman, Ecchan feels much the same way about the relationship between Hanabi and Mugi. The relationship becomes complicated when Hanabi invites her to her home for a sleepover and shares the same bed with Ecchan. As they stare at each other in bed, Ecchan takes her completely by surprise and decides to act on her feelings. She impulsively kisses her, and Hanabi is unable to act or say anything to her in return. I would argue that Ecchan selfishly pushes her feelings onto Hanabi by forcibly kissing her. There is a fine line between a confession and an unwanted kiss. In other circumstances, it would be considered sexual harassment. Prior to this incident, Hanabi received the confession of a boy she wasn’t interested in, and she thought receiving the affection of someone she was not interested in was completely revolting. With Ecchan, she thinks back on this and has to re-examine it because they are close friends and she realizes that it isn’t black and white. Days later she runs into her friend again, and being in a distraught state, she relies on her, fully knowing that Ecchan still has feelings for her. They proceed to share the same bed together, and Hanabi is unable to resist her friend’s advances. Ecchan knows this and uses her inability to turn her down to her advantage. She touches Hanabi and Hanabi acknowledges that this feels good and in turn Ecchan is elated because she is pleasuring the one person she cares about the most. This interaction is so interesting because it is difficult to determine who is being used more, but I get the sense that Ecchan is headed down a path of disaster. Hanabi never acknowledges romantic feelings for her friend, and this relationship evolves to a point where it mirrors the one between Hanabi and Mugi. Hanabi is receiving a sexual release and Ecchan feels emotionally fulfilled doing this to her friend. It is incredibly selfish of Ecchan to act on this considering Hanabi’s vulnerable state, and disliking the way characters handle these situations is the main reason I love the show so much. It is so easy to relate to their feelings, and Hanabi in particular doesn’t shy away from serious subject matter.
Akane Minagawa is Hanabi’s primary foil in Scum’s Wish. She goes to a restaurant with Mugi and they both see Akane with a younger man, who is clearly interested in her. Filled with anger for the two men in her life, Hanabi confronts her. She denies having any romantic involvement with the man, but based on the smell of cigarettes and the fact she is wearing the same clothes as the day before, Hanabi knows better. Akane tells her to meet her in the music room after school because she wants to crush her spirit by having her witness her brother’s confession. In an eye opening scene later on, Akane fully admits that she knew what she was doing and derives great pleasure from feeling wanted. She is clearly the most despicable character in a show filled with selfishness. Akane takes the self-interest angle to the utmost extreme. She hates the look of helplessness some women will show in moments of weakness. Avoiding that at all costs is important to her. To achieve that, she needs to maintain the feeling of superiority over others. The most telling scene regarding her character is when she lies down in bed with the younger man. She asks him if he is still dating some girl, and after he responds that they are no longer dating, her interest completely vanishes. To Akane, a man only has value if he is desired by other women. She states that Narumi, Hanabi’s brother, isn’t even her type. However, Hanabi desires him and that is why he has significance in Akane’s eyes. Ms. Minagawa believes that she and Hanabi are cut from the same cloth and it is only a matter of time until she turns her into someone who plays around with others’ emotions with no regard to their feelings. This seems to be the lingering question moving forward. Will Hanabi retain some concept of caring about others or will her experiences jade her further to the point where she is beyond redemption?
I knew after episode one I would love Kuzu no Honkai. It is a sorely needed show given current anime trends. It bucks the norm to show a bunch of characters all acting in self-interest and all dealing with unrequited love. Scum’s Wish shows the realistic, dark side to unrequited love. It pushes characters to extremes sometimes and edges them towards fantasizing and immediate gratification. The show lets you know from the onset this won’t turn into a harem series filled with standard comedic tropes. Instead, it will routinely make you uncomfortable and if that is something you can appreciate, I think Scum’s Wish will be considered one of the best once it has finished its run by the end of March. If realistic feelings and sexual encounters are something that pique your interest, simply give the first episode a try and let the industry know we want more of this type of show going forward.