[Review] Scum’s Wish – episode 1

When she starts high school popular Hana is delighted to discover that her longtime crush is her homeroom teacher. She considers herself lucky until realising he has feelings for someone else, the beautiful and elegant music teacher. Hana finds solace in another student, attractive Mugi, who has been in love with the music teacher since she was his home tutor. Together, each can pretend that the other is the person they really wish they were with. They look like enviable high school sweethearts to the outside world, while they hide their true motivations from all but each other.

SPOILERS: General discussion of the episode

Full disclosure: I recently binge-read the manga and it blew me away. Unlike all the other premieres, which I’ve gone into cold, I know the characters well and already love the story they are telling. I can’t review this as if I don’t know what’s going to happen, so if you’ve only seen the first episode with no context you may view it less positively than I do.

Scum’s Wish is a story of complicated love and sexuality, particularly the sexuality of young women, and the connections between sexuality, desirability and power in the world. We will be discussing this series on AniFem in detail, hopefully from several angles.

Close-up of two hands linked in a pinky swear. Subtitle: "you can have everything but my feelings."

The idea of a sexual relationship without romantic attachment is pretty common in the real world, not so much in anime. It may be a source of comedy, a power grab or a source of vilification, but for two people to connect physically and emotionally without connecting romantically – and for this not to be moralised as yet – is rare. However, relationships like this are inherently unsustainable, and even this early on we know that they will eventually hit a breaking point or a fork in the road or just drift apart and move on. How the show handles that development when it comes will be make or break.

It is perfect that Scum’s Wish is about teenagers and early twentysomethings, the time when people are most likely to explore these kinds of relationships en route to learning their own preferences and boundaries. For example, Hana simultaneously wants to be touched and is scared of being touched, both clings to her compromise and is saddened by it. These are relatable feelings which the anime communicates sensitively.

Overall, Scum’s Wish is not afraid to present its characters as complicated, conflicted, even cruel. They are just people, often hurting or struggling in some way and doing the best they can to protect themselves. It’s one of the most fundamentally human stories I’ve ever read, and the anime seems to be replicating the manga’s approach closely.

A background of out of focus summer trees, with two vertical panels overlaid, the left showing the smiling face of the music teacher in conversation with Hana's crush, the right of Hana's displeased face looking on.

Scum’s Wish chapters feel short, and often hone in on one or two characters at a time only to shift to two completely different characters the following chapter. Where the dialogue is restrained internal monologue flows, adding insight to flashbacks, dream sequences and slow motion replays. The result is somewhat distanced storytelling, giving you almost a bird’s eye view of proceedings while also seeing straight into everyone’s hearts.

The anime has adopted this approach, dividing screen time between expressive close-ups and dreamy long shots showcasing as much seasonal nature as possible. It even incorporates some manga aesthetics such as white space, panels and text on the screen, further breaking the immersion for viewers. This story was always going to speak to me, but I can see how viewers could be put off by being kept at arm’s length.

Hana and Mugi stand outside on a balcony at school by a cherry blossom tree, Mugi looking at Hana whose head is in her arms. Subtitle: "Yeah, yeah. Guys like those sweet, doe-eyed girls."

It helps that I find the two main characters sympathetic, which not everyone will. Hana is sharp-edged but insecure, while Mugi is assertive but understanding. Hana pushes her own limits until Mugi nudges her out of her comfort zone, but he ensures she can choose whether or not to stay there. They obviously have different levels of experience, but Hana does not seem to have any hang-ups about her virginity and Mugi does not expect to have sex with her. They are equal participants in a contract of convenience, and treat each other with a surprising amount of trust and respect.

This first episode is centred on Hanabi, and she drives the story. She is the first to broach the subject of their true loves with Mugi, the first to cross the line into physical contact, and actively asks him to touch her more. Mugi focuses on touching Hanabi in ways that will make her feel good, and takes initiative to back away when he can tell her mood has changed. He is the one to propose their arrangement, but he also gives Hana space to consider what she wants and seek out more contact with him or leave things be.

This is in stark contrast to the boy who grabs Hana’s arm as she walks away after turning him down, telling her that she got his hopes up by waiting a week to reply to his confession. Mugi and Hana have made an arrangement to be available to one another when they need comfort, but even then this episode alone suggests that they don’t feel entitled to each other the way that boy felt entitled to Hana. Hana and Mugi’s relationship is on an unstable foundation with a built-in time limit, but it is still healthier than many teenage relationships in anime, or in life.

The screen divided by a line going down the middle, with Mugi's face in the left half looking over his shoulder at Hana, whose face is in the right half.

I was looking forward to this premiere a great deal, and it is easily in my top three. While it looks like a faithful adaptation this episode has made at least one important change from the manga, and it will be interesting to see how this complex story has been contained for a single season of animation. However, the source material is both bold and delicate, and to have retained both of those qualities is a solid start to a story of grey areas.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review

 

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  • Now I’m curious about the change – I assume you’ll talk about it later on? 🙂

    • In the manga they make it a rule that they will never have sex, whereas in the anime they’ve downgraded it to a “We probably won’t have sex, right?” That’s quite a deliberate change which makes me think they might be changing that storyline a bit!

      • Maybe this is something that got garbled in translation? Because if the anime is doing four chapters per episode then I can’t find anything in chapters 1-4 that explicitly states this rule. Laying down the rules is a chapter 5 thing, so presumably this will get addressed in the next episode, along with the introductions of Noriko and Sanae.

        Re manga/anime differences, I think so far they’re just cutting out a lot of side material and rearranging the order of scenes somewhat. It’s basically distilling the manga down to its essence, so I can understand if people coming in cold and lacking context are going a bit “what?”

        • This is definitely the same interaction as in chapter 5 of the manga, she is lying with her head on his lap and the dialogue before this (“So does that basically make us friends with–?” “No, no, no”) is exactly the same. Translation of the next part in the different versions is as follows:

          Manga: “I know what you’re about to say… But we’re not going… to have sex.”
          Anime: “We didn’t do it. We didn’t have sex. And we probably won’t.”
          Japanese: “Shitenai jan. Sekkusu wa. Tabun kore kara mo shinai shi.”

          The anime subs are a direct translation of the Japanese dialogue. For that exchange in Japanese as it is in the anime to be translated into the English we read in the manga (on page 34) would be a straight up mistranslation, so the logical assumption is that the anime has changed it on purpose for some reason. Now I just want to know what that reason is!

  • I too binge-read the manga (before I ever knew this would be an anime) and I too think this is a stunningly good adaptation. I’m confused a bit though about your comment regarding “at least one important change from the manga”. If you’re referring to Narumi and Akane I’m not sure yet that there is a change; after all, in this episode we see everything from Hanabi’s perspective. I’m looking forward to seeing how things evolve in future episodes (and of course to the introduction of Noriko and Sanae).

    • It’s that it’s no longer a rule that they won’t have sex – instead it’s just Mugi saying “We probably won’t have sex” long after the rules discussion. It’s a huge story, I wonder if they’ve made some big changes to make it a little bit neater to fit into a single season? I quite like it when adaptations diverge from the source material to better suit the constraints of the medium they’re adapting to, so I’m very intrigued.

      • Ah, I hadn’t noticed that. You just gave me an excuse to re-watch the first episode and re-read the manga!

        • Excellent! It’s being simulpubbed on Crunchyroll, if you’re premium you can read it for free there. I want to reread it myself now the premiere season is over, plus watch the TV drama if I can get my hands on it.

  • I think the story will have to change in some ways, it suits a manga format perfectly but will need some trimming and shaping to fit a single season of anime. I’m very intrigued, can’t wait to see more!

  • KatMarie

    Having read other reviews of the premiere, I was still on the fence about watching this, mostly because I had deep misgivings about how a set-up like this would be handled. So, to have someone who 1) has read the manga, and 2) looks at the story explicitly through a feminist lens be this enthusiastic and positive about it has convinced me that it’s at least worth the risk, whatever I think in the end.

    (Just another reason this site is a treasure and I’m so glad it exists!)

    • Really glad to be able to help! I found a lot in the story to be extremely relatable despite the fairly unlikely premise, always a good sign. Also, after episode two of Interviews with Monster Girls I’m thinking Scum’s Wish may take the top spot in the rankings at the end of the season. It is definitely worth a watch, if you have access despite Amazon adding extra obstacles for US viewers.

  • I’m very curious about this. So I understand it runs in a seinen magazine, but how does the manga read? I’m wondering if this is like Orange, where it could very well be read in a more shojo (or even josei) fashion, but they put it in a seinen magazine because. . . typical, publishing BS? Or is it obviously a seinen, but just handles itself well? (I think there are plenty of seinen that do that and are targeted at male readers, but I’m also wondering what is being called seinen just because it doesn’t fit in with typical demographics.)

  • I resisted this anime at first because I was worried about the ‘scum’. Scum? I think they should have changed the title to be more appealing to the western audience. Maybe it’s not an official localized title? Also, I generally don’t like watching anime characters engage in serious sexual acts — especially characters that look underage. However, this season, there aren’t a lot of options for more mature content.

    After a few episodes, I’ve been — admittedly — sucked in, but I don’t like the direction that episode 6 has taken. Although it’s interesting to have all characters interacting at a high level of self awareness, it seems unrealistic that at least some clueless people are not walking around because with the exception of a few scenes, the characters walk around as if they are omniscient. The exception to this would be the male teacher, but he’s pretty secondary at this point. This also creates a problem because — to an extent — all of the characters come across as the same and or superficially modified ‘self portraits’ of the writer. I wish that I could underline ‘come across’ because of course these are characters and not necessarily representations of the writer, but I would find it hard to believe otherwise …

    So, why do I keep watching? Because I have no idea how this is going to end and I can’t help but be drawn to the abnormal psychology. But also, I suspect that some clever misdirection from the writer is coming at some point. If it doesn’t, I will be pretty disappointed.