What’s it about? 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.