#1 Conflict between true love and lust
We know how romance anime tends to work, the kind of characters that feature in them, and the kind of conflicts that unfold over the course of their stories, ultimately culminating in the star couple getting together and everyone being happy for them. Scum’s Wish takes a very different direction and focuses on the characters who lost the romance lottery and how they cope with losing the love of their life.
17-year-old Hanabi experiences this when she enrolls in the highschool where her step-brother teaches. She has long been in love with her brother and is ecstatic about getting to see him more often, until she notices the obvious flirting between him and a female colleague. As she realizes that her love will forever go unanswered, she runs into Mugi Awaya, a young man who had a crush on the female teacher, and the two decide to start hanging out. Not as friends or even as a couple, but as mutual substitutes; they are going to live out their romantic fantasies, pretending that the other is their original crush.
Scum’s Wish is, essentially, about a conflict between finding true love and giving in to lust. Unable to get the romances they desire, Hanabi and Mugi enter a no-feelings-attached sexual partnerships that they must cover up by pretending that they are dating, which in turn causes conflict with classmates and friends who themselves had feelings for our two protagonists. Hanabi herself ends up boxed in between various romantic paths, as she has yet to give up on her brother and begins to get doubts about her pact with Mugi, causing her to seek out other partners and sexual activities to somehow fill the void she feels.
Hanabi takes it particularly far and the rest of the cast isn’t far behind. They are all, in one way or another, unable to have the romance they desire and trying to figure out whether to keep fighting for it anyway, settle for something else, or give in to their base desires. Hanabi’s best friend is a clear example, as she is upset that Hanabi entered a fake romance with Mugi while she had genuine feelings for her. But, as Hanabi begins to have second thoughts and develop feelings for Mugi too, she pushes on and forces herself on Hanabi, sexually exploiting her and insisting they should keep using each other, even if a different romance would blossom.
It’s strange and even a little unnerving, but a great direction for a romantic drama that works thanks to its complicated characters.
#2 A proper romance villain
Villains in a romantic show are often kind-of lackluster. In the wake of Citrus, I talked about how I hated the typical plot-twist of a new character appearing to sabotage the relationship between the main characters, and how I was tired of seeing that twist in dozens of manga and anime. Scum’s Wish does kind-of do it, but it helps that the character is there from the start and we see the true depravity of her actions unfold gradually as the story continues.
Akane Minagawa is a beautiful young woman who appears kind and supportive. Great traits for a young, new teacher, you’d say. However, she is a spider spinning a web, looking to trap those who catch her attention.
Akane explains this herself in an early episode, where she details how she can’t actually feel love, but experiences a sensation quite like it if she knows that she is being loved by somebody who is themselves the target of someone else’s affection. She doesn’t enjoy their love itself, she enjoys taking people away from an actual partner that would truly love them. She revels in the envy and hurt she causes, and now has her sights set on ruining the relationship between Hanabi and her brother.
That is already quite villainous in and of itself, but the show also keeps you wondering if Hanabi’s attempts at getting back at Akane are actually part of the plan. Hanabi decides to fight back by seducing Akane’s own lovers away from her, but is that truly a battle that can be won or is Hanabi putting herself in danger by flirting with these morally-questionable adults? Is she really doing something that will somehow hurt Akane or is she being outsmarted and forced down the same path that Akane herself walks?
#3 Convincing sex
I mentioned Citrus earlier in this review and that’s a show I was reminded of a lot while watching through Scum’s Wish. Citrus really shined in the presentation of its “sex” scenes and I feel that Scum’s Wish managed take it just a little further. Probably as far as you can go before it’s not fit to air on TV anymore.
Obviously they can’t show you these adolescents going at it on TV, but it comes as close as it can get without veering off into censored ecchi territory. Unlike a show like Ataraxia that just exists so its uncensored blu-ray release can be full-on hentai, Scum’s Wish uses its sex scenes tastefully and in service of its dramatic storyline. The directing throughout the show is already quite strong and it shines during these sex scenes in particular, even if it has to cut out at some point and leave the rest to your imagination.
I personally felt that getting to see so much of these scenes helped sell the underlying struggle of these characters. Particularly the scenes between Hanabi and Mugi are tense, as Hanabi struggles with surrendering her virginity and is immensely averse to pain, causing her to back out whenever Mugi tries to move forward and leaving them both feeling unfulfilled.
#4 The directing
The first screenshot I used in this review was from the introduction of Akane in Scum’s Wish‘s first episode. As she walks into the room to interrupt a scene between Hanabi and her brother, we see the scene play out, simultaneously, from different angles captured in separate panels. It grabbed my interest right away and I’d soon learn there was more of that fine directing work in store.
I was particularly fond of several of the show’s still image shots that are used to great effect for big reveals or emotional moments, which like the gimmick with the panels is used sparsely enough to remain surprising each time it’s used again.
This comes on top of the show looking quite good for modern standards. The character designs are beautiful and expressive, the animation looks good, it didn’t leave me with much to complain about. Between this and School-Live!!, I am beginning to develop an interest in Masaomi Andou’s work.