Anime has a strange relationship with sex. When the second world war ended and animation became less of a propaganda tool and more directed at entertainment, it took animators mere nanoseconds to realize that cartoon characters could have sex appeal. Not only did anime characters get sexier over the years, but full nudity would made its way into TV series and OVA releases, hentai became a thing, and from hentai sprung off the ecchi genre.
As much as anime loves to have its protagonists walk in on their voluptuous female friends changing or having female warriors stripped off their armor as they fight off enemies, the medium remains skittish when it comes to addressing sex more directly. It’s fine with girls falling down stairs and landing panties-first unto a guy’s face, but it’s rare for an anime to show or even imply that relationships between characters ever involve more than awkward “accidents”. At most, some girl in a harem anime will upset her rivals by crawling in the male lead’s bed and sleeping there without doing anything else.
Scum’s Wish made for an interesting show because it very clearly addresses sexual relationships in a way that is surprisingly mature considering its story. It doesn’t dance around the bush; these are characters pursuing sexual relationships, even if their reasons for doing so aren’t always healthy.
In doing so, Scum’s Wish tells a lot of interesting stories. Hanabi is fiercely determined to have a relationship, largely out of anger and frustration; causing her to seek out multiple partners. However, she finds herself constantly confronted with these people’s sexual interest in her, which she isn’t comfortable with. She is afraid of losing her virginity and repeatedly disappoints or confuses her partners by backing out at the very last moment. While her situation is clearly part of a drama story, her experiences are very human and potentially relatable to many.
I also admire that Scum’s Wish doesn’t play the judge. Despite hailing from a culture that famously forces idols to be pure and single so as not to upset their fans, the characters in this anime aren’t “pure” and that’s fine. So many romance stories are about the destined couple brought together by fate, characters who have never even touched the hands of somebody from the other gender. Two perfect virgins, whose offspring will no doubt be delivered by stork because indecent thoughts would make the author’s brain catch fire.
Mugi has had other relationships, some of them fairly recently. He’s even had casual sex, the virile savage. Hanabi tried to do the same with less success, but either way, their past experiences aren’t treated as a crime. It doesn’t invalidate any romance they pursue afterwards. The title Scum’s Wish sounds like it implies otherwise and there is a distinction to be made here. Some of the actions of the characters are, no doubt, selfish and unhealthy. The anime acknowledges this and uses it to drive further character development. The scummy part of Hanabi and Mugi isn’t that they had other partners, it’s that they both (at some point) exploited other people to fill their sexual desires, for which they both repent. Even Akane, the series’ villain, is not beyond redemption.
The way Scum’s Wish depicts the sex itself is also worthy of praise. Real sex between couples just kinda looks stupid when you get down to it and trying to emulate it through animation usually doesn’t fare much better. Hentai and extremer ecchi shows like Hybrid x Heart Ataraxia make it look appealing by making sex utterly fantastical. Any believability, realism, or weight your story had before such a scene will crumble away instantly, it’s just not a fit for most romance anime. Cutting to black anytime a romantic moment is implied can work, but that’s just kinda boring isn’t it?
Not only are you skipping out on a potential fan-service moment, but eroticism could also be a major character moment. Scum’s Wish does just that and, while it doesn’t show the actual sexy times, it does show off a lot more by delaying the fade-to-black for as long as possible. It sells the intimacy between these characters without looking goofy.
Scum’s Wish isn’t perfect and may be overly-dramatic to many, but I think there is a lot future shows could stand to learn from it.