Scum’s Wish is a tough show to talk about. Airing in the Winter 2017 season through Amazon’s Anime Strike service, this 12 episode series has become extremely contentious among anime fans. It took me writing the first two paragraphs of this review, watching the show again, and then rewriting this review for my opinions to really solidify. On one side are fans who love the series for its use of paneling, visuals, and display of sex in a normalized lens. On the other are people who see the characters as flat, only interested in their love problems, or as, in one instance, extreme caricatures with no believable substance or backstory. On this side, the paneling and directing create an almost oppressive atmosphere that can make each episode a slog to get through. In a way, I think I’ve found myself in the middle of this argument somewhere, though as I’ve thought more and more, I’ve slipped further into the latter side of things.
The story of Scum’s Wish follows the struggles of Mugi and Hanabi who have both fallen for different teachers at their high school. Hanabi wishes for her “big brother” from childhood to return her feelings, while Mugi longs for the attention of his former tutor-turned-teacher. When they both notice the other’s love interests becoming closer to one another, Mugi and Hanabi look to each other for comfort. Through a pinky-swear, they agree to be the fill-in for each other’s unrequited love, acting as a replacement until the time when one of them manages to succeed at gaining their love interest’s affection.
What this anime does have going for it at the moment is its visuals. Studio Lerche is fairly new to the animation world as far as I can tell, their first animation being sometime in 2011. However, they also did the animation for Assassination Classroom, which was fairly popular, and their work on Scum’s Wish became one of the show’s biggest selling points. The backgrounds and characters are rather detailed, with the animation quality ramping up during the sex scenes to really make those moments pop. I think one of the biggest aspects of the animation that is readily noticeable is its use of paneling. In some ways it is overused, and I can point to other shows that do it better (ie. Doukyuusei), but it does bring to the show a nice aesthetic that I think a lot of other high school romances might be lacking. This melding of anime and manga techniques allows the director to highlight moments and feelings that are integral to a scene, bringing out the most in the emotion and message they want to get across. In a similar vein, there are also moments where the director has decided to use art stills or different styles of art throughout the show. Much like paneling, these can both add an interesting aesthetic and highlight moments of importance.
But in some ways, this artsy aesthetic seems to be there to hide the flaws in the overall story and try to add relevance to the multitude of sex scenes. I’m not averse to sex scenes in general, as long as they don’t try to be something they’re not. In Scum’s Wish, it seems like the creators tried to pass these scenes off as artsy in a way through the various techniques I mentioned above. However, when we take a look at their placement within the wider story, we see that their meaning falls flat and what there is of the story slowly unravels into general smut. Honestly, the use of sex in a show hinges a lot on the quality of content in between those scenes. Is there a backstory to these scenes? What importance, if any, do they have for the overall story? How are they displayed: realistic, romantic, or smutty? I tried to ask myself these questions while watching the show for a second time, and I could barely find a reason for them except for the fanservice angle. Hanabi and Mugi are supposed to be taking comfort in each other, and their age makes it likely that it’ll come to sex at some point. On the other hand, when we look at how they are displayed, there is an awful lot of fanservice and camera angles that make me think these scenes are supposed to be especially titillating for the viewer. It’s particularly evident with the sound of the characters kissing being so prominent in each scene. Add on to that the fact that pretty much every episode has at least one of these scenes in it, and it makes me think that this is less a story-driven show and more a sex-driven show.
I will say that I did enjoy the show on my first watch-through, but I could still point out some glaring flaws in the plot that became even clearer on my second time watching. What’s evident now is that what story or themes are there are not expanded on and fall flat because of flat characters. Let me ask this question: Who is Hanabi? What does she want out of life besides to be with her homeroom teacher? How about Mugi? Or Ecchan? Can you answer that question, because I can’t. Each character is only interested in love and sex, or in Akane’s case, jealousy. We don’t really get to see what makes each character unique, what their dreams for the future are, or the other interests they may have. This fact leads me more and more into thinking that this show is just thinly veiled smut. You can say that they’re high schooler’s and probably only have one thing on their mind, but I can point you to a dozen other shows that manage to make their character’s believable while also being absorbed in romance (ie. Doukyuusei, Kare Kano, Nana, etc).
To be more specific, take the two scenes where Hanabi meets with two girls from class. Each time is them asking her opinion on love and relationships. If we look a little deeper, more questions seem to come up. Why does Hanabi have no friends except Ecchan? Why are these girls coming to her now? I doubt they need her opinion on relationships just because she’s dating Mugi. Doubtless they have a bunch of other girls they can ask. What’s really going on in these scenes is a simple way to expose Hanabi’s opinions and show how the show’s events affects them over time. It provides a point of comparison that we can look back on later and see how the events of the story have affected her relative naivete about love.
I also want to take a look at the characters of Akane and Narumi (Onii-san). Akane is a character that really stood out to me on my first pass as someone who was way too over-the-top. Her character is driven by a search for jealousy and excitement to the point where she’s bragging to her student (Hanabi) about how much sex she just had with Narumi. She is basically endangering her career in the hopes of making Hanabi suffer. How much more cartoonishly evil can you get? Her actions are basically the driving force behind the plot of the show, and serve as a comparison point for Hanabi’s own character development. However, I didn’t really mind her character development by the end of everything, but with her still professing that she is still going to cheat, it seemed kind of a cop-out. Then we have Narumi-onii-san, probably the least complicated character in the whole show, who falls in love with Akane simply because her long hair remind him of his mother. He then goes on to not be phased by Akane’s change in personality. I honestly would have liked to have seen him with more of a backbone, but maybe his general lack of caring is what Akane needed in a partner.
While I don’t blame anyone for enjoying this show — I enjoyed it myself in the moment — it will probably never make it onto my list of top anime. When it came down to it, Scum’s Wish just seemed like smut fueled by taboos and dressed up in good animation to try and make it look artsy. It failed in making its characters believable, but semi-succeeded when it came to the ending that takes a step away from the basic high school romance cliches. However, if you found this anime enjoyable, please let me know in the comments what kept you watching!
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