by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Scum's Wish ?
Quick disclaimer: for whatever reason, Amazon's subtitles for this episode were not great, with stiff grammar and confusing word choices that often had me investigating the original Japanese lines to figure everybody's emotions out. For a goofier example of this problem, Minagawa asks Kanai "Are you a cheatable?" at one point, a phrase I have never heard in my life. In that instance, it was a lot easier to just listen for the original Japanese word. (Hint: the translation they should have gone with rhymes with "duckoldry.") To make a long story short, I had way more trouble than usual with this episode thanks to the wonky translation, so try not to hold any misunderstandings against me too much.
Well, Scum's Wish really surprised me this week. For perhaps the first time, this series caught me off guard by delivering exactly what I expected to happen from start to finish.
On the one hand, being able to see these "twists" coming is at least a sign of consistent characterization; Mugi, Minagawa, and Kanai are absolutely the people they've said they are for the past several episodes, and each of their actions this week make total sense. On the other hand, I'm not really crazy about things playing out so safely when this show has proven its power to completely betray my expectations so often in the past, with last week's fantastic episode being a perfect example. Maybe there just isn't as much wiggle room for the unexpected when Minagawa is in the spotlight, since her actions are textbook narcissist power plays that never change even a smidge. While there's plenty of emotional nuance under her sociopathic exterior, Minagawa still just doesn't have as much depth as the rest of the cast, resulting in an episode with familiar plot beats that coast us through to an unusually comfortable conclusion.
Mugi kicks off episode ten with the realization that he's made a huge mistake. While he vowed to "save" Minagawa by becoming the first man she can love, he soon realizes that he's playing this game with the same handicap that crippled Hanabi in her attempt to seduce Leftovers-kun. (He's called "Takuya" several times in this episode, but I'm too attached to the name Leftovers-kun to switch now!) Mugi has absolutely no leverage over Minagawa because his feelings are hooked on every move she makes, while she couldn't care less about any part of him that isn't a six-inch chunk below his waist. Minagawa can basically do whatever (and whoever) she wants, and Mugi will be waiting patiently for her to come back, which is not the prince-on-a-white-horse comeback he had hoped for. This is even clear from the way they have sex; Minagawa always makes Mugi call her "teacher," and she always controls him from on top. Mugi has no agency in their liaisons, and he doesn't even have access to her as a person. She's just getting off on forcing Mugi to acknowledge that he's being used, which also happens to be his own self-flagellating kink. Anything he does to show her how much he loves her will push him deeper into this powerless position, as she sponges off this increased validation without ever returning his feelings. The only way out is to break it off with her and admit defeat.
At least, that's how it seems at first. Way back when Minagawa first seduced Kanai, I suggested that she was playing a dangerous game by "roleplaying" something eerily close to her true self, and those chickens finally come home to roost on a date to the aquarium. Apparently, this is just the latest date of so many with Kanai that Minagawa has lost count, and she's getting bored of his sincere attempts at courtship. Having never felt love herself, Minagawa can't imagine anything within herself worth loving, so she thinks of all her social interactions as an exchange of validation and satisfaction. She takes these things from men and women in completely different ways, but the goal is always the same. But even though she's been coming up empty on every boring new date with Kanai, she keeps going in the hopes that she can get him in bed again until he's just as tamed as Mugi and her various other boy-toys. Just what is Kanai getting out of this small talk when he could have her body any time he wants?
Minagawa doesn't realize that Kanai has fallen for the little pieces of her true self that she's accidentally given him by "playing" the role of the needy woman who pursued Kanai out of jealousy over Hanabi. Date after date, he's been spending time with something pretty close to the real her, and he's still smitten. For perhaps the first time, Minagawa is the one being "used." Kanai enjoys his time with her, while she gets nothing out of it but the faint hope that it will lead to sex and make her feel validated. She's pursuing him! She accidentally let him have all the power in this relationship! Once she realizes this, Minagawa is horrified and decides to break things off at the end of the night.
Unfortunately for Minagawa, she won't get to slip away from Kanai on her own terms. Leftovers-kun finally plays his final role in this love quadrangle by revealing Minagawa's true nature to Kanai. He slut-shames her in public (glass houses, Leftovers-kun), and Minagawa enjoys a quick fantasy of denying this and decking him before she realizes that there's no reason to change up her style now. So why did she briefly entertain the idea? Why does she feel a twinge of sadness after turning away from Kanai to go home and sleep the night off with one of her students instead? She doesn't seem to have grown feelings for Kanai—she still finds him as boring and inscrutable as ever—but I think she's mourning the loss of a real connection with another human being divorced from sex. Even if Kanai himself was boring, there was something new (and a bit alarming) about being around someone who wanted to know the real her. Of course, now that he thinks she's just a filthy sex addict...
Much to her surprise, Kanai embraces her, saying that it's okay if she's a sex addict. He still wants to spend time with her. She doesn't have to change a thing. My guess is that Kanai's savior complex and fear of abandonment (basically the only two things we know about the guy, both stemming from his mother's death) sorta kicked into overdrive at the same time, causing him to reassure Minagawa without fully considering what he was promising, simply because he wants her to stay in his life. He overdoes this so hard that Minagawa understandably wonders if he has some kind of NTR fetish that he's trying to hide. Truth be told, I don't have much perspective on why Kanai would react this way yet. I'm mostly talking out of my ass right now when it comes to Kanai, so I hope we get at least a little more background on his issues before the story ends.
Regardless of whether Kanai has quite thought this through, Minagawa has finally been shown love for who she really is, putting her in completely unfamiliar territory. Plenty of other people know about her true nature, but no one's really accepted it. Leftovers-kun wants to use her without prodding any deeper. Mugi wants to change her. What is she supposed to do with someone who wants to love her for who she is, body and soul? The question has distracted her enough that she even begins to keep Mugi at less of a distance, giving him just enough wiggle room to ask her out on a normal date.
As I predicted last week, Hanabi has gotten over her issues enough by now that she's able to extricate her feelings for Mugi from what he needs from her right now without wallowing in feelings of isolation and self-hatred. She seems to be happy for him actually getting what he wanted, but she also seems to sense that it's not everything he hoped it would be. So she leaves him on the rooftop with one piece of advice: if he's going to try and change somebody, he should start with himself.
This leads Mugi to realize that he's been limiting himself to women who "need him" because he was trapped in self-hatred just like Hanabi, who's found some way to free herself from it. He was living under the delusion that he could only use or be used long before this became the status quo with Hanabi or Minagawa. He couldn't see himself as someone worth loving or screwing if it wasn't scratching some itch because he was introduced to sex by being used, and then his love for the girl who used him followed unrequited. He hated that this codependence turned him on, but he'd also accepted that he didn't deserve any better. Of course, Mugi is more than the hurt that someone else caused him. He has to stop writing himself off as "damaged goods" that can only get off to being used and start making an effort to become the man he really wants to be. He has to make a push for Minagawa's heart instead of her body, even if this means that she'll push him away for good, because he has to respect what he really wants: a relationship with someone who wants to be around him outside the bedroom.
While Hanabi's advice is important for Mugi to move forward, it wouldn't have meant much without the delusion-breaking love of a completely different person: Moca. Mugi's childhood friend showed him that he was worth loving by changing herself, embarrassing herself, even doing things that made her deeply uncomfortable, all because she wanted to be with him. She knew from the start that her feelings were unrequited, but she inconvenienced herself over and over with no reward out of love. (The reasons for this love were complicated and selfish, but from Mugi's side of things, even being chosen as the prince to her princess is an honor that he's only now starting to reconcile with his self-hating brain.) Now Hanabi has changed so much over the summer that it's kind of unbelievable, so if she has faith that he can change too, it just might be true.
Mugi and Minagawa have sailed through the process of learning to see value in themselves pretty damn quick, but even such an accelerated journey feels like a natural extension of everything that's been building for the past several weeks. My guess is that Minagawa will grow just enough to open up to Mugi on their date together, and Mugi will grow just enough to realize he doesn't actually want her so much anymore. Minagawa can't just be accepted for her true self, she has to be rejected for her true self as well to finally start contextualizing her identity beyond a black hole of unsatisfied id. Just like Hanabi and Ecchan did last week, Mugi and Minagawa will have to recognize each other as two ordinary souls in a world full of screwed-up people with similar problems before their burden is lifted. It might not be realistic for the whole cast to be at peace with one another by the end of the series, but I can't help but want to see that outcome, even if it's starting to feel predictable at this point. I love these characters so much that I'm okay with handwaving a little turbo-therapy at the finish line.
Scum's Wish is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
Jacob has never heard the term "cheatable" before, but he definitely knows what "netorare" means. You can follow Jake here on Twitter.
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