Scum's Wish
Episode 4

by Jacob Chapman,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Scum's Wish ?

What is the opposite of love? Is it hate? Maybe apathy? It's an impossible question, but Scum's Wish puts forth its own engrossing answer in episode four. Perhaps the opposite of love is fear.

Not only is Ms. Minagawa far from the angelic figure she seemed to be in those early episodes, she might even be a full-blown sociopath. She remarks that she isn't able to imagine loving any other person more than she loves herself, but when she was much younger, she did make an attempt to understand that feeling, however briefly. After sort-of-accidentally stealing her best friend's crush just to see if he liked her and how it would feel, Minagawa is shocked by how deeply his rejection wounds her friend. She felt neither pride nor guilt over what she'd done (both would require a deeper empathic connection to the situation), only a crippling fear: "I realized that I would rather die than see myself emotionally exploited like her." To her, love equaled weakness, and she would have to become strong enough to ensure that such a horrible thing never happened to her.

From that day on, love became Minagawa's enemy. Unable to see anything lovable in the men around her on her own, she bases her targets of conquest on the affection of others, thinking that it gives them some value worth taking. She continually drowns herself in the attention of "stolen" men until they begin actually falling for her instead of just using her for sex, at which point she cuts them off to seek another target. But does that make her evil? I don't think so, because I don't think Minagawa "loves herself" as much as she let on. If she did, why would she cut men off right when they begin to fall for her, stating that they're fools for believing that there is anything to love in her? More than anything, Minagawa represents a warning for Hanabi's future. In fact, Minagawa herself thinks so too.

The truth is that Minagawa has found her own twisted kind of love by living a life devoid of that very emotion. Without fully realizing it, Minagawa's lifestyle of hopscotching from one empty adrenaline high to the next has made her miserable, and misery loves company. She recognizes a kindred spirit of self-loathing in Hanabi and wants to see her "cross over to this side." She wants to see Hanabi join her in an existence of only taking from others and never expecting reciprocation. She wants Hanabi to "accept" herself as a woman who is not "worth" loving because she does not understand love.

The two are perfect foils to one another, opposite and yet identical. Minagawa's lack of empathy forces her to see the world around her as alien and inferior to her, while Hanabi's inferiority complex forces her to see the world around her as normal and superior to her, but they're both trapped in the same cycle of self-loathing for feeling so alone. Despite taking opposite positions in their own minds, they are dealing with their mutual fears in the exact same way; they do everything in their power to avoid being physically alone, even if they remain alone in their own minds.

So after about ten minutes of rolling around in these emotions so the audience can fully understand these two complex characters, the episode takes a sharp turn into new developments when Mr. Kanai (Hanabi's homeroom teacher, who will also be referred to by name going forward) finally confesses his feelings to Minagawa, and the two begin officially going out. Hanabi is visibly crushed, and Minagawa revels in her feelings by proxy, preparing to ride that high into another notch on her bedpost and another few weeks free from the fear of feeling alone. Before we get into Hanabi's next move however, I want to spend just one short paragraph on Kanai's own feelings.

While it's not safe to trust everyone's self-descriptions in Scum's Wish, I have to agree with Kanai's belief that he is "a very boring guy" for now. Despite his wallflower demeanor, he's actually most similar to Moca so far, despite lacking even her crumbs of self-awareness. He doesn't attach strong emotions of love or hatred to basically anything, but finds himself drawn to Ms. Minagawa because she reminds him of his mother, who passed away three years ago. As one important woman exits his life, another one enters it. "It must be fate," he thinks, mistakenly thinking of his life as some guided fairytale where a relationship will prove his own worth or destiny as a person. He's a prince in search of a princess, but he's been lured in by a dragon instead.

It's too early to say for sure, but I do find it fascinating that Scum's Wish is playing the old virgin/whore dichotomy with Kanai and Mugi, a dynamic usually attributed to women in male-perspective stories of sexual awakening. While they're both believable characters with their own complexities, there is definitely a "distance" to the boys' characterization that isn't reflected in the more intimate characterizations of the female cast. They're mostly treated as "tragically defiled" or "foolishly pure" versions of a standard male love interest archetype, defined by either "too much" or "too little" sexual experience. It will be interesting to see if Scum's Wish becomes more intimate with the perspectives of its male characters, or if it turns out to be the rare (almost unheard of) genderflipped version of the male sexual awakening story we've heard so many times before.

Anyway, after the shock of Kanai's confession, Hanabi runs to Mugi for comfort before stopping short. She needs things to remain stable between them so she can figure out where their relationship is going, and who knows what a shake-up like this could do to their relationship? So instead, Hanabi crosses paths with Ecchan. Perceptive as she is, Ecchan is the only one who sees the truth of this whole situation, realizing that Hanabi is desperate for someone to "use" right now but can't go to Mugi for some reason. She also knows that Hanabi will never love her back, but this is the only chance for her to have sex with the girl she loves, so she takes advantage of the opportunity to play Mugi's part for at least one night.

It's a messed-up situation, as Hanabi is coerced physically and Ecchan is coerced emotionally into the world's saddest lesbian sex scene, but it's also the most honest moment that any two characters have shared so far in the show. Hanabi admits that she's still not attracted to Ecchan in that way, only doing this to hold on to their friendship, but she's surprised by how good the sex still feels. Ecchan replies that it feels good because that's what it feels like to be intimate with someone who loves you, something that Hanabi has never experienced before. It's Ecchan's last little desperate bid for consideration in Hanabi's heart, but despite the satisfying sex and the knowledge that Ecchan truly loves her, Hanabi is inevitably going to run back to Mugi. Sadly, Ecchan just smells and feels too feminine to act as a replacement for Kanai, and the knowledge that Ecchan loves her doesn't help, since like Minagawa, Hanabi can't see anything in herself worth loving.

Maybe that's why she's obsessed with Kanai, why it "has to be him" to carry her feelings; maybe it's because she knows that relationship is impossible, sparing her the burden of someone else's feelings when she hates herself so much. It's interesting that Hanabi's self-loathing takes the form of herself as a child. Was there a specific moment in her childhood where she remembers first beginning to hate herself, giving that voice of hatred such a specific face? Evil-child-Hanabi keeps popping up, so I get the feeling we'll find out before the end of the show.

Episode four ends with a confrontation between Hanabi and the specter of her dark future, Ms. Minagawa. It seems like Minagawa is so desperate to escape her loneliness that she's prepared to be completely honest with Hanabi about her twisted feelings, so we'll have to see what effect this "you don't know the power of the dark side" speech has on our heroine next week. I almost can't believe we're only one-third of the way through this story, as it plumbs the darkest depths of self-loathing and our fears of loneliness with shocking insight and vulnerability. I shudder to think what lies at the bottom of this well, but I'm still holding out hope for a little happiness before the end.

Rating: A-

Scum's Wish is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.

Jacob thinks virginity is kind of a stupid concept, but it seems like Hanabi lost hers in this episode while Ecchan didn't, which is pretty weird. Anyway, you can follow Jake here on Twitter.

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