Scum's Wish
Episode 5

by Jacob Chapman,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Scum's Wish ?

Last week's episode proposed that the thing keeping all the "scum" in this story from being able to love was fear. This week's episode reveals where all this fear comes from. While the details may be different for Moca, Ecchan, Minagawa, and Kanai, our main couple's loneliness stems from the same place: fear of abandonment.

In Hanabi's case, she and her mother were abandoned by her father when she was a child, leading her mother to become emotionally dependent on her when she was far too young to handle such a burden. Her mother cried and broke down so frequently that it soon numbed Hanabi to her own emotions completely, and this is where Kanai comes in. His mother was probably still alive at the time, and he seems to have been raised in a fairly supportive household, making him an emotionally stable safe place for Hanabi to vent her own deep sorrow at the whole awful situation. Soon, Kanai was the only person that Hanabi could express her true emotions around, allowing her to idolize him as the only one who wouldn't be "burdened" by these small expressions of her true self. But now that role is gradually being filled by Mugi instead...

Speaking of Mugi, if it seemed wrong to you last week that such a perceptive guy could be fooled by Minagawa's angelic facade, then you're a pretty good judge of character yourself. While he probably doesn't see the full picture behind her sex addiction, he does know that it exists, which has taken him from mild infatuation to a full-blown savior complex over her. Like Hanabi, Mugi's emotional abandonment by someone he trusted, in this case an ex rather than a parent, has caused him to put all his eggs in one basket when it comes to the kind of person he "deserves" to be with. After his adolescence was "stolen" from him by a girl who used him for his body, Mugi gradually became disgusted by his own sexual desires, so now he thinks that the only woman he can help is someone who's equally sexually codependent. Of course, that role is gradually being filled by Hanabi instead...

So this new solution for Hanabi and Mugi has just reawakened old problems. Both of them have severe abandonment issues, which means that the second their "replacement relationship" begins to feel real, both of them start to back out. Even though it hurts both of them deeply, they've started spending more and more time apart because they've now become emotionally intimate enough to trigger a fear of getting closer. While it's easy to blame this newfound distance on Minagawa, Hanabi admits that it feels like some silent agreement was made to stop "talking about serious things," which made it harder for them to find the time to spend with one another for fear of going "too far" sexually to fill the silence. It seems like Hanabi's already forgotten that this silent agreement kicked in the day after she told Mugi that she wanted to try dating "for real."

Of course, their fledgling sexual desires make the whole situation much more complicated than just drifting apart as friends. The intoxicating sexual intimacy they shared has ramped up a carnal itch for both of them that need to be scratched one way or another. They've gotta have it and they've gotta get it from somewhere, but they're too screwed up emotionally to have it with one another. Taking that step between themselves would make the relationship "real," sending their abandonment anxiety through the roof with the realization that their feelings are already invested, but there's no way this can actually work out. And so, ever self-aware about the mess they've gotten into, Hanabi and Mugi decide to put out that hormonal fire by turning to safer targets who aren't likely to say no.

Once again, I love how Scum's Wish avoids making any two emotional circumstances identical, even between two characters with such similar fears trying to solve a problem in such similar ways. Realizing that they can't really have no-strings-attached sex with one another, Mugi punishes himself by picking someone he's physically but not emotionally attracted to, while Hanabi punishes herself by picking someone with the opposite criteria. Mugi has no trouble sleeping with his ex to feel less alone, because she can't make him feel any more abandoned than she already has. He's free to hate himself all the more for his purely physical codependency on her rearing its ugly head. When he begs her for some kind of rescue in his own head, perhaps secretly hoping that she'll want to reconcile the past with him since he reached out to her so pathetically, she ends their evening by saying that things are settled because that was the first time that he actually wanted it instead of her, then goes home without even spending the night. Brutal.

Hanabi's sexual relationship with Ecchan is effortless for the opposite reason. She's not attracted to her friend, but she's afraid Ecchan will abandon her if they don't continue to have sex. This allows her to hate herself for her emotional codependency rather than a physical connection. While it's a tragically sympathetic mistake, Ecchan really screwed up in telling Hanabi that she was able to make her feel good because she loved her. Now Hanabi can use that as both a salve to fill the space she's afraid to fill with Mugi, and ammunition to target herself for taking something she doesn't deserve. Like Mugi, she's trying to make herself feel pathetic and disposable because validation only leads to abandonment. But even as she continues to use Ecchan for sex, Hanabi can't get the image of Minagawa out of her head. If she wants to convince herself that she's not like her, she'll have to try and move forward in her relationship with Mugi sooner or later. Unfortunately, her attempts to go "all the way" with him still end in failure thanks to her psychologically unprepared downstairs, which is bound to come back to haunt her when Minagawa "beats her" in succeeding at her own twisted mission.

"Success" or not though, Minagawa seems to have met her match in Kanai, the rare man who genuinely seems to be more interested in her heart than her body. When her usual seduction techniques don't work and he just keeps asking about starting up a relationship, she tries to get them both completely plastered, only to find out that Kanai doesn't even drink, handicapping her further as she dizzily sinks under the table. In any other romance, this might be the point where Kanai nobly sweeps her up in his arms and she feels love for him blossom in her heart for the first time. But this isn't some dreamy fairytale where the broken woman gets rescued by the noble prince. This is Scum's Wish. It can only go downhill from here.

When Minagawa topples to the concrete after about ten too many shots, Kanai catches her and lets a concerned cry of "Hana" escape his lips. Now the jig is up, and Minagawa has figured out this "boring guy's" real game. Just as she serves as a warning for Hanabi's dark future despite their massively different origins and personalities, Kanai represents the same thing for Mugi. It's too early to say for sure, but I get the feeling Kanai didn't cry out Hana's name because he's sexually attracted to her, any more than he would be sexually attracted to the lost mother he compares both Hana and Minagawa to in his mind. This guy's got a savior complex, and he's got it bad. Losing his mother was probably the most traumatizing thing that ever happened to the otherwise relatively sheltered Kanai, so he probably doubled down on caring for Hana to fill the void and re-assert some sense of control over his life and the lives of the people he loves. Likewise, he fell for Minagawa because he sensed her loneliness and ennui, so he wants to fill the void in her heart and keep her "safe" for the same reason. Losing his mother without any closure had the same effect on Kanai that losing his virginity without any closure had on Mugi. They're both desperate to regain some agency in their lives after losing something precious to them, and they're projecting this onto the women in their lives to avoid confronting that sense of weakness in themselves.

So if she's "won," what danger does this pose to Minagawa? Well, once she realizes that Kanai will only have sex with her if he thinks it's for her benefit rather than his own, she changes her tactics and plays at sheepish jealousy over Hanabi. The problem with this "deception" is that unlike all the others before, it's just a slightly tweaked performance of the truth. She has to "manipulate" Kanai by giving him what he wants, and he wants the real her. Will this backfire if Minagawa can't maintain the balance between the Minagawa she creates for Kanai and the real Minagawa that isn't so different from this heartfelt "fake?" I think she's playing with fire on this one, but at least she's landed a brutal blow on Hanabi as she gloats over taking her beloved in bed. Now Hanabi is torturing herself over her inadequacy in two relationships: the hopeless fantasy with Kanai and the artificial relationship with Mugi that's becoming more real to her every day.

I hope Hanabi doesn't rush into any stupid decisions as a result of this, but it's probably going to happen. We're almost halfway through Scum's Wish, and I can't believe how tangled the web of emotions between all these characters has become. Once you get past all the lurid teenage tonsil hockey on its surface, Scum's Wish has some of the most savvy observations on the psychology of sex and intimacy I've seen from an anime, and I can't wait to dive even deeper as the cast's painfully relatable fears push them into uncharted territory.

Rating: A

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

Jacob suspects that Minagawa getting her targets super-drunk before sex has backfired before, seeing as boners and alcohol don't mix. You can follow Jake here on Twitter.

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