by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Scum's Wish ?
Well, it's finally happened. After three episodes of tempting and torment, Hanabi has started falling to the dark side of the force, finally turned by Darth Minagawa's cruelest wound. "Last night, I had sex with Mr. Kanai," she whispers, and the world around Hanabi tumbles into a deep well of shadow and ink.
Of course, this shouldn't be so dramatic for anyone who's not Hanabi, but her series of eternally compounding issues have turned what should be a hollow "victory" for Minagawa into a devastating blow for our poor heroine, and the rest of this episode is devoted to fully exploring why Kanai's undivided attention is so important to her. But before we get to that, it's time for Hanabi's devastatingly critical voice of self-hatred to rear its ugly head, when she tries to justify taking revenge on Minagawa by becoming just like her. It's a fascinating dynamic to watch, as Hanabi indulges in all the understandable emotional reasons why taking Minagawa's conquests away from her would be great, right before her evil-child-self accuses her of being selfish and trying to bury her pain in counterfeit pleasure. As the rest of the episode makes clear, Hanabi's incredible self-awareness is both her greatest strength and weakness, allowing her to adapt quickly to tough situations while overloading her heart with self-hatred.
Anyway, Hanabi's emotional needs win out over her harsh self-critique in the end, which means the first order of business is limiting her sexual pursuits to "valuable" targets: anyone tied to Minagawa is in, and anyone who's not is out. She tells Mugi once again that she wants to try pursuing a real relationship with him, which makes him happy, but he'll definitely change his tune if he ever finds out the true reason behind it. Hanabi also wants to end her sexual relationship with Ecchan, but not purely for vengeful reasons. While it's true that being intimate with Ecchan doesn't help in her power play against Minagawa and may even put her at risk, Hanabi also wants to move on out of honest love for her friend, not wanting to hurt her anymore by using her, now that she sees "using people for sex" as a truly dark and evil decision. But Ecchan's response to this shocks both Hanabi and the unsuspecting audience, because she doesn't see it that way at all. "Why not just continue to use me? I don't mind."
Yes, we've all been underestimating Ecchan, assuming she had more in common with Moca, when in truth, she's more like Minagawa than she lets on. Ecchan is playing a long game, because unlike Hanabi, she doesn't see sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy as one and the same. Hanabi can "use" her for sex all she wants, and she'll keep her true feelings, her overwhelming desire to make Hanabi fall for her body and soul, close to her chest. Once again, Scum's Wish draws parallels between characters with seemingly opposite personalities. Minagawa doesn't understand what love is supposed to feel like, while Ecchan is so painfully familiar with the feeling that it may consume her, but they're both extremely perceptive about the feelings of others while experts at hiding their own. Minagawa uses this power to exploit as many people as possible, but Ecchan hopes to use it to win the heart of just one girl.
In the short term, this means giving Hanabi advice as her "friend" that Ecchan knows will destroy her relationships with the men in her life. Ecchan might be able to separate love and sex in her mind with relative ease, but she also knows that Hanabi can't do that yet, so she challenges Hanabi to push the limits of her heart. "It's easy to make men fall for you," Ecchan suggests, "You just have to become whatever kind of person they'll find attractive." Hanabi rebels against this idea immediately. Changing herself to get men to sleep with her seems pointless, because she still sees sex only as a validation of the other person's emotional desires and her own self-worth. If she's not winning them over as "herself," then what's the point? Ecchan challenges this: "What's wrong with having yourself be the only one who knows who you truly are?" Of course, this is a double-edged philosophy, both useful for protecting your heart and your privacy from the average suitor, but deadly when it comes to forging a serious relationship built on trust. So it's good for sex, but bad for love, which sums up Ecchan's strengths and weaknesses pretty well. Ecchan's societal need to suppress her sexuality has given her a much healthier attitude about the separation of sex and love, but that also means her surprisingly mature understanding of sex is completely divorced from her dangerously toxic understanding of love. This ultimately results in Ecchan giving "good" advice about seduction to someone she knows isn't prepared for it, out of a "bad" desire to gradually coerce Hanabi into accepting her love.
However, in a great twist on audience expectations, Hanabi's takeaway from this conversation is surprisingly positive. When Ecchan unintentionally reveals that she can be intimate with people without revealing her true feelings, Hanabi immediately makes a connection between her and Minagawa, planting a seed of doubt in her mind about this whole plan. After all, if people like Ecchan and Minagawa are able to hide their feelings so well, maybe their too-fervent assurance that the sexual attention they're getting is enough to make them happy is all a lie. Maybe they are just as miserable as she is! It's a small but extremely important step to Hanabi escaping from her cycle of isolated self-loathing.
Of course, it's not enough to sway her from the dark path of revenge against Minagawa yet, and it wouldn't be Scum's Wish without a spectacular failure at seduction right out of the gate! With Mugi now in her court, Hanabi's next attempt at emotionless conquest lands on the guy she saw with Minagawa at the Denny's a while back. This former student, who I'll call Leftovers-kun until he gets a name, takes an immediate shine to Hanabi, making her think she's got this sucker in the bag. Unfortunately, Minagawa's Leftovers can't be stolen, because— gasp!—he has a totally healthy relationship with his sexuality! Just like that, Hanabi has met her match. Unlike her, Leftovers-kun doesn't care if there are any emotions attached to this lay, and he can't be emotionally coerced into having sex or not having it based on who's slept with who in the past. If a night of passion leads to a relationship with Hanabi, that's an added bonus, but if it doesn't, he'll just go back to sleeping around with various women who he knows are probably sleeping around with other guys. He likes Hanabi, but he's not selling his heart to her immediately even if they happen to have sex.
Their mutual agreement not to bang yet but meet up for another date sometime later is the most honest and healthy sexual interaction anyone's had in the show so far, but it's a total disaster in Hanabi's mind. And yet, once again, she rewards us with a flicker of hope by taking some unexpected insight from such a bad situation. Her date with Leftovers-kun has made it clear to Hanabi that she and Minagawa are not "scum" in the same way at all. Minagawa finds it easy to conquer men because she's a total narcissist who doesn't feel the need to be loved and understood by her conquests. (And at least one of her conquests understands this right back.) Hanabi realizes that even if she takes Ecchan's advice and pretends to be a different person, she'll still be playing Minagawa's wicked game with a handicap, because she can't help wanting genuine approval and affection even from men she doesn't care about. She was the one trying to seduce Leftovers-kun, but he was already down for no-strings-attached sex, while Hanabi wasn't. Despite this revelation, Hanabi still hasn't decided to stop playing the game yet, so things are going to get much worse before they get better.
The truth is that while learning to separate love and sex like Ecchan and Minagawa is an important hurdle for Hanabi to overcome, it will only ease her pain slightly without addressing the real underlying problem that the three of them still share. Hanabi can only escape a dark future of using and being used, loving and screwing just to feel less "empty," by learning to separate her self-worth from both love and sex. The problem is that all three women have a faulty definition of love that forcibly ties it into their senses of self-worth. Ecchan sees love as a powerful emotion that can be manipulated to force the results you need. Minagawa sees love as a weakness she's desperate to defeat through sheer force of will. And Hanabi refuses to let go of her destructive ideal of love, where two people rely on each other for all approval and self-worth. We've known this about her for a while, but we finally see where this belief in a twisted love comes from in a nightmare from Hanabi's childhood.
From a very young age, Hanabi was told that her dad left the family because she was born, forcing her to see herself as the poison that slowly corroded her parents' marriage. This abandonment not only molded her self-hatred into the form of herself as a child, but also put a hard limit on the love that she believed she could ever have. In Hanabi's mind, her mother only loved her because she needed her as an emotional crutch, and Hanabi only loves Kanai because she needed him for the same reason. If Kanai does not need her in the same way, he will leave, but if he does find a way to need her, he will stay. Love has to mean passionate codependence to Hanabi, because she's convinced that everyone will leave her if they don't need her for some specific purpose. (This also explains why she had sex with Ecchan to preserve their friendship but then broke the relationship off for the exact same reason.) It's a devastating answer to the question of what traps a girl as smart and capable as Hanabi in such a destructive loop, but it doesn't make her struggle any less sympathetic.
Hopefully, Hanabi will be able to understand someday that love isn't about needing someone to feel complete. Codependent relationships can last for a while without turning into bitterness, but when they inevitably do, they become emblematic of the kind of love that dies with time, the very opposite of what Hanabi believes holds a relationship together. (Her parents were most likely in a codependent relationship themselves, perhaps having Hanabi to save the marriage, which allowed them to blame her when it didn't.) Healthy, sustainable love is about two people putting lots of hard work into making each other feel needed because they want to be together, and sex is just one small part of that complicated equation. Rebuilding her definition of love isn't something Hanabi can do without reaching out to others, but are any of the characters around her strong enough to help? Mugi? Ecchan? Leftovers-kun? Can Hanabi find a way to save herself simply by learning to love herself, or will that not be enough?
The future is uncertain, but we've definitely exhausted our Hanabi content for now, so it's time for Moca to re-enter the picture. After feeling neglected by Hanabi and suspecting her of cheating on him (she is), Mugi jokingly asks Moca out on a date. He's surprised when she accepts the offer, and I don't think this will be the first time he's surprised by Moca. He claims to know her game completely, and the audience probably feels the same way, so I think we'll discover more to Moca next week just like we uncovered new dark depths in Ecchan this week. And so, the minute Hanabi and Mugi begin pursuing an honest relationship, they've already started cheating on each other. Ah, young love!
So this episode gave me a lot to talk about (as always), but if I'm being honest, it was a very slight step down compared to the previous half of the series. While its observations on sexual psychology and intimate emotions were as powerful as ever, the show has been coming on a little too strong as it dives deeper into melodrama, sometimes delivering with a sledgehammer what might have been more meaningful with a gentle tap. I mean, comparing Hanabi's struggle to Star Wars didn't seem like an exaggeration, so they may be laying on the imagery a little thick this week. I do think turning the old "cycle of violence" that drives cautionary revenge stories into a "cycle of sex" is a great idea I haven't seen executed this well before. If revenge is a dish best served cold, I can't imagine Hanabi's hot and steamy approach will serve her tender heart well.
Scum's Wish is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
Jacob can't believe he used to think Ecchan was the sweetest character in the cast. He feels so betrayed. You can follow Jake here on Twitter.
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