by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Scum's Wish ?
Hanabi and Mugi both started this week's episode by renewing a very important promise, that they would confess their feelings to their teachers before the end of the summer. When Mugi ups the ante by saying he'll do it right after he finishes his summer homework, Hanabi follows suit, and I guess accelerating the timeframe really lit a fire under their asses, because they both managed to keep their promise beautifully! It's a relief to finally feel proud of these two in those fleeting minutes, but sadly, their troubles won't end with these climactic confessions. Now the real battle for the future of Hanabi and Mugi's relationship starts in earnest, as all the unexpected consequences of moving forward come crashing down on our fragile couple.
But before we can get to all that juicy business, we need to catch up with Ecchan, in a scene that seems like the worst possible thing on paper—Ecchan's (male) cousin Atsuya is being set up as her new love interest. The number of red flags that sentence raises for most viewers is probably uncountable. Does the incest bother you? Does the ages-old tactic of sweeping Ecchan's lesbian identity under the rug bother you? Does setting up Ecchan with another character regardless of their relation or gender in an attempt to resolve her issues before the story ends bother you? All these issues are totally valid, but at least in response to the last two problems, Scum's Wish handles the plotline as delicately and thoughtfully as it possibly could have, which makes me feel much better about it in execution. (I don't have any defense for that first problem though. It's just a Japanese cultural thing we have to cringe through now and again. Maybe they're like third or fourth cousins? Okay, this isn't helping, let's move on.)
Basically, this budding romance between Ecchan and Atsuya has several unexpected things going for it. First of all, Atsuya is extremely likable. He's an extremely simple guy, wholly unconcerned with his appearance or superficial social mores in general, but in a meek and kindhearted way rather than living as a rambunctious rebel. He lets his hair grow out like the world's most sheepish caveman, making it easier for him to avoid eye contact with other people. He barely even bats an eye when Ecchan tells him she's in love with another girl, and he makes his intentions to wait for her clear without even holding a grudge against the girls she chooses over him. "If you like this person, then I like her too," he says, and even though this is Scum's Wish, where emotional manipulation is par for the course, I get the impression he's telling the absolute truth and just wants the woman he loves to be happy. I don't really know how else to describe Atsuya but to call him a "very good boy," like a human puppy who's at peace with enjoying the company of the only girl he's ever felt anything for while still making his romantic feelings clear, otherwise minding his own business and not really giving a damn what the rest of the world thinks about it. He may not be the most realistic teenage boy in the world, but his awkward flaws keep him from feeling like a fantasy boyfriend either, just passive in all the right ways that Ecchan needs right now, at least as a friend if not something more.
Secondly, Scum's Wish successfully avoids the trap of using this potential relationship to negate Ecchan's preference for women. Atsuya isn't here to "cure" Ecchan of her hatred for men, but he is opening her eyes to the possibility that she might not be exclusively attracted to women. "Are you attracted to Hanabi because she's a woman? Do you hate me because I'm a man?" Atsuya asks these questions gingerly before apologizing profusely, which makes me like him even more. He's not demanding answers of Ecchan for his own benefit, but he cares about her enough that he wants to make sure she's considered them for herself. When Ecchan clarifies that she's never attached ideas of gender to Atsuya one way or the other (pretty easy to do given that he's closer to a sheepdog in demeanor than a man), he asks her to consider him as an individual alone, divorced from men or women, and see how she feels about him then. Even if she can't love him in that way, he'll still be around, as her friend. Then he blushes and hides behind his hair after making too much eye contact in his entreaty. Yeah, this guy's pretty alright. Starting a relationship with him wouldn't solve Ecchan's underlying problems by any means, and I hope the show doesn't take things in that direction, but it would probably be a healthy relationship if Ecchan is indeed more bicurious than she lets on. If she's a Kinsey 4 or 5 or so, this could certainly be the start of something lovely for both of them. (Once again, ignoring the whole cousins thing.) So I'm of two minds about this unexpected development, but I certainly don't hate it, because how could you hate a guy as affectionate, understanding, and straightforward as Atsuya, regardless of sexuality?
Now that we've gotten this sideplot out of the way, it's back to the main event, which ain't gonna be pretty. Scum's Wish has always been a bitter pill to swallow, but once it starts mixing a spoonful of sugar into its drama, things get all the more brutal. To get right to the point, Hanabi's confession scene is the most raw and refreshing that the series has been so far, more than enough to give this episode an A all by itself. After all that fear and self-loathing, there's definitely some faith-renewing magic in this honest moment of empathy between two people that Hanabi was terrified would go poorly for so long. Anyone who's made a doomed love confession of their own will intimately recognize the stages she goes through: flippancy, vulnerability, embarrassment, grief, and at long last, catharsis. Kanai handles the situation with absolute perfection, putting Hanabi's need to express all her feelings completely before the desire to express his own, so she could come out the other side of this with a sense of renewal and nothing important left unsaid.
We don't know yet whether her feelings were completely unrequited, if Kanai's rejection was based more on grounds of responsible mentorship, or if he gave no response and we may be headed for a thornier situation, but Kanai did the right thing by putting all that aside at least for this night. He may be a boring dude, and he may have several unexamined issues of his own that I hope we revisit one last time before the story ends, but just like Hanabi, Kanai really is a good person who can't help but care deeply about the feelings of others. If this story was only about Hanabi, this would probably be a good place to end the series entirely, as she gazes up at the moon feeling more normal than she's ever let herself feel before. “It's okay!" she says, "I know that I can change. Because I'm not alone.”
Except she is, because Mugi is currently in flagrante delicto with the devil herself.
Scum's Wish is a cruel, cruel, cruel mistress. Mugi's own confession to Minagawa was just as straightforward, but when she responded by manipulating him the same way she manipulates all her victims, he succumbed to temptation. Of course, it would be completely unfair to blame Minagawa for this; Mugi knew she was a snake when he picked her up, so this is all his fault. “I know that you're a horrible, promiscuous, broken narcissist!” he shouts, which is probably the worst dirty talk she's ever heard. But unlike Leftovers-kun, Mugi isn't using his knowledge of Minagawa's true nature to excuse a one-night stand. He really, truly, deeply wants the chance to "save her" from her dependence on sexual attention to feel validated—so he can save himself from the same fate. "I'm going to be the first man you fall in love with," he says, while his subconscious practically screams "If I can make you love me, then I will finally be able to love myself."
Mugi has reached his lowest point, and if this ruins his potential relationship with Hanabi, the shame he's felt since middle school over being used (which was just now beginning to wane with Hanabi's willingness to sacrifice their sexual relationship out of love for Mugi as a person) will resurge and consume even more years of his life, ruining his chance at more meaningful relationships. Mugi has to accept that no amount of love or sex will make what happened between him and his old senpai right. He lost respect for himself back then that he can only get back with a lot of hard work, patience, and forgiveness. It's not something anyone else can give him through some poetic "mutual rescue," no matter how much of himself he sees in that person. If the clock wasn't ticking already, it certainly is now.
While it may have started slow, this was an emotionally exhausting episode of Scum's Wish by the end, and I didn't even get to Moca's little cameo along the way! She seems to have resolved to discard her princess persona for good, which is an intriguing development. I'm eager to see tomboy Moca again, but I also hope she doesn't give up her acquired love for girly things. Either way, if she's on the road to discovering who she is and what she wants outside the promise of a dream relationship, that means she's already way ahead of our other leads! If Mugi's really screwed the pooch on this one, Hanabi will have to accept that she can change even if she does have to do it alone, before she inevitably starts clinging to someone else to fill the void. I'm not sure her heart's ready for that challenge just yet, so get it together, Mugi!
Scum's Wish is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
Jacob would legit wear Ecchan's excellent “Scum's Wish” baseball cap around in public. You can follow Jake here on Twitter.
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