by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Scum's Wish ?
Way back at the start of these reviews, I hypothesized that there was only one way for the scum of this story to escape their fate of eternally using others without ever feeling fulfilled. First, Hanabi and the others have to realize that everyone around them is just as screwed-up as they are, and then they have to use this empathy to forgive both themselves and others so they can all move forward embracing their own flaws and true desires. Of course, this journey of self-acceptance is complicated. The process can take years, and it doesn't really have a finish line, but since we only have a few episodes to reach some kind of catharsis, you'd expect Hanabi at least to start taking those first steps before the end. And yet, of all the things I was expecting to happen during Hanabi and Ecchan's date to Karuizawa, seeing both of them reach this resolution together was not one of them, but I couldn't be happier with the results.
I mean, Hanabi and Ecchan have a wildly unhealthy relationship to say the least, so sticking them together in a log cabin for a few days seems like nothing but a recipe for disaster. However, everything changes when Atsuya shows up in the cabin before them, after getting a whiff of Ecchan's plan. (It's implied that his parents own the property, so it's not like she can just tell him to leave.) While I mostly enjoyed Atsuya's therapeutic presence in the episode, forcing himself into this vacation to unnecessarily remind Ecchan of his own feelings (and even plant a kiss on her cheek) was a little gauche, and he deserved more than a soaked shirt for overdoing it. I guess we can consider this Ecchan getting a taste of her own medicine, and the parallels between these cousins become even clearer when Hanabi points out that they look so similar in profile. Pushiness and perceptivity definitely run in the family, which can make both of them incredibly caring in one moment and shockingly selfish the next.
On that note, I wanted to address an uncomfortable part of the series that has bothered some viewers, which is the exact extent of Ecchan's pushiness. While Ecchan's relationship with Hanabi is definitely emotionally coercive and unhealthy, is she also perpetrating sexual assault? After all, she initiates all of their sexual interactions, and when Hanabi brought up the idea of ending the relationship, Ecchan basically refused as if she was speaking for both of them. It's an ugly situation, and I completely understand viewers being put off enough by their dynamic to see it as rapey. I bring it up now because this episode explores this dynamic in greater detail, and given the full picture, I would personally err on the side of calling it consensual but deeply unhealthy.
Hanabi never stops wanting sexual attention from Ecchan, albeit for emotionally damaging reasons, but guilt over the thought of "using her friend" prevents her from asking for this attention directly, as well as taking half-measures to "end" it without actually sticking to her guns. So Ecchan is perceptive enough about Hanabi's desires and assertive enough to instigate all their sexual liaisons herself, even though she knows Hanabi wants sex from Ecchan to maintain their friendship, not to pursue a romantic relationship. Hanabi voluntarily puts herself in situations (like this couples' vacation) to encourage Ecchan to continue their sexual relationship because she still wants the attention, but she doesn't want to face the guilt of pursuing it outright, which only makes Ecchan more desperate, especially since she's trying to pour all her unexpressed feelings into their sexual interactions in the hopes that the pleasure alone will somehow change Hanabi's mind. It's a giant wad of bad ideas and emotional manipulation on both their parts, but I wouldn't call it sexual assault. The power balance is equal between them, the seesaw is just upside-down. And on fire.
Regardless, the emotional and sexual relationship between these two once-BFFs is absolutely in tatters, so it came as a huge surprise that a simple visit from Atsuya could turn it into something beautiful by the end of this episode. Not that he did anything to force this reconciliation between them, mind you. Instead, Atsuya's presence alone forces the girls to think about their feelings in an outside context, while he mostly stays out of the way himself, even pretending he has a cold to give the girls enough space to resolve things on their own, but not so much space that their cabin becomes a toxic hamster-ball with no mediating hand to give it a shove in the right direction.
Since both girls are such empathy sponges, absorbing Atsuya's outside perspective clears both of their heads just enough to see the whole situation in a new light, thinking more about the other two people in the cabin than themselves for once. When Ecchan thinks about the freedom Atsuya exudes by being so open with his feelings toward her, even with rejection after rejection as his only reward, it only makes her resent her decision to close off her feelings from her beloved in exchange for a counterfeit sexual relationship all the more. And when Hanabi is confronted with Atsuya's knowledge of that counterfeit relationship, she's reminded of the harmful consequences that it has on people she might not even know, along with the secret emotional fragility that Ecchan isn't as good at hiding as she thinks. In most run-of-the-mill anime drama, Atsuya would have an intervention with one or even both girls where they work out all their feelings, and he effectively saves the day by playing accidental therapist with his manly objectivity. In Scum's Wish, Atsuya cares enough to interfere with their unhealthy relationship as a foreign presence, but he also trusts them enough to work it out on their own without his direct judgment or advice. It's an incredibly refreshing approach, and the catharsis that both girls achieve might just put Hanabi on the path to helping Mugi reach his own.
Hanabi has realized with shock that she really does have feelings for Ecchan, not as her endlessly comforting lover now or endlessly supportive friend before that, but as a person just like Hanabi herself, doing the best she can to find love despite her mountain of insecurities. I don't think this could have happened without her confession to Kanai going so well, giving her the first indication that she isn't abnormal, and it's possible for people to understand each other's darkest sides without succumbing to fear. For the first time, after Ecchan slaps a sloppy kiss on her in a public park, Hanabi is able to crawl out of her own self-hating brain and taste the desperate loneliness on Ecchan's lips that mirrors her own. So she kisses Ecchan back, but on the cheek, as a symbol of understanding and unconditional love (and an interesting mirror of Atsuya's own cheek-kiss). This kind of love seems totally new to her, so she pleads with her self-hating brain to "not put a label on this feeling," and resolves that evening to come clean with Ecchan completely, even if it leaves her alone. After all, she's already lost Kanai and (for now) Mugi. She can let go again and come out the other side stronger.
Hanabi's "confession of friendship" in the rain, where she professes that she loves Ecchan so much that she wants to be her friend without any sexual gratification, and she wants to know the real Ecchan even if it makes their friendship more difficult, just so happen to mirror Ecchan's own desires in that moment. Of course she would rather have Hanabi as her girlfriend, but after getting several days of dates and nights of sex with Hanabi over the summer, she realizes that starving her feelings in exchange for a false version of her dream is actually much worse than the compromised reality where she can never have Hanabi in that way, but she can be close to her on a deeper level as people who both deserve their own freedom to be happy. It wasn't possible to come to this conclusion before because Hanabi wasn't a good friend back then; like Ecchan said, all she ever did was take and give nothing back. Now that Hanabi is ready to give back all the love she's taken as a friend rather than a lover, Ecchan can finally open the floodgates of her own feelings with faith that her new BFF can bear that burden. Their kiss in the rain is the most beautiful moment of the show so far, as both a tearful farewell to their counterfeit love and an honest expression of the true love between them that burns deeper than their differing sexualities. At long last, their Scum's Wish came true. At long last, they don't have to be alone. They're still scum, and they're still single, but they're single scum together, and that's what matters most.
Ecchan's not the only person in this episode who's decided to start embracing her feelings, consequences be damned. Once Hanabi arrives back in Tokyo, she runs into Moca wolfing down pastries in a very unladylike pose. She's still wearing frilly clothes but also less makeup, so I guess she found a happy medium between her tomboy and lolita girl self, which is great! Moca's never seemed more like her true self, able to hold her own in a bitchfest with Hanabi over their mutually disastrous liaisons with Mugi, before skipping off with a refreshing air of freedom. Watching Moca's back, Hanabi sees a reflection of her own feelings in an "enemy" for the first time in a positive way (after seeing them reflected so many times in Minagawa in a negative way). She recognizes the bittersweet joy that comes after confessing and being rejected, instead of envying Moca's happiness as the behavior of someone "normal" who doesn't understand what unrequited love feels like. It seems like the only scum still festering in the pit of their own loneliness at this point are Mugi and Minagawa, who are currently in the process of using each other in the sweatiest way possible. Gross.
Now that Hanabi and Moca are free of Mugi, and Ecchan and Hanabi are free of each other, this changes everything. I said last week that Mugi failing Hanabi in this crucial moment would probably cause her to backslide, but I hadn't counted on the kindness of Atsuya, who doesn't even have feelings for Hanabi, to turn things around so drastically. Of course, that's probably the point, since Hanabi's healing process also began with another guy who chose to be kind outside of his own feelings, Kanai. Only an untethered person who's embraced their own scummy feelings could help break the spell of self-hatred that surrounded these characters, and now that Hanabi is finally able to move forward herself, maybe she can help smack the stupid out of Mugi (and maybe even Minagawa?) with some outside perspective of her own. Then maybe, after some time has passed, they can start a brand new relationship as two kids in love who aren't afraid to be alone. I can't wait to see how this turns out.
Scum's Wish is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
Jacob will scream with glee if Scum's Wish really ends with Hanabi having to save Mugi from being a dumbass instead of the other way around. You can follow Jake here on Twitter.
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