by Jacob Chapman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Scum's Wish ?
How would you rate episode 12 of
Scum's Wish ?
"Oh, what a long first love that was..."
And just like that, Scum's Wish has come to its bittersweet conclusion, although it's more of a beginning than an end. Frankly, you kind of have to see it that way to find this finale satisfying. Hanabi, Mugi, Ecchan, Moca, and even Minagawa and Kanai are taking their first steps toward a new way of living, leaving the audience behind with nothing but the steadfast hope that everything will be okay one way or another. Thematically, I love what Scum's Wish is going for with this "careful steps forward on the road to living for yourself" finish, so these last two episodes left my heart fully satisfied. Of course, it did try to get there too fast on too thin a tightrope, which left my head asking a few too many questions.
So Kanai and Minagawa are getting married. Did that sentence just send an involuntary shudder down your spine, because it sure had that effect on me! It's easily the show's most melodramatic turn, liable to divide the viewerbase in whether you find it powerful or inscrutable, but since I'm of two minds on the twist, I'll try to explain my thoughts as carefully as possible. On the plus side, I do find it totally believable that feelings could blossom between these two characters and have a positive effect on both their lives in the short term. On the negative side, while all the rest of Scum's Wish's untold stories work well as open-ended promises for a brighter future, a marriage between Kanai and Minagawa is such an incredibly loaded idea that it feels irresponsible to just bring it up without delivering more details. We'll never know whether it turns out to be salvation for both of them or the worst mistake of their lives, and the show doesn't give us enough information to assume one way or the other. At the same time, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that seeing Kanai appear alongside Minagawa in the prison of her detached superego, allowing her to be herself with another person for the first time in her life, was an unexpectedly magical scene.
Despite not delving into Kanai's psyche deeply enough to make him feel more like a standalone character and less like a catalyst for Minagawa's hopeful future, we do get just enough information about his feelings for his decisions in episode 11 to make sense. For one thing, it turns out that sex just isn't important to him one way or the other. He isn't completely asexual, but he doesn't feel a monogamous sense of possession over the ones he loves, and he also seems to feel immense guilt over his need to fill the void his mother's death left in his life. (This is made clear by a scene that reveals he really did have romantic feelings for Hanabi, which horrified him as her mentor, since he's surprisingly self-aware about where these feelings are coming from. Dang, I'm not sure Mengo Yokoyari is capable of writing someone who isn't self-aware at this point!)
Anyway, Kanai can't do anything about the void his mother left that he keeps filling with women who remind him of her, but he feels he's doing the next best thing by not projecting expectations of his mother onto these women. Having experienced a life-changing death before, he now sees time with those he loves as a precious thing that should never be compromised if he can help it, even if that means embracing a non-monogamous relationship with the object of his affections. To Kanai, life's too short to forego spending time with the one you love, even if they might have a lifelong sex addiction (which is admittedly made easier by Kanai's low and lazy sex drive).
Now this is not a healthy attitude to take for sustaining a long-term relationship, since someone as narcissistic as Minagawa is liable to wring Kanai dry emotionally, but this level of acceptance is necessary for starting a relationship with Minagawa. Emotionally, I totally believed Kanai's acceptance of Minagawa's flaws and her attempt to try connecting with another human being as herself, no play-acting, no secrets, and no judgment. It's a big leap to take for someone who said just a few years ago that she wanted to die without anyone having known her, and there's a heartening strength to that kind of transformation, even if it feels a little rushed. If the series had ended with them just continuing to date, their subplot's end would have felt just as natural and enriching as all the other characters', but a shotgun scum-wedding? Aye, there's the rub. I can't be blindingly hopeful about such a dicey prospect, and since this final review is unfortunately coming out so late, I've gleaned from other reactions that most viewers feel the same way.
It's not impossible for a marriage to work out between these two, but it feels like an entire new story that needs to be told to justify the leap of faith. The imbalance between the dearth of focus on Kanai up to this point and the magnitude of Minagawa's issues is just too great to assume those wedding bells will echo happily ever after. Thankfully, the show does leave viewers enough room to see their future as uncertain, only promising that Minagawa and Kanai have changed for the better, without trying to assert that they've changed for good. Maybe their marriage will be a miracle, and maybe it will be a smoldering trainwreck, but it's the start of the healing process that really matters, and I totally bought that part at least.
While I do wish Kanai and Minagawa's subplot could have been stronger, Scum's Wish was never their story to begin with. Funny enough, while I wasn't expecting such a melodramatic turn of events between the two teachers, I did have my heart set on sensationalism for a completely different story thread that Scum's Wish did take in a more responsible direction. That's right, Hanabi and Mugi are never ever getting back together. I had been secretly hoping that this part of the show would be the only one to hew closer to shojo tradition, and I do think a relationship between these leads wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea, but in strictly realistic terms, it is wiser for them to both move on. Just stomp all over my shred of romanticism why don't you, Scum's Wish!
Of course, the strangest part of this is that Mugi doesn't really get much resolution after all he went through! Unlike all the other female characters, he hasn't even begun to deal with his issues, apart from the realization that he can't fix women to make himself feel better and losing Hanabi was the consequence for that mistake. But even with these important realizations, Mugi isn't given the same catharsis and freedom as Hanabi, and Hanabi is (understandably) not interested in helping him achieve it after he abandoned her. No my brother, you've got to get your own. It's truly bizarre to see a story where the four female characters are given cathartic arcs while the three-ish men are mostly treated as tools in each woman's journey to be left in stasis by the end. There are so many stories where the reverse is true that it's a total through-the-looking-glass experience in a fascinating way.
All this is not to say that Hanabi and Mugi just cut each other off. In fact, it's fitting that they only meet again when they're both going out of their way to be alone. Rather than falling into each other's arms to plead for validation and sexual satisfaction again, they laugh off the awkwardness and connect as friends with no benefits for the first time. Sitting alone together, they talk and talk for hours until they feel they've said everything but goodbye, then watch the fireworks over their school festival with the quiet understanding that both of them deserve more than they've given each other over a surprisingly "meaningless" summer. Since Mugi didn't have a Moca or an Ecchan to help him examine his self-hatred like Hanabi did, he's got a slightly longer journey ahead of him, but it's reassuring that Hanabi was able to give him the closure that his senpai never did, by parting as true friends who shouldn't hang out for a while out of mutual self-respect.
As for the other two girls, Moca indisputably came out of this whole mess stronger than anyone, blowing away her entire school with a showstopping dress she made herself and flaunting her newfound confidence in front of Hanabi's face. I wondered before what a combination of Moca's tomboy traits and feminine skills would ultimately look like, and apparently the answer is Japanese Beyoncé. She's going to have men begging to kneel under her heels once she graduates, and I couldn't be happier for her. By the same token, Ecchan is now able to embrace her desires with confidence, cutting her hair short and openly displaying her affection for Hanabi in public. She's made peace with the disappointment she feels over Hanabi's rejection, but Ecchan's determined to remain her friend despite the pain, because Hanabi is finally strong enough to share the burden. Now that they've fully forgiven and accepted each other, something tells me they'll remain close friends for many years to come.
Here at the end, the scene that stood out to me most of all was an almost disposable moment where a random classmate asks Hanabi out on a date. It's mostly a setup for Ecchan to step in and spook the would-be suitor, but before she gets dragged away by her best friend, Hanabi does something she never could have done at the beginning of the series. She goes out of her way to thank the boy for sharing his feelings, before turning him down with compassion and leaving him with a shy little smile. It really shows how much she's grown in confidence and empathy since episode one, when another boy's unwanted advances sent her into a spiral of self-loathing that she "boomeranged" back onto him to isolate herself further. At long last, Hanabi has begun the process of loving herself, which will gradually allow her to love others in turn.
Even if the road to this finale was rocky at times, I came away from Scum's Wish feeling incredibly refreshed. In a show that could have been consumed by petty judgment and sensational bitterness, I found a wellspring of empathy for people who would have easily been cast as the villain in most romance stories, especially ones aimed at teenagers. The Scum's Wish experience can be summed up pretty easily by the last exchange between Minagawa and Mugi. "Do you think I'm terrible?" she asks. "Yes, but I don't blame you," he responds. As its title makes clear, Scum's Wish isn't interested in romanticizing the terrible behavior or self-destructive attitudes of its characters, but it still believes they deserve a chance at love that can set them free. No love on earth is strong enough to save you on its own, but love can give you the strength you need to save yourself. I hope Hanabi and Mugi continue to chase their wishes to a happy ending someday.
Scum's Wish is currently streaming on Amazon's Anime Strike.
Jacob wishes Hanabi and Mugi many happier years of therapy after graduation. You can follow Jake here on Twitter.
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