Scum’s Wish

Senior high school student Hanabi Yasuraoka is in love with her homeroom teacher Narumi Kanai, an old neighbour who is only a few years Hanabi’s senior and who has known her since childhood. Mugi Awaya is in the same year level as Hanabi, and is in love with popular music teacher Akane Minagawa, who has been his tutor since junior high. When Hanabi and Mugi realise not only the unrequitable nature of their respective feelings, but also that the two teachers are becoming a couple, they decide upon a desperate pact: even though they aren’t in love with one another, they will become a sham couple for the purpose of providing each other with physical and emotional comfort. However, their plan to compensate for their shared heartache is threatened by the fact that Mugi’s childhood friend Noriko has always viewed him through the rose-tinted lens of romantic sentimentality, and isn’t prepared to yield place to Hanabi; while Hanabi’s best friend Sanae has developed an infatuation with her after Hanabi saved her from a molester on a crowded train. Moreover, Sanae knows that Hanabi and Mugi’s relationship isn’t real, which only makes her all the more determined to pursue Hanabi, hoping thereby to validate her own feelings. However, what none of them knows or understands is that Akane Minagawa is a deeply damaged person, someone who damages other people simply in order to make her own existence seem more real and her life less tedious – and that her only interest in Narumi lies in the potential to use her relationship with him to exploit both Hanabi’s and Mugi’s emotional vulnerability for her own purposes…

Based on the highly successful manga by Mengo Yokoyari, and animated by studio Lerche, “Scum’s Wish” originally aired on Japanese television in 2017. Animated in a classically hand-drawn style whose aesthetic “softness” adds dramatic weight to the hard-hitting subject-matter, “Scum’s Wish” is so unflinching in its exploration of love, loneliness, sex, and sexuality in adolescence that it frequently makes for unsettling viewing. However, what could so easily have veered into either cheap melodramatics or nasty prurience treads the fine line between the two with deft aplomb, all the while unrelentingly placing its narrative finger squarely on the sore points of emotional fragility, selfish need, and the dangers that arise when powerful feelings collide with a lack of life experience – or all too much of the wrong kind of experience. But what ultimately makes this series worth watching is the fact that the resolution doesn’t seek to tie all the storylines into neat conclusions, but is content to allow ambiguity and messiness to have their place; and while some may regard that part of the denouement that deals with Akane Minagawa as paradoxically all too neat and convenient, it actually articulates a subtle insight into the conditions under which certain types of unstable and destructive personality might achieve a measure of normality. Ultimately, the worth of “Scum’s Wish” resides in its empathy for the broken and struggling humanity of its characters, and for the message that the best healing for a broken heart may not be the power to ensure all our wishes and desires come true, but the capacity to let go and say goodbye.

©Text copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.