Although we aren’t quite finished with the Winter 2017 season yet, and I’m admittedly not entirely caught up on everything I started watching this season, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Scum’s Wish will handily secure the position of my Anime of the Season. I haven’t seen an anime in recent seasons that has so maturely dealt with ideas such as, but not limited to, sexuality, sexual identity, views of self-worth, and the various ways in which these factors affect people and their interactions with one another. It’s a drama unlike any other I’ve seen in the genre, and each week I have consistently come back eager to see what new element of the story is going to unfold before me. In watching the show, though, it’s impossible to get around one of the integral themes that some of the characters wrestle with – are they scum for using others in the ways that they do for their pleasure? By extension, are we scum for watching these events unfold, and using their pain and drama for our own enjoyment?
From episode one, Hanabi and Mugi are cognizant that they are what they consider to be scum. They are both trapped in situations of unrequited love, and as a result, they are willingly, knowingly using each other as replacements for those that they love and cannot have. As Hanabi states, doing this is going to allow the two of them to make each other’s “scum’s wish” come true. From a baseline standpoint, we can at least infer that Hanabi’s definition of being scum is using others for one’s own pleasure, in some regard. In the original case with her and Mugi, though, it is almost like a contract of sorts. Their promise is, paraphrased, that they will not fall in love with each other, that they can have each other in the physical sense, and that, most likely, they are not going to go so far as to have a fully sexual relationship. There is a sense of disclosure that makes both parties aware of how their relationship is going to work, without it getting too muddied (in theory). Of course, their relationship does get somewhat more complicated as the series progresses, but nonetheless, both Hanabi and Mugi try their best to keep an actual emotional distance active (“try” being the operative word). For the most part, they succeed – there is hardly anything between the two of them that you could consider, say, emotional manipulation. They don’t try to play off of each other’s feelings for their own benefit; they willingly give themselves to one another in mutual understanding. So, even though they consider themselves scum for using one another, they are doing so in such a way that is not overly manipulative.
This sort of open honesty and lack of manipulation does not extend far beyond the relationship between the two of them, however. Once Hanabi and Mugi get romantically involved with others to varying degrees, their more selfish sides begin to manifest. For example, we very quickly find out that Hanabi’s friend Sanae (or Ecchan, as Hanabi calls her) is in love with Hanabi when she comes on to her during a sleepover at the end of episode two. At the time, Hanabi was fairly clear that she did not have similar feelings for Sanae that she could return. However, after Hanabi sees her “true love” Narumi Kanai confess to Akane Minagawa in episode four, she encounters Sanae and, in a hurt act of desperation, embraces Sanae, and they become romantically involved, to a degree. It is crucial to note, however, that Hanabi says in her thoughts that at the time, she knew that what she was doing was wrong, but she continued, nonetheless. Sanae, of course, also knows that Hanabi is not necessarily becoming involved with her because she returns her love, either. Both are, in that sense, knowingly going into this with the knowledge that Hanabi does not truly love Sanae.
Once Hanabi leaves, her inner thoughts surface, and confront her about that fact that, in her view, she took advantage of Sanae and her feelings for Hanabi. She was hurt, and despite her knowing that what she was doing was wrong, Hanabi used Sanae as yet another replacement for Kanai. With this realization, she reinforces in her mind that she is, once again, scum. Her base idea of scum is still the same in that she was using someone for her own gain, but the stipulation here is that since the exchange of feelings is not equal as they were in her relationship with Mugi, this level of scum is worse.
So we have a fairly solid grasp on how Hanabi, our primary lens through which we view the show, defines the concept of someone being scum – using others for one’s own gain, pleasure, satisfaction, etc – and we see how this is used as characters label themselves and others as scum. So where does this leave us, as viewers? The show, of course, is not meant to reflect solely on people as scum and the definitions of scum, as it discusses numerous other deeply personal and important questions that are relevant to personal and social identity. However, it would be difficult to watch the show and not consider the implications of the fairly integral discussions of one’s perceptions of being scum. As I said previously, I can’t get enough of this show. In a discussion I have with Owningmatt93 a few weeks ago, I had just finished watching episode four, in which, to put it lightly, the shit hits the fan, and people are horrible in that episode. I remember pretty distinctly saying just how awful the things the characters were doing were, immediately followed by how badly I needed the next episode. The things I witnessed people do to each other were just awful, and were they ever done to me, I don’t know what kind of emotional state I would be in. But from the standpoint of a viewer of a show, I loved every moment of it. The drama had absolutely hooked me, and really, I was curious to see what kind of awful things the show could do to its characters to possibly top what had just been done. In essence, I was using Hanabi, Mugi, Sanae, and everyone else in Scum’s Wish for my own pleasure. By the very definition that Hanabi set up for herself, I was, and am, scum for enjoying the show in the way that I do.
Now, this is not to say that I am equating taking pleasure in the drama that unfolds in Scum’s Wish to taking pleasure in the essence of the drama itself; I can enjoy a good slasher film while condemning actual mass murder, for instance. In the same way, I can enjoy watching the drama of this show and not support the awful things that are causing the drama. Were the emotional manipulation that unfolds in this show to happen to physical people I actually knew and loved, I would not be on the edge of my seat thinking “what’s going to happen next?”, and frankly, I think that the vast majority of viewers would feel this way, as well. However, it is interesting to consider how we as viewers might hold ourselves in relation to the ideas that a show like Scum’s Wish presents. We might not condone the actual practices that unfold in the show that the characters inflict on one another, but in this scripted, fictional environment of the show, we are witnesses to what goes on all the same simply by watching it. Whether or not you think you’re scum for loving the show, it’s something interesting to keep in mind as you wait to see what horrible, terrible things these scummy people do to each other next.