Weekly Motion Cannon: Scum’s Wish Episode 1

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jaredJared (@savevsjared)

“Calling Scum’s Wish angst-ridden would be akin to describing a hydrogen bomb as a projectile.”

Hanabi and Mugi use each other as substitutes, satisfying each other physically to compensate for what they cannot have emotionally: a real connection with the people they love from a distance. Scum’s Wish could be Nisekoi’s darker older sister—a show that looks at false love with eroticism and unyielding honesty.

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I’ve been looking forward to watching the adaptation of Mengo Yokoyari’s at turns brutal and melodramatic seinen exploration of teen romance ever since it was announced. The manga has been available on Crunchyroll for some time now, and I’ve been an avid reader since its debut on the site. It draws you into its world and refuses to let you turn away. The anime seems on course to do the same, at least in my experience.

The first time I watched this episode, I felt it followed the manga closely. I realized I had it completely wrong after re-reading the first few chapters. This episode had a much tighter structure and made the source material look meandering by comparison. Masaomi Andou, most recently director of 2015’s underappreciated School-Live, seems to understand the essence of the story he’s trying to tell, and I came away from my second viewing with an appreciation for the streamlining of the source material.

From a visual standpoint, the paneling technique employed throughout the episode feels most effective when it can show us multiple viewpoints in the same situation. Much of the forward motion in the show takes place from within the interior lives of its characters, particularly Hanabi. In particular, the scene below offers subtle hints about each character’s emotional state in the moment. Paneling provides an efficient way to convey subtle development or add layers of nuance to a single scene, and though it could run the risk of being overused in lesser hands, I think Andou will prove equal to the task he’s set for himself.

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Calling Scum’s Wish angst-ridden would be akin to describing a hydrogen bomb as a projectile. If this show has any pornography at all, it’s in the tortured, melodramatic angst of its lead characters. It’s from this weaponized angst that the story will blossom like a mushroom cloud of lies, heartbreak, and loneliness. And if done well, this show could be one of the year’s best. So far, it’s off to a destructively strong start.

Part of me that worries whether I’m actually

being a good enough replacement for him.

ibcf-large

ibcf (@_ibcf_)

“…there’s simply nothing here that pulls me in.”

This sort of anime is completely foreign to me. It appears to be a straight romantic drama, which there’s nothing inherently wrong with, but I can’t find anything interesting about the content or presentation. There isn’t much animation to speak of. Facial expressions actually exist, though they’re only the most generic and obvious type. The characters mostly stand around and talk in static poses, hardly anything more than moving manga. In fact, many shots are stylized and framed as manga panels. It kind of looks neat, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly imaginative. Kare Kano played with the technique in much more fun and creative ways.

The pacing and tone are very slow and tranquil. The effect is almost numbing, which I suppose fits with the show’s story. Hanabi and Mugi are in a loveless relationship, both using each other as substitutes for their hopeless crushes. Even as they fondle each other, they purposefully act disinterested and unemotional. There’s a hint of dramatic tension in that they might eventually develop feelings for each other, but I don’t see either character being engaging enough for me to get invested.

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Visually and narratively, there’s simply nothing here that pulls me in. Yes, the character designs and backgrounds are pretty and cute, and the music is mellow and pleasant enough. Perhaps the story will take a more dark and serious turn. However, this isn’t the kind of thing I watch anime for. I want to see something unique, exciting, or just plain weird, preferably in a visual sense. As it is, this show comes across as melodramatic kitsch to me.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

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Pat “Suri” Price (@suribot)

“ She already realized it. She doesn’t want to think about it further. It hurts enough already.”

“There’s nothing more revolting than the affection of someone you’re completely disinterested in, is there?”

With this line, Hana delivers a rejection so intense, that it circles back around and makes her woozy. The target of this rejection is a boy who confessed his feelings to Hana a week prior. He does not even get a name. The sole focus of this scene is Hana lashing out at someone inconsequential to her, only to feel it come back to bite her immediately.  “Boomerang.” The same applies to her. Kanai, the man she’s called her big brother for years, the one she’s in love with, has likely never looked at her with romantic interest. By Hana’s own standards, her affection for him is revolting. The fact that she realizes it as quickly as she does and just kind of wobbles, taking it in stride and not calling attention to it, is what sells this moment for me. She already realized it. She doesn’t want to think about it further. It hurts enough already.

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I came into Scum’s Wish totally blind, only aware of the title and the fact that the English version of the manga apparently sells quite well. I could not have told you a single thing about the plot. Based on this episode, though, I feel like I’m hooked. It takes skill to portray characters as believably broken in such a short time, but the first episode feels like a slam dunk in this regard. I just need the rest of the game to play out. Visually, the panel composition shots feel very good. They’re used sparingly, and with specific intent. Every use that comes to mind highlights multiple points of interest and focuses on the fact that the shots are occurring simultaneously. It’s interesting to look at, keeping an additional point in the background of the shot, and never quite feels obtrusive.

Honestly, I’m hungry for more. I don’t know if I’m just convincing myself that there’s more to be had here than there actually is, but either way, I’m eagerly awaiting next week.

I thought he was my soulmate.

wyatt

Jimmy Gnome (@jimmygnome9)

“ Overall the visual production of Scum’s Wish is quite impressive and consistent despite the lack of any big-name credits”

Scum’s Wish wasn’t even on my radar until about a month ago when I heard some rumblings over its PV, which looked quite nice for a show without any particularly notable key staff. But PVs can be deceiving, and the only other anime I had personally seen by series director Masaomi Andou was the mediocre School-Live!, so I kept my expectations measured. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted Scum’s Wish to have one of the strongest and most inspired premieres of the Winter season, but here we are.

What draws my attention most is the meticulously crafted tone. Scum’s Wish has a certain breezy atmosphere that reminds me of Shinya Kawatsura’s style, full of spacious compositions, minimalist effects, and an abundance of nature. It’s an interesting choice of direction for a series about horny, unfulfilled teens, lending a sense of naturalism and innocence that I’m sure was difficult to nail down. Scenes are further accented by a careful attention to color design, frequently changing pallets to reflect the mood. Consider how the tone shifts from the orange hues of an after school sunset accented by pink cherry blossom petals to the dull, rainy afternoon that begins this hurtful romance; this level of control is rarely seen in your standard manga adaptation.

I should point out that the animation itself isn’t actually all that impressive, though. It is certainly serviceable, but the episode is primarily supported by its visual direction as well as some post-processing tricks. For example, while the character designs are rather simplistic if taken at face value they appear more detailed around the edges. This is because the line art is filtered to appear textured (similar to what Toei does for Tiger Mask W, but more subtle) which gives the drawings a sense of delicate nuance. In fact, if you compare the TV version to the unfiltered initial PV you can see how it changes the overall aesthetic.

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Overall the visual production of Scum’s Wish is quite impressive and consistent despite the lack of any big-name credits. I wouldn’t call it a sakuga series by any means but it uses clever techniques and inspired direction to overcome its limitations, promoting it above the majority of toothless TV anime. The material it covers is touchy enough that a poorly thought-out adaptation could have turned out terribly, but judging from this episode it seems to be in good hands. I can only hope that it continues to retain this level of quality throughout the season.

Hopeless love. Painful love. Unrequited love.

Are they really that beautiful? I don’t think they are.

josh-the-whoJosh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)

“Everything is meant to be presented in a love-struck tunnel vision that is remarkably created by the show’s visuals.”

The use of panels in Scum’s Wish is masterful way to tell a story and keep it interesting. Too often in the world of limited animation, it is easy for a dramatic series to be devoid of onscreen movement. Episode after episode is viewed with the same lackluster manner as terrain from the passenger seat of a moving vehicle; mentally the viewer’s brain asks, “Are we there yet?” Your eye wanders around the screen aimlessly, thirsting for something visually interesting in the flat vista to fixate on. Paneled imagery is the answer Scum’s Wish presents. There is a flow that is built from the slow fade and slide of self contained images which leads the eye around the screen in a very naturalistic style, preventing visual boredom.

Masterful paneling creates boundaries between characters, literally separating them not only by black outlines, but layers, as these alternate perspectives sit ‘on top’ of the establishing shot in which they inhabit. Counter to this, nearly all of these alternate windows are closeup shots in tight quarters, so while the characters are far away from each other, we as the audience feel close to them. But these frames function as point-of-view perspective shots as well, letting us see through the eyes and get into the head of a particular character. Characters may be distant in both emotional and physical ways, but to us they feel extremely close. It’s a visual metaphor and ever-present reminder of unrequited love.

This artistic direction is inspired and supports the central theme of Scum’s Wish: love blinds us. The world view of Scum’s Wish is narrow, the same as that of the two protagonists’. This paneling is a type of closure very similarly found in manga. We are required to assume the existence of other people and objects around us because real life has taught us that these things continue to exist even when they are out of sight. Scum’s Wish uses this effect to force us to assume the existence of things we can’t see, like love. Unacquainted love is love without the big picture, segmented into frames. When we’re “in that,” we only see what we want to see either out of hurt or infatuation, but we choose to focus on aspects that support what we already assume to be true. Aspects are isolated by panels, and it’s really only aspects of people that these two love, not “all of them”. Rarely (if ever) are their any full body, or medium shots in this episode. Everything is meant to be presented in a love-struck tunnel vision that is remarkably created by the show’s visuals. Paneled sequences force us to bridge the distance between characters images…with the assumption of love.

I have to stay quiet. I don’t want to remind him it’s me.

the-subtle-doctorThe Subtle Doctor (@TheSubtleDoctor)

Scum’s Wish has set itself a high bar, and I’m excited to see if the show can clear it.”

“It made sense to pool our collective loathing for the opposite sex, and while we were at it, you get to share a bed with somebody at the same time. ” – Rob, High Fidelity

I like to go into my media experiences knowing as little information as possible.  Unless an anime is a sequel to something I’ve seen or inadvertently heard about, I typically go in blind.  The only thing I knew about Scum’s Wish before clicking play was that it was a romance show.  Well, that and that it has one of the most unfortunate titles in recent memory.  Needless to say, I was pretty much completely caught off guard by the intensity of the show, the complex feelings it wants to examine and its apparent desire to comment honestly where it can.

Anime often features characters who experience unrequited love, but the main characters in Scum’s Wish have such aching hearts that they decide to use each other to sooth their pain.  One dreary afternoon, Mugi forces himself on Hanabi and persuades her to go along with it by allowing her to pretend he is her crush Narumi (who, to be clear, is also her stepbrother/half-brother).  He will, likewise, fantasize that Hanabi is his crush, Akane.  This scene is as uncomfortable as it sounds.  The world-weary and slightly foreboding undertone that the episode dabbles in is at its thickest in this moment.  Scum’s Wish is far more successful with such high-stakes scenes than with the silly-face comedy it attempts early on in the episode.

Though Hanabi and Mugi don’t actually have sex, this is Hanabi’s first encounter of this kind, and, while it is exhilarating for her on the one hand, it is quite painful on the other.  Tears stream down her face while her mind cries out in apology.  It’s Narumi who she wants to experience this with, and she feels like she is letting him down by doing these things with someone else.  She’s also apologizing to Mugi; she fears she isn’t a suitable pretend-stand-in for Akane.  But, Hanabi doesn’t make a sound: she weeps silently to herself, for fear her outcry will dispel Mugi’s illusion.  All of this absolutely breaks my heart for Hanabi.

These two go on to start dating and form a pact of self-interest with one another.  They agree to continue to each one another unless one of them manages to get into a relationship with the person they have “real” feelings for.  Their pact is made with the words “You can have everything but my feelings.”  Like most friends with benefits, Hanabi and Mugi are presupposing a particular form of mind-body dualism.  According to their thinking, mind and body are entirely distinct entities; what happens to the one has no necessary effect on the other.  Yet, I’m quite sure they will find out that mind and body are more tightly linked than they initially think.

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This first episode is a promising premiere.  Scum’s Wish doesn’t seem to be shying away from emotionally complicated situations and their implications.  I do hope the show continues to be bold and investigate things like possible guilt and/or “scummy” self-confidence the adults feel leading the teenagers on, or the insidious, possibly isolating side effects of the kind of relationship Hanabi and Mugi are entering into.  I hope we do not see dalliances with comedy because, given that the show has built itself a credible platform to explore difficult topics in great depth, that would feel like an utter waste of time.  Conversely, I also hope the show doesn’t eventually walk right up to the line and cop out.  Scum’s Wish has set itself a high bar, and I’m excited to see if the show can clear it.

You can have everything but my feelings.

cj avatar circleCJ Hitchcock (@cjhitchcock)

“This is a romance that is doomed to failure and heartache and there’s good drama there.”

I’m having a hard time pinning down how I feel about this show. While constructively everything about the show is fine, I believe a lot of conversations about it are going to revolve around the subject matter and not the content itself. Because the idea of this show can be tough to swallow for people. Some are going to hate this show because it’s as far away from being a vanilla romance as you could get without turning into hentai. To a degree, I actually like that a lot about this show. Romance is complicated and I’ve been wanting to watch a show about this topic without it turning into a harlequin novel for awhile now. With that being said, there are some lines that are crossed in this show that do make me raise my eyebrow a bit, but those lines aren’t being crossed unintentionally.  It seems like Scum’s Wish wants to explore those taboo romances emotionally.

To get into the nitty-gritty of the plot, the story is about a high school girl named Hanabi who has had a longstanding crush on her older brother, Narumi, who’s her homeroom teacher. Hanabi has never told Narumi of her feelings for him. When Narumi starts to build a romantic relationship with the music teacher, Akane, Hanabi’s world begins to fall apart. Hanabi discovers that a boy her age named, Mugi has a similar situation going on with Akane.   He’s never confessed his love for her. So Hanabi and Mugi start to hangout with one another to gripe about their unrequited lovers not dating them. One fateful night, things get a bit heated and the two decide to pseudo-date each other in secret. The agreement is they will give everything to one another besides their feelings until one of them is able to successfully win the heart of their real crush.

Personally, I found this story to be compelling. This is a romance that seems like it is doomed to heartache and failure, and there’s good drama there. Romance should have conflict. While most love stories will simply opt for having that conflict be a rival lover or the person of interest isn’t interested in the lead, I like how the core conflict in the story is how the two leads Hanabi and Mugi don’t love each other. They acknowledge from the start that they are using each other. Not sexually, but they are emotionally playing with each other’s feelings and that can lead to far more damage in the long run. I’m not sure where this story could go. I could easily see this ending up with the two leads falling in love with each other, but at the same time I could see this ending tragically if one is able to get together with their true crush. There’s good compelling drama to be found in this story and I want to see where it goes from here.

On the other hand, I’m not a fan of incest stories. While it is unclear in the first episode if Hanabi and Narumi are related by blood, it’s still feels odd. It is clear that the two have known each other for a good chunk of their lives and they care about one another, but nothing Narumi does indicates he feels anything more than brotherly love for his sister. I think that’s the point, and the story will explore that more in the future.  But, I do have it admit I find it hard to sympathize with Hanabi because of this. In a sense, I don’t want to see her succeed. I appreciate that the story is challenging me to better understand Hanabi and where she’s coming from, but I still have a hard time getting over the fact that this is still incest. I do not like to kink shame in the slightest, but I find the appeal of incest to be a hard to understand. There is something to be said about the bonds shared between siblings, but I don’t understand how you can confuse that with the type of love you’d get from a partner, both sexual and non.

Outside of that, visually I think the show is serviceable. I don’t care for how the animation switches between the traditional digitally animated scenes to painted still shots that look like they were screen grabbed from a visual novel. I’m also not a fan of how the screen will split into panels from time to time. I’m sure it’s to capture the style of the original manga, but here it just seems like fluff. I’m not saying it’s bad, I just don’t see how it adds anything to the series. This is going to be an anime where the narrative is going to be more impactful than the animation. Even so, the visuals still get the job done.


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2 Comments

Add yours →

  1. Well done all around! I really like the touch of highlighted text here to drive home your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A correction to be polite: Hanabi and Narumi are not related and any impression that they are can be blamed on the translation taking her “onii-san” literally and translating it as “brother”. It’s a girl looking up to and falling in love with an older childhood friend relationship, which has its own problems.

    I didn’t expect much from this series, as I attempted the manga a while back and found it somewhat boring, but as Jared noted, the anime improved greatly on it through tightening the focus and pace. The end result is claustrophobic and uneasy and angsty, so so very angsty. The story and atmosphere captivated me enough to barely notice the manga style paneling used until y’all pointed it out here.

    One point of interest not raised yet is that not only does this series show actual teenagers doing actual sexual stuff teenagers do, but also them being considerate enough of each other to actually worry about consent. Hanabi initiates, Mugi consents and takes the lead, but at the two points where Hanabi was in distress, he paused and asked her if he should continue, ultimately ending it before it came to “real sex”.

    In a medium where most sexiness comes at the expense of the characters — camera angles, Rito style pratfalls and the never not hilarious rapey lesbian groping other women for funsies — that makes a nice change.

    Like

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