Weekly Motion Cannon: Scum’s Wish Episode 4

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You’re both scum. Congratulations

the-subtle-doctorThe Subtle Doctor (@TheSubtleDoctor)

“Scum’s Wish finally flinches here”

Each and every week thus far, Scum’s Wish has continued to raise the bar for itself with its deliberate yet brave writing.  However, I think episode four marks the series’ first misstep in this regard.  By far the most interesting part of the episode is its opening segments in which we become privy to Akane’s thoughts and motivations.  The show comes so close to contextualizing her in a way that syncs up perfectly with what it is trying to achieve, but Scum’s Wish finally flinches here and chooses to make Akane an unequivocal villain.

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I thought the show was (cleverly) trying to first depict Akane’s calculating, manipulative behavior in a manner that the audience would instinctively react negatively towards, then pivot to frame it in such a way that the only difference between Akane and most of the cast is that she feels no guilt about using people.  The audience would face a kind of moral dilemma: Do we condemn Akane as “scum” when, on an empirical level, her behavior is no different than these kids who call themselves scum but who we like?  Hanabi’s inner child even appears in order to explicitly point out that, from where she sits, Hanabi is no more virtuous than Akane (note: I think a strong argument can be made that Hana is a good person, but the show takes the pleasure of deliberation away from us).

Unfortunately, her reprimand to her older self loses its bite.  Hanabi is absolutely more virtuous than Akane because Akane is a sadist.  The music instructor is going to great lengths to see Hanabi get emotionally wounded because she gets off on this sort of thing.  Hanabi’s pain is her immense pleasure.  For a show which has thus far traded exclusively in nuance, this seems an incongruous, two-dimensional characterization that blunts the character’s potential impact.  I suppose I should have seen the Akane vs Hanabi confrontation looming when one of the first lines from Akane in this episode was “There’s no greater feeling than being wanted by someone you don’t care about.”  This statement places Akane in direct opposition to Hanabi, who famously rejects a boy in episode one by saying, “There’s nothing more disgusting than the affection of someone you don’t care about.”  Yin and yang.

Let me be clear, though.  Just because Scum’s Wish won’t be what I thought it would be (but may still end up being, given the surprising nature of the thing), that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely captivating or that I can’t get pumped for the fucking war that’s about to transpire between these two ladies.  And, Akane said some things which might possibly imply that her sadism is tied to affection for Hanabi…which would add yet another layer on top of this a;ready-giant cake.  In either case, this show has built up more than enough good will with me to keep me around despite its first seemingly less-than-bold decision.

This is really all your fault

josh-the-whoJosh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)

“The show maintains it’s position as one of the most cinematically robust shows this season.”

There is so much to discuss from Scum’s Wish episode four. The show maintains it’s position as one of the most cinematically robust shows this season. It has no hesitation or shame in exploring its subject matter, and it doesn’t have to because it’s presentation is spot on. Though it would be all too easy for the show to fall into the typical anime trappings of lecherous shot compositions and voyeuristic camera angles, but Scum’s Wish doesn’t stray from its purpose.

The scene between Hanbi and Ecchan felt so incredibly real, its sense of comfort tainted with a heavy melancholy. Because of the way these characters are framed and the stimuli they respond to, they feel sincere even when they do the ‘wrong’ thing. Moreover, they fully understand and are aware of their responses, which creates a sort of murkiness of morality that is so characteristic of real human emotion. The moment between them unfolds beautifully onscreen with visual techniques in closeups and blocked and quartered images that heighten the intimacy of relationships.

I have spent a lot of time describing what the panels do in the series, both on the first and third episode writeups. This week I will spare you, but it would be a sin if I didn’t at least mention the entire imagined confession Hanabi has. Watch it for yourself!

There was one moment of character acting I did want to touch on – not that the actual drawings were impressive, but their timing is noteworthy. In the shot above, it’s Akne’s movement that is accentuated. The timing of the frames can make a huge difference in how an action is perceived, and what I found unique was how that timing was used to amazing effect to the point that the shot felt more impressive than it actually was. Scum’s Wish truly is trying to articulate itself in the most artistically credible manner possible.

I decided to believe it was fate

jaredJared (@savevsjared)

“I’ve never been more sad to see two cartoon people have consensual sex in my life.”

scums-wish-4-1

Ever since the season began, I’ve been looking forward to the day when I could talk about Akane and her…perspective on life. Even though I’ve read the manga, seeing Akane’s revealed narcissistic yet self-denying interior life still blows me away in animated form. In a cast full of misfit toys, the broken funhouse mirror through which Akane sees with herself and the rest of the world makes her the show’s most disturbing and fascinating character at the same time. Her true anime debut made me recall a question I had when I first experienced the manga: What happened to her?

What kind of experiences shaped Akane into who we encounter in this episode? What has to break inside a person for them to believe that people’s value rests solely in their perceived desirability and only by acquiring the desire of other people can she, in turn, have self-worth? I can’t help but imagine her parents as distant, emotionless statues…assuming, of course, she has parents at all. We don’t know anything about her background, and it remains to be seen if the show will ever reveal it to us. All we know for certain about her comes straight from her own mouth. She’d rather die than be exploited emotionally by another person. She decides it’s better to be the abuser than the victim and finds herself drunk on the feeling of seducing men away from other women.

It’s easy to see that someone with Akane’s predatory worldview would naturally set themselves on a collision course with a succulent bit of game like Hanabi. To her, a naive girl hopelessly in love with someone she can’t have probably looks like a Christmas turkey. Not only does Akane know of Hanabi’s feelings for Kanae-sensei aka “Onii-chan”, she even sees straight through her fake relationship with Mugi because she already owns him. It sets up a situation where she’s also in total emotional control of the men in Hanabi’s life, and she takes exquisite pleasure in reaping her harvest. Let’s be clear about something though. Akane isn’t an asshole for the sake of being an asshole. She doesn’t even have anything against Hanabi, personally—she’s just a target. And not just any target, the perfect target. But even more critically, she hurts others because without seeing someone else long for something she has, Akane has no value of her own. She’s literally unable to perceive her own self-worth outside the lens of someone else’s pain. I’d love to know what a mental health professional would make of Akane. To my untrained eye, she’s an emotional kleptomaniac.

Not to be outdone in the narcissism department, Hanabi’s reaction to the emotional trauma of being played turns out to be something very much like what Akane would do. Taking advantage of Ecchan’s obsession and sleeping with her might temporarily numb one kind of pain, but in doing so she’s opened up the possibility of permanently destroying their friendship. In my opinion, Hanabi’s behavior in this episode turns out to be even more manipulative than Akane’s. Hanabi cares about Ecchan as a friend, but uses her anyway. Akane has no emotional attachment to speak of to the people she manipulates. Hanabi by contrast, reaches for the first opiate she can find, even if she has to debase her friendship to do it. And even more tragically, there’s no slight-of-hand, here—Ecchan knows she’s being used. She’ll take a hit of passion, too. It won’t kill the pain of never being able to have Hanabi, but it’ll let her pretend for a while. I’ve never been more sad to see two cartoon people have consensual sex in my life.

I can’t imagine loving someone other than yourself

pat-suri-avatar circlePat “Suri” Price (@suribot)

“Scum’s Wish is already a hotbed of complex emotions and motivations, and Akane has become a balancing act on which the entire show can pivot.”

Akane has become a presence that, if handled poorly, could flub the entire delivery of this otherwise amazing show. I had to talk with a few people prior to this and sort out my thoughts on her, because I realized that in my head, I was ready to paint her as an antagonist. The opening line of this was very nearly “Scum’s Wish has a villain and her name is Akane Minagawa,” but that honestly feels too reductive. There’s certainly an argument to be made for that interpretation, but there’s more to it than that.

At first glance, I was very much ready to look at her machinations involving Hanabi as done out of pure malice. I even explained them as such to others. In thinking more on it, I’m not sure that;s accurate. It honestly seems to me that Akane does not feel much joy unless she knows someone is jealous of her. She is delighted to be seen in public with her current boy-toy but finds herself bored in the privacy of a love hotel with him. She only entertains Kanai’s affections because of how much he seems to mean to Hanabi, even acknowledging that he isn’t her type. I’m not sure it’s intentionally malicious so much as callously self-centered. She can only feel happiness when others desire her or when others are jealous of her for what she has. She seems to believe it’s the only way to know that she has something good. “If someone else covets what I have, then it must be good,” is her train of logic.

I must reiterate though: If her character is handled poorly from here on, then the rest of the show will crumble. It was INCREDIBLY easy for me to write her off as malicious for no other reason than to delight in the pain of others, and that kind of villainous trope is cartoonish. It doesn’t belong in this show. Her internal logic and decisions should map to self-interest and not sadism. There’s definitely a hint of the sadistic, her delighting in seeing the jealousy seethe in Hanabi’s eyes, but it’s in service of her own joy. Without others for context, she has no idea what is good. She needs to see that jealousy for her to feel, well, anything.  Scum’s Wish is already a hotbed of complex emotions and motivations, and Akane has become a balancing act on which the entire show can pivot. She is, after all, the center of nearly every conflict. If Akane becomes an unbelievable character, the rest of the show can’t hold up. At least, I don’t think it can. I truly hope they nail this. This show is a roller coaster ride of very human mistakes and pain. I really want it to finish its loop, rather than crash and burn.

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Small side bar: Ecchan’s storyline is something I desperately want to see fleshed out more. For everyone else in the show, there is a possible (though unlikely) path for them to be happy. Mugi’s happiness seems the least likely, given Akane might actually be incapable of empathy. Ecchan’s happiness seems actually impossible to attain. She loves Hanabi; she is in love with Hanabi. None of Hanabi’s internal dialogue seems to have her questioning her sexuality in any way, she’s just allowing Ecchan to take advantage of her. She’s trying to give someone important to her what they want, even when it’s not what she wants. She wants her friend to be happy, even if she isn’t. Ecchan knows (or at least is pretty certain) that this can’t work out, not the way she wants it to. She’s just letting herself bask in what little pleasure she can steal for herself. Even if everything else worked out miraculously well, I don’t see a path to happiness for Ecchan. That really hurts, even in a show where the name of the game is emotional pain.


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2 Comments

Add yours →

  1. Elisabeth O'Neill February 15, 2017 — 4:30 pm

    I was originally disappointed that Akane was being presented as the villain of the piece, but these opinions have given me pause for thought. Maybe this is just another stopgap where we presume something about the character, as we did with the whole cast at the start, then it unfolds to display something dark that we didn’t want to see in ourselves, but is definitely there. I certainly hope that’s the kind of direction this show is taking us.

    Liked by 1 person

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