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I promised myself I would never cry
The Subtle Doctor (@TheSubtleDoctor)
“Hanabi is being put through an emotional grinder ”
Not many surprising things happened this episode, so I’m going to be a bit more comprehensively reflective than usual here. Last week I lamented the fact that Scum’s Wish didn’t take the path to putting Akane and Hanabi on similar moral standing in order to challenge its audience. Well, this week the show is doing its level best to telegraph that it will get there eventually, though the side effects of the method it seems to have chosen will be drastically different than those of the one I suggested. Hanabi is being put through an emotional grinder that you feel will inevitably culminate in her becoming Akane-like or at least having a kind of moment of truth in which this is a live option.
Not yet though. The psychologies of Hanabi and Akane are still worlds apart, and only the most crass ethicist would look at the full scope of Hanabi’s intentions and claim that there’s little to no difference between she and Akane. While Hana is very young and makes snap decisions while deeply confused, hurt and lonely, Akane deliberately uses and manipulates others in her attempt to stave off boredom and has been doing so for quite some time. The former may not realize that she is hurting people or how deeply; the latter simply delights in it. And Akane’s being self-aware doesn’t somehow make any of this better. I should note that my feelings have nothing to do with any distaste for Akane’s character. I find the music instructor to be entirely compelling, and I look forward to seeing what she gets up to each week. No, this is entirely a reaction to an idea I’ve read, the idea that Hanabi is no better than Akane.
Maybe this seems like an odd tangent, but I have indeed seen people making the case that these two ladies are in a morally equivalent position, and this strikes me as a misguided attempt to do Hana down, to put her into a box along with a character (Akane) that is easily condemnable because it makes things easier. Our protagonist is experimenting with a mutually-agreed-upon, purely-physical, no-strings-attached relationship and has a one night stand with someone else while dealing with emotional trauma. It appears so glaringly obvious to me that none of this puts her in the same category as serial-user and sadist. Let me be clear: I don’t condemn Akane (or Hana, Ebato or Mugi for that matter) for sexual promiscuity. Rather, Akane deserves blame because she intentionally tramples others’ feelings and derives at best entertainment at worst utter rapture from it.
Quick note: I am glad to hear from Mugi this week. The absence of his voice was noticeably felt last time; however, to give his character room to stretch its legs, Ebato is all but cut out of episode five. I hope Scum’s Wish is more than one cour because otherwise Ebato and the nearly-forgotten Moka will receive less screentime than they probably deserve.
We each got a sense that the other had
more things they were hiding
Josh Dunham (@Josh_Dunham)
“Surely none of the characters can truly be vilified.”
Color is love. We saw that last episode, and we see it again this episode when Hanabi is on the swingset near her beloved Kanai-sensei. And while it’s not a unique or uncommon technique to use the contrast between color and greyscale to represent joy or emotional fulfillment, it works well here; visuals matching the narrative down to the very lines of dialog. Hana says, “He brings my world color,” and the world becomes colorful. But as we see with abstract shots of muddied paint, some of those colors are confusing, and even ugly.
Everyone in the show is searching for validation, and when it can’t be found from within, each character seeks it in the people around them. In this regard, what defines each member of the cast is how they go about their search. Hanabi wants an emotional connection, Mugi wants a relationship despite its destructive nature, Akane wants to be wanted, Ecchan wants a love she knows will not last. Hanabi’s validation is being understood, Mugi’s lies in consequest, novelty fuels Akane’s, and Ecchan’s is grasping ‘victory’ from the jaws of defeat.
Surely none of the characters can truly be vilified. Granted, their treatment of each other can be aptly described as “shitty,” but this stems more from their lack of understanding of what love is. Ultimately, their actions are in pursuit of that understanding. Perhaps then it is best to describe these actions as poor choices made in lieu of personal understanding. The cast is defined by their desire for validation, defined by their mistakes. It is easy (and almost understandable) that a character defined through negativity would be “the bad guy,” but I feel this mentality also arises from a faulty grasp of just how broad love can be.
I slept with him last night
“We’re all set for a complete meltdown in the next episode.”
Sometimes the simplest effects can have the most power. The subtle effect of transitioning from a monochromatic shot to color coveys more about Hanabi’s love for her onii-chan Kanai than any dialog could. In a show committed to fancy fade ins/outs, paneling and other layout intensive techniques, this age-old technique beautifully communicates the emotional weight of the opening scene with elegant simplicity and definitely takes the cake as the visual highlight of this episode.
Meanwhile, back in the minds of our heroes, Hanabi’s reflection on her mother’s grief offers an important insight into Hanabi’s emotions and bears some discussion. It’s worth pointing out she blames her mother and the way her mother handles her divorce, not her father, for her bottling up of emotion as a child. She views her mother as “taking away her grief” and now sees Kanae’s love for Akane as a similar betrayal. Hanabi longs for an adult love, but she still has the emotional intelligence of a child. It’d be easy to say that as a teenager she’s splitting the difference between the two, but this would be disrespectful to actual mid and late teenagers. Of course, when the drama of a show largely rests on the lack of self awareness on the part of the principal cast, a bit of plot-mandated blindness isn’t out of place.
Mugi’s back in this episode, and, while Hanabi’s away liaising Ecchan, he gets into a contemplative mood that gives us more insight into his interior longings. In learning that Mugi has full awareness of the kinds of games Akane plays but still willingly participates, we also discover a big contrast between him and Hanabi which sets the tone for the um, climax, of the episode. Hanabi has some notion of romantic love that grounds her infatuation with her onii-chan. Mugi, by contrast, has a much more physical basis for his love for Akane. In true adolescent male form, this simply boils down to hormones.
A lonely Mugi calls up his former lover for a quick visit to a love motel. The somewhat symmetrical dalliances our two fake lovers serves as a clever way to, somewhat counter-intuitively, create common ground between the two of them. Hanabi and Mugi’s reunion in the later half of the episode represents a subtle shift in their relationship. Mugi ignores her for a second at first, then simply stares at her for a moment before we move on from the scene. On the surface, he appears disinterested, but it could be that he’s getting tired of pretending. And if so, what does that mean for his transactional relationship with Hanabi? Mugi’s great emotional disability lies in his tendency to let his passions overwhelm his actual feelings to the point that, by the time he realizes what he’s feeling, the damage has been done to his relationships or to himself. But more on that later.
Hanabi and Mugi have spent no small amount of screen time thinking about each other these last few episodes, and their arrangement has inexorably begun to develop beyond the transactional. Somewhere along the way, they’ve started to become friends, and a level of real intimacy has slowly taken shape. Once they realize they’ve both slept around on each other, it draws them closer together and further apart at the same time. A mix of imposed emotional distance and carnal passion sets in between the two of them. Desperate for a “mature” love, Hanabi’s combination of anticipation and nerves begin to overwhelm Mugi’s studied cool and before you know it, he’s beginning to feel a real kind of desire for Hanabi, for the broken person she is and not the semi-friend with benefits they’ve intended to be for each other.
One aborted sexual encounter later, Mugi and Hanabi have taken their first steps into an uncertain period in their continued partnership. Mugi seems to be falling in love with Hanabi by degrees, despite his best efforts. For all of his pretending to be a grown up, he’s still very much a softhearted boy. Like Hanabi, he has the desire to have an adult relationship but not the strength. For her part, Hanabi wants to feel a connection with someone but isn’t ready to be fully intimate with Mugi. Maybe this is out of love for her onii-chan; maybe its because she’s begun to feel something real for Mugi, and the realization made things too real for her. Given the creator’s love for twists and turns, and the show’s ever-evolving emotional landscape, it’s anyone’s guess where all these new, threatening feeling will lead our lovers.
And then there’s Akane, who manages to reveal ever-deeper levels of disturbing vanity and wretchedness with every episode. To be clear, I’m talking about both the deplorable and pitiable flavors of wretchedness here. Akane, by the end of this episode, has demonstrated even more clearly that she only sees the world through the prism of desirability and only feels warmth from the world when people she considers desirable desire her in turn. Beyond that, the rest of life consists of the spaces between being worshiped by someone else’s lover, husband, or boyfriend. And for that reason, she finds Kanae’s conventionally innocent behavior confounding and utterly banal. At least, until he accidentally reveals he may have deeper feelings for Hanabi than even he realizes. In Akane’s worldview, suddenly he has value again and becomes a possession that she wants to own. Our final scene this episode seems to indicate that she succeeded, because Akane plunges the knife into Hanabi which she knows will destroy the girl. She tells her point blank, as they pass one another in the hall, that she slept with him, and the closing shot of the episode very effectively displays Hanabi’s undoing.
We’re all set for a complete meltdown in the next episode. Be sure to have your popcorn ready.