A dark, lonely and refreshingly un-lovely love story.
13 Jun 2017 - 11:19 AM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2017 - 11:19 AM

Scum’s Wish, based on the Japanese manga series by Mengo Yokoyari, is a romantic drama that is decidedly unromantic.

A 17-year-old high schooler, Hanabi (voiced by Chika Anzai), is in love with her childhood friend Narumi Kanai (voiced by Kenji Nojima) – a 20-something who now happens to be her homeroom teacher at school. But age isn’t the only obstacle in the way of her unrequited romance, because Hanabi soon realises that he is in love with the new music teacher, Akane Minagawa (voiced by Aki Toyosaki).

Hanabi meets another student, Mugi Awaya (voiced by Nobunaga Shimazaki), who is in a similar position – he has unrequited feelings for Akane, who used to be his tutor. Hanabi and Mugi make a pact to date each other, to overcome their loneliness and satisfy themselves emotionally and physically, but agree that they will not fall in love.

Other characters around Hanabi and Mugi become entangled in their complicated romantic web, and also end up cheating, hurting, and discarding each other. The audience sees the worst (and rarely the best) of every character, including their selfishness, slight sociopathic tendencies, and emotional manipulation.

Importantly, even while the characters do scummy things to each other, the show doesn’t make a moral point about their actions. If anything, the audience remains sympathetic to the characters because we can see that they are motivated by confusion, self-preservation or insecurity. 

The theme song for this very real, very empathetic drama could easily be the classic tune from British new wave music duo Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams: “Some of them want to use you / Some of them want to get used by you / Some of them want to abuse you / Some of them want to be abused.”

Scum’s Wish is interesting, not only because it doesn’t moralise doing scummy, crummy (and sometimes worse than that) things in the name of love, but because of its frank portrayal of teenage sexuality. The show is veeeery NSFW. At the same time, the way that Hanabi and Mugi explore their sexuality together never feels porny. It’s intimate, awkward and sometimes uncomfortable. That is, it’s painfully realistic.

The animation style is understated and distant, with a subdued palette and lots of slow-moving scenes made up of minute movements and facial expressions. The animation also emulates a manga style, and in some scenes features ‘panels’ on the screen, so that the viewer can see multiple character expressions and reactions at once.

Narratively, a lot of what the characters are thinking and feeling are communicated to the viewer with voiceover monologues. This means that despite the distant animation style you still feel quite connected to the characters, and empathetic towards them.

Don’t expect sugarcoated fairy tale endings from Scum’s Wish. This love story is dark, lonely and refreshingly un-lovely.

Scum’s Wish is available to watch now in Australia on Amazon Prime.

Follow Melissa Wellham on Twitter and Instagram at @melissawellham.

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