Sex is a powerful drug that has the potential to intoxicate more than simply those involved. This is a large part of the reason that the porn industry is running strong with no sign of decline. Even when one looks to film and television, sex works like a pheromone in the way that it draws in viewers. As such, it was no real surprise that when a series like Scum's Wish came along it was that anime season's darling.
Scum's Wish (or Kuzu no Honkai) follows Hanabi Yasuraoka, a high schooler whose heart has been stolen by her teacher and childhood friend, Narumi Kanai. However, when the object of her affection begins to show interest in another woman, Hanabi makes a deal with her classmate, Mugi, that they dull each other's loneliness and pain. By platonically sating each other's desires and substituting those who they wish to be with using the other, Mugi and Hanabi hope to stave off their sadness and one day be with the ones they love: that is their "scum's wish."
The amount of time actually spent following Hanabi and Mugi together, however, is pretty light. While the two high schoolers are the focus of the show, the anime spends more time attempting to build the relationship of the two, as well as their resolve, through their friends, Noriko and Sanae. This might seem odd at first, but it quickly becomes clear that the show's title pertains to more than simply the two leads, thematically or otherwise.
Aesthetically, Scum's Wish opts for a softer look to its characters, using very thin and intentionally inconsistent outlines, tonal shading, and limited, somber color palettes. Combined with this, the show features simple backgrounds containing fair amounts of detail. Some examples such as wear on floor tiles and shadows on walls from out-of-shot trees, make scenes generally pleasing to look at.
There isn't too much to be said for the animation, as for the most part the show prefers shots that linger on still images over moving animation. Otherwise the animation is fine, nothing particularly exceptional while never dipping into bad or stilted. Alongside this, the soundtrack is sparing and generally unmemorable, mostly used to simply accent the more comedic and emotional moments. There is, however, an exception.
A snappy, fast paced opening by 96neko, Uso no Hibana is a wonderful song that one normally would not think to put to an anime like this. Despite that, the visuals seek to meet the song every step of the way. There is foreshadowing aplenty in this opening, such as the way that the opening fades to black in very specific instances, something that one can infer the meaning of simply by seeing the same visual effect in the show. Roses adorn the sequence quite often as a more prominent piece of symbolism to represent the idea of pure love. The shedding of the rose petals, on the other hand, represents the sullying of that purity. All of this comes together to make for a solid opening, with one of its only missteps being how it represents its characters- though considering the show, the representations may actually be correct.
Scum's Wish is easily held back the most by its characters. Mugi, Sanae, and Noriko, who make up half of the cast (and far more than half of the screen time, combined) are all one-note characters that have little going on for them outside of the drama ensuing around them. In this sense, the opening does a fantastic job of representing the characters, but not necessarily for the better. Granted, they do all have personalities. Mugi, for instance, is a pretty relaxed teenage boy who could easily be mistaken for the lead of another high school drama, if not for his occasionally deadpan demeanor.
As for the two girls, Sanae is persuasive and generally serious while Noriko lives up to her appearance and acts proper yet also pretty childish. This said, they do not expand far enough past this to the point that one could even really call them one-dimensional. They all exist in a metaphorical box where they're forced to play the role the plot has laid out for them. The only reason they even have personalities to begin with is because of how consistent they are with their actions. Even this can be thrown by the wayside when drama kicks in and they can be defined as nothing more than somber. Having said all of this, there is one character who exists in a box much smaller than all of the others.
Hanabi, the protagonist, is the type of character who is more easily defined as a character in a story than she is as an individual. This contrasts rather heavily with every other character in the show, as while none of their personalities have a notable amount of depth, they are all mostly consistent. Hanabi, on the other hand, can go from deadpan to unassuming to mild-mannered with the flip of a dime. A character is certainly able to constantly switch between demeanor and still be regarded as well written, of course; what makes this a problem in Hanabi's case is that her actions are not influenced by anything other than the plot.
The reason for Hanabi's lack of a defined personality can be attributed to a number of reasons. The first reason is revealed minutes into the show, and it is not particularly uncommon for anime to do this. From the outset, the viewer is meant to feel some form of pathos towards the protagonist and her tragic situation. This pathos makes up all of the viewer's engagement with the main character until she can establish a personality. From episode two onwards, however, it becomes clear that the show intends for that pathos to be the core of how Hanabi is viewed for the entire series.
There is, however, one character that manages to completely outshine everyone else in the cast in terms of being a fleshed-out, developed character, and this is Akane. Because she does not become an active member of the cast until later in the series, this piece will not go into too much detail regarding her involvement with the overall plot. To say the least, Akane is an enjoyable splash of color on an otherwise dull canvas. She is not a well-written character in the slightest and it would be an understatement to say that both her ideals and motivations are silly. What is important, however, is that she has motivations and ideals which is in direct contrast to how the rest of the cast is portrayed.
As mentioned before, Scum's Wish places its characters in a small box where they are given little room to grow and can only hope to break out of their small, melodramatic prisons. Akane, on the other hand, has no box to speak of. She has no confrontations, no mental trauma, and no long-term objectives. To say that she has no problems or no goals would be a stretch, as she very clearly does, but by virtue of her being devoid of anything that would spurn the viewer's pathos, she is forced to have what no other character does: a personality. The problem with Akane, however, is that because she stands out so much she seems almost alien, as if she would fit better in another show. Scum's Wish is a story-driven show under the guise of being a character-driven one. As a result, when the group of one-note characters that are defined by their problems are lumped in with an over-the-top character with a big, albeit simple personality, the contrast is blindingly apparent.
Speaking of Akane, sex is a major part of Scum's Wish's presentation, something that will be obvious to anyone who knows the show's reputation. This makes sense, as a core part of the titular scum's wish it sating each other's sexual desires. That being said, to be blunt, if you are looking for a show that looks at sex in a way that is mature or realistic, this is not the show for you. To say that sex is handled poorly in the show would be misleading however, as it does do some things right. For instance, sex is treated far more casually in this than it is in most anime, favoring a more relatable approach as opposed to protecting the innocence of its characters at all costs. Similarly, how the cast treats sex is different between characters, which is also a nice touch.
This in mind, sex is not something that is desired by any of the characters, nor is it something that is ever actually enjoyed. Save for once (illustrated above), there is not a single time throughout this entire series that a character will legitimately enjoy a sexual encounter. In the odd cases where they do, they feel some resentment, usually towards themselves, about the encounter. This is a problem.
There seems to be this misconception among various writers that seriously portraying sex or various emotions can only be done through characters suffering or just generally not enjoying the experience, something that has been addressed before (even in regards to Scum's Wish). This is not to say that, as a whole, sex as it is represented in this show is completely out of place. While it is appropriate at certain points in the series, in others it is used to either appeal to the viewer libido or to accent that the characters involved are "scum". All in all though, the way sex and the desire for it is portrayed here works against the down-to-earth atmosphere that the show is trying to create, likely in an effort to reinforce its guise as a realistic, relatable story.
The plot itself is just messy. On its own, the various arcs could make for compelling stories, but because each arc is meant to fit into the grander story that the show is telling, some of it feels forced. For instance, at one point in the story Hanabi is approached by a phantom of her younger self. This figment of Hanabi's imagination scolds her for how she is handling her relationships and compares her to someone she loathes. While the scene itself is foreshadowed in the opening, it feels as if it comes out of nowhere. This is amplified further once she does actually become similar to the object of her hate through completely unrelated circumstances.
The aforementioned example was essentially a nitpick, as nowhere does the forced nature of the story come out than in regards to Hanabi's relationship with Sanae. Again, on its own it would not necessarily make for a poorly written story, and if the story was a just a romance between Mugi and Hanabi it would be all the more fitting. Unfortunately, this is a story of unrequited love in regards to other characters, and Sanae's purpose in the series is very clearly meant to progress Hanabi's story and nothing more. There is no reason to believe, after she has played her part, that Sanae will be featured in any meaningful way which, as a result, makes it difficult to sympathize with anyone in the scenario.
With all of this in mind, Scum's Wish should have been a much shorter series, maybe even a movie. Its name and concept are a bottleneck that makes character's decisions inane, and this is true for Hanabi more than anyone else. This could fall to the poor structure of the manga- though leeway is given here as it is not uncommon for a mangaka to start with a concept and not plan the entire series out from the get-go, planning as they progress. However, in such a case, it falls to the series composer and the director to see that the series flows in a much more natural, comprehensible manner, and that just is not the case here. This is supported by the director's misunderstanding of the tone he wants to set for the show. Quiet contemplation is mixed with extraneous monologues and comedic scenes pop up to disrupt an atmosphere rather than light humor. Some scenes (in particular, certain restaurant scenes) seem like they're straight out of a different anime and only exist to contextualize the plot or Hanabi as a character through zany dialogue. The only reason any of the show feels organized is because each of the arcs have tightly knit endings, including the end of the show, itself.
While this scene works in context, it nonetheless works as a wonderful illustration of the show's confused direction
Granted, despite all that has been said about Scum's Wish over the course of the review, is it worth recommending? Yes, absolutely. This may seem odd considering the amount that has been pushed against the show completely trounces the pros it has, but how much those things will impact the average viewer varies wildly. People watch Scum's Wish for the drama and sex and they pull viewers through episode after episode until they reach the end. The drama is what all of the characters are defined by, it is what makes the tonal confusion easy to miss- it shrouds most of the show's flaws if you are not the type to analyze shows while you are watching them. This is not a bad thing, and that is the reason I recommend this show.
At face value, Scum's Wish is a trashy Romance Drama that does everything it sets out to do, and if you are looking for just that then you will have a blast with this show. This in mind, Scum's Wish is a jumbled mess that is filled with ideas and writing that miss the mark; if you are the type that needs more than just drama or alright visuals to keep you interested, it might be best to skip this one.