In media, teenagers often possess a delicate balance of callousness and narcissism. In CW dramas like Gossip Girl, producers lean into their more sociopathic tendencies, not considering the emotional debates that lead them to cheat, steal or hurt others, all well-trod stereotypes of teenagers discovering themselves. Often, in real life, it is self-preservation driving these things. That’s the one thing so many dramas don’t capture.
There’s a new anime that does, and with cutting tenderness. Scum’s Wish is without a doubt my top anime this season. Based on a 2012 manga and produced by Studio Lerche, Scum’s Wish is a disturbing but empathetic drama about how teenagers use others and are used, all in the service of keeping afloat. It’s only four episodes into a ten-episode series, but it’s already slated to be one of my all-time favourites.
Hanabi is a 17-year-old high-schooler who dates Mugi, a handsome older student. They go through all the motions of young love, stowing away behind the school to kiss and walking each other home. There, in the dark, they test their sexual and emotional limits as any young couple would. But it’s a farce. Each is in love with someone they can’t attain. To satisfy their emptiness, they have agreed to use each other as foils.
“Why don’t you pretend that I’m him?” Mugi says after school one day, leaning in to kiss Hanabi’s neck. “It doesn’t matter,” Habani responds. “I’m a replacement, too.” Mugi tells her to close her eyes. Pressed against him, Hanabi sees her crush’s face staring back. At first, their agreement is cold and transactional. Slowly, it thaws.
It soon becomes clear that a web of characters has formed around Hanabi, each with their own wicked yet understandable romantic motives. Through time, Hanabi tries to figure out whether she’s the kind of person who can be satisfied by lies.
Maybe it sounds campy, but full of painful silences, Scum’s Wish is a psychological maze. Sometimes, it’s funny. In a private karaoke room, Hanabi and Mugi sing depressing pop-punk together, entirely off-tune, as consolation. It’s a sad moment, for sure, spun as a silly one.
This might go without saying, but Scum’s Wish is extremely NSFW. Sexual scenes are drawn with a rare fidelity to teenaged romance. Sometimes, awkward questions break up these scenes, making them even feel even more real. It’s at times uncomfortable, but never porny. At one point, Hanabi stumbles upon Mugi after he’d had a wet dream.
In terms of the actual animation, it’s clean with bright colours and detailed backgrounds. It’s got these Samurai X petals falling all the time. Compared to this season’s trend of over-the-top colours and animation sequences, Scum’s Wish is one of the more beautiful but understated anime I’ve seen in a while — a welcome contrast.
My recommendation is to watch it alone, so each of its increasingly dark and lonely notes will hit harder.