Scum’s Wish – Episode 1

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll be embarking on a brand new journey, as we check out the first episode of the 2017 drama Scum’s Wish. I recall a fair degree of buzz regarding the Scum’s Wish manga, with the story making waves for its willingness to engage with the emotional and physical messiness of teenage sexuality. In a field that frequently sanitizes relationships to the point where a chaste kiss is the ultimate expression of sexual fervor, Scum’s Wish acknowledges that teens are horny, and often express that horniness in self-destructive ways.

As for the production, we’ve got Masaomi Andou serving as director, whose projects all tend to feature a few common signatures. The most obvious indicator that you’re in an Andou production is the proliferation of screen-in-screen shots, where a character reaction, physical action, or some other variable is illustrated through smaller boxes layered on top of the original image. This technique tends to create a distinct sense of flow in his works, as well as the sense of a “moving comic” that is a bit closer to manga than film. Andou balances this visual signature with an otherwise restrained, almost conservative approach to direction, generally favoring clear, wide shots over angled or aggressive cinematography. Given this is a manga adaptation, I assume that’ll all translate to a rigorously manga-loyal adaptation, with his flourishes almost recreating the paneling of the source material.

Alright, I think that covers everything I know about this property and production. Let’s get to it!

Episode 1

Nice opening shot, as we are introduced to a white screen with text noting it’s July, and then the screen pulls back, revealing that what appeared to be a blank background is actually the blinding light of the sun through the trees. A clever way to fuse typography and establishing shots, appropriate for a director as conscious of directorial manipulation as Andou

And here we go, already getting some screen-in-screen tricks for this falling water droplet. I like how the shifting composition draws our energy across the screen – we follow the track of this water droplet from left to right as the panel appears, but then the splash happens on the left hand side of the screen, drawing us back home, and then the ripples spread rightward. Andou is intensely conscious of the audience’s focus point, and tends to explicitly draw the eye around the composition through movement, rather than assuming the audience will be looking at the right thing

In spite of the bright colors, the soft focus and piano melody lend this scene a strong sense of melancholy. A gloomy spring

A girl caresses a desk in an empty classroom. I like the uneven linework of the characters; it both lends them a sense of fragility, and also improves the composite

“I thought he was my soulmate. There’s no one better than you.” Bright pastels blur this memory, emphasizing how she felt in that moment

A teacher enters, who she calls “onii-chan.” This seems to be the guy she was in love with. Hoo boy

Her name is Hana Yasuaroka

“I’ve known you ever since you were little.” Hoo boy #2

Ms. Minagawa, another teacher, appears at the door. Hana’s death stare seems to imply this is her love rival

The screen-in-screen tricks allow Andou to create shot-countershot compositions without disruptively shifting the camera position. Minagawa’s aggressive physical movements and Hana’s blank assessment of them can be contained in the same composition. As I said, his style allows for energetic visual flow while still maintaining a serene overall pace

“Hopeless love. Unrequited love. Are they really that beautiful?”

She meets a blonde boy in the hall, who seems to understand the situation. They head outside and embrace in a kiss

Here the screen-in-screen serves a different purpose, forcing the characters together in the screen

Oh wow, some incredibly detailed texture work for this closeup of her hair and eyes. They actually evoke the style of the manga covers for a moment here

Ah, each of them wish they were dating their representative in the teacher’s relationship. What a mess!

We jump back to April after the OP

Some nice compositions using the cherry blossoms as a fringe, while we learn this is Hana’s junior year

“Big Bro” is her homeroom teacher. Once again, soft lighting filters emphasize Hana’s feelings at this realization

Hana immediately realizes when Kanai becomes infatuated with Minagawa

I like her petty, grumbling reaction in class. This has all been a bit too “fated love” so far, too honestly enraptured with the sense of melodrama teenagers bring to their first crushes, so I appreciate this glimpse of obvious childishness

Kanai’s first name is Narumi. Apparently he even eats dinner at Hana’s place

“Why do I feel so saved by such a meaningless little thing?” A very interesting thought. It seems like Hana is consciously grappling with the distance between her childish, easily-flattered adoration for Kanai, and the substance and complexity of an actual relationship. Her mind is a little ahead of her emotions

He lives alone with his father, and is eager to get married

Another neat use of screen-in-screen shots: using these centered compositions with a white square around them as a sort of title page, introducing us to new chapters in the story

Hana recalls a field day from years ago, when she was mocked for competing with Kanai instead of her parents in the three-legged race

Hana feels ashamed that her parents couldn’t make it to this event, but Kanai has the perfect antidote: her mother’s homemade lunch, that she stayed up late to prepare

Each of them were raised by single parents, and they basically grew up as siblings, each making up for what the other lacked. I can see how a situation like that might lead her to believe in them having some kind of “destined” connection

As always, a rushing train makes for a fine adornment to their melodramatic goodbye, as Hana’s tears are both spotlighted and disguised by the lights and the sound respectively

Apparently the blond boy is Mugi. He helps Minagawa gather her papers when Hana bumps into her at school

Mugi Awaya. Apparently he has a similarly close extracurricular relationship with Minagawa, and they’re used to calling each other by their first names

Lovely burnt orange colors as they meet after school, making great use of the contrast between the evening light and the pink cherry blossoms

Akane Minagawa was his tutor in junior high

“Yeah, yeah. Guys like those cute, doe-eyed girls.” Unsurprisingly, Mugi and Hana possess a much more equal, conversational rapport than either of them do with their objects of affection. They spent their journey into adolescence seeing their obsessions as romantic ideals, distant and “perfect” loves. No wonder they can barely talk to them

I’ll admit, it’s a little hard for me to invest in drama where my main takeaway is “give it a year, you’ll outgrow these feelings in no time”

June is introduced with rain. “Before we knew it, we were spending a lot of time with each other.”

Their first embrace is portrayed quite well – I like how they awkwardly keep seeking approval from each other’s expressions, then turning away in disappointment

“I’m pretty good-looking, you know.” It’s all awkward and defiantly unromantic, and I really appreciate that. New or young love isn’t glamorous; it’s clumsy and uncertain, and demands a lot of negotiating comfort levels and asking questions. Stories tell us to expect that everything will make sense in the moment, but then the moment comes and you’re still your same awkward self, just discussing your feelings with fewer clothes on

These moments are fairly well-captured, but to be honest, I still don’t feel like I know much of anything about these two leads. They are defined by their feelings for others, and their feelings for others are basically the same as any high schooler with a hopeless crush. To invest in this story, I’m going to need to care about these characters, and caring about them demands knowing them as people

Nice use of these black ink splotches to imply her sense of the “darkness” within herself, the ugliness of her desires

Kanai sends her a text thanking her for dinner, and saying she shouldn’t tell the other students. It seems like Kanai himself is intentionally provoking this situation – I mean, it’s not hard to see that Hana is entirely infatuated with him

And we’re back to July, where Hana is declining some classmate’s proposal

“There’s nothing more revolting than the affection of someone you’re completely disinterested in, is there?” God damn, Hana

“Are you sure you won’t fall in love with me?” “No. I promise.”

“And so we made a pact that neither of us would fall in love with the other.” God, they’re such children. They even sign it with a pinky swear!

And Done

Hmmm! Interesting. Well, there were things I liked about that premise, and also things I didn’t. On the brighter side, Andou’s direction is being put to good use here, fitting in more neatly than in a property like Astra: Lost in Space. Additionally, I like how the show builds an awkward, earnest atmosphere throughout its intimate moments, which feels very true-to-life.

On the other hand, I don’t really care about the relationships or characters so far. Their feelings are childish and mundane, but that’s to be expected – the bigger issue is that I don’t really know them, as all I know about them is that they’re harboring doomed romantic feelings. If I felt the show were actually commenting on the distance between our adolescent expectations and reality, like Oregairu or whatnot, I’d have more to dig into. But so far, it’s mostly just held to the perspective of the characters themselves, which doesn’t give me much beyond “yep, they sure are teenagers.”

Looking forward, I’d be happy to see the show address my complaint from either angle – either give us more personality, or give us more thematic intent. Fortunately, I’m fairly confident my issues are mostly a result of this premiere’s distinct priorities; it was focused primarily on building up Hana’s headspace, and did that quite effectively. From here, I’m guessing our perspective will broaden a bit, giving us a more balanced perspective on the personalities of our lead players. I’m looking forward to it!

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