If there's one genre in anime that I rarely can stomach, it's NTR. A shortened way of saying "netorare", the Japanese phrase for "taken away by sleeping with," these kinds of series are usually filled with characters who cheat on and with one another in ways that are hugely immoral. Making a show within this genre an entertaining watch is, to be blunt, a nearly impossible task. Leave it to Lerche -- the studio who could make Monster Girls sexy, cute schoolgirls horribly hilarious, and a tentacled teacher threatening to destroy the world the most likable being in a show -- to take this task and actually succeed at it, with their adaptation of Mengo Yokoyari's manga series Scum's Wish.
The overall plot in Scum's Wish is a little complicated, so let me see if I can make it less confusing. Hanabi (Chika Anzai/Avery Smithheart) is in love with her older friend Narumi (Kenji Nojima/Adam Noble), who is now her homeroom teacher. Meanwhile, Mugi (Nobunaga Shimazaki/Greg Cote) has strong feelings for the music teacher Akane (Aki Toyosaki/Maggie Flecknoe). However, Narumi and Akane are dating one another, so Hanabi and Mugi decide to fulfill their needs by also going out as friends with benefits. While this goes on, Sanae (Haruka Tomatsu/Molly Searcy) tries to confess her emotions to Hanabi, while Mugi's childhood friend Noriko (Shiori Izawa) does the same to him. And as you can imagine, one messy frolic after another occurs as these friends and colleagues keep messing around with each other.
Needless to say, this anime goes on quite the whirlwind with its characters. At first, you can't decide whether you like them or wish they'd die in a fire. The way both Hanabi and Mugi play around with each other and the other people is just simply unethical in many different ways. Hearts get broken, friendships become strained, and one's own chivalry gets thrown out of the window when a hottie in heat crosses their paths. The seemingly worst out of all the characters is Akane, who constantly sleeps around with random people and friends simply because she craves attention. (Narumi is a saint, though, with probably the biggest heart and cleanest soul compared to the rest of the pack.)
It's when Scum's Wish goes from being a risqué sex drama to a show about finding what a heart truly desires when it finds its redemption song. In its own way, Hanabi and Mugi find themselves at a crossroads where they realize that what they're doing is going to have serious consequences. Sure, Mugi still finds a way to sleep around with Akane while Hanabi goes camping with Sanae after this realization, but it's how they close off these mistakes that reveals a better side of themselves in its long run. Even someone like Akane has this realization thanks to Narumi's golden heart, albeit you still kind of feel like she should be put on a short leash.
But wow, does this anime earn that TV-MA rating, demonstrating some steamy sexual encounters that you'd normally find in either an OVA or -- at worse -- even a hentai series. While you don't see a fully figured person completely in the nude, it doesn't take a scientist to guess what sort of lewd acts everyone is doing between the sheets. Though more comparable to something you'd see on FX than on Showtime, the acts in question make Scum's Wish a series that is in no way for younger viewers' eyes. (Well, at least that's the American mentality of it, as I'm pretty sure this anime was marketed to teens back in Japan.)
Still, I think what Scum's Wish gets right is the emotional aspect of these characters. To be blunt, no one knows exactly how they're feeling or how they're supposed to react. In a way, the series shows how love actually works in the real world rather than going the fairy tale/Hollywood rom-com route. Sometimes the feelings Mugi and Hanabi have are real; other times they just turn out to be illusions. What they go through are learning experiences, and while it causes a lot of friction between their surrounding colleagues, they still can walk away with the knowledge of how to learn to love better. Seeing something like this in anime is kind of a rarity, so for this show to be able to demonstrate these situations in a somewhat mature way deserves some commending.
Emotionally, the voice cast for both the Japanese and English dubs do a very good job with their characters. Anzai's version of Hanabi has a good dose of heartfelt confusion, whereas Smithheart goes all in with the more frustrating aspects of her experiences. Nojima demonstrates a tad bit more innocence with his version of Mugi, while Noble kind of goes for a more laid-back persona that bites deep when something doesn't quite play right for him. A lot of credit goes to both Toyosaki and Flecknoe for their portrayal of Akane, as they goes all cold-hearted at first before doing a 180 when a chance at real love actually falls on her lap.
Once again, Lerche demonstrates why they're probably the best anime production team right now. Despite some of the more on-screen raunchiness and uncomfortable back-and-forths, the visuals in Scum's Wish are absolutely gorgeous. From character emotions zig-zagging between bouncy and cold to the way they animate the cherry blossoms falling alongside the characters, every spot of upfront details are stellar. Also on-par are the backdrops that show the beauty of the city, countryside, and even how pretty and dainty Noriko's room is. Though it may sound like a cheat, I also thought the usage of manga-like panels to animate certain close-ups gave the show a more indie movie feel.
Composed by Masaru Yokoyama (WWW.WAGNARIA!!, The Rolling Girls), the anime's score is surprisingly beautiful in many ways. From the acoustic guitar melodies to the more traditional string sectioned pieces, the songs that fill the background play wonderfully with the mood presented on-screen. Opening theme "Uso no Hibana" is a lovely number by 96Neko, playing through the feelings and emotions that are presented throughout the series. It's Sayuri's end theme "Parallel Lines" that easily takes the breath away from anyone listening, demonstrating why she's one of J-POP's best solo performers out there.
While the series looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-Ray, it's sad that the extras here are bare bones again. Sentai Filmworks either goes all the way with its bonus content or doesn't even try, and sadly this release of Scum's Wish is a victim of the latter. All one can expect from this release, aside from a quality program, are the anime's Japanese trailers, credit-less opening and ending sequences, and some trailers for some Sentai releases.
Scum's Wish isn't the type of anime you should relate with; it's the type where you should learn from the characters' mistakes. No one is exactly innocent from their actions, but at the same time almost no one's at fault. All one can do is follow their heart, even if it brings them some sort of trouble and heartbreak. In a way, Scum's Wish is good at teaching that love can sometimes be unattainable, but a chance will arise once more for your heart to be requited. For that lesson alone, I am grateful that a show like this exists.
Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)/ (English dub)
Final Grade (not an average):
Promotional consideration provided by Mike Bailiff of Section23 Films