Hanabi and Mugi may appear to be the perfect couple on the outside, but in reality they are hiding a major secret.
Hanabi Yasuraoka and Mugi Awaya appear to be a perfect high school couple, with good looks, popularity, and a strong relationship. However, the truth is completely different. Hanabi and Mugi are connected, but in a surprising way: their mutual love for someone else unattainable. Because they are unable to have a relationship with their true loves, they both seek solace in using each other as a replacement. Unfortunately, this doesn't exactly solve their problems. Is it possible to find happiness in heartache?
How Was It?
Scum's Wish is, at its core, a romantic drama with an emphasis on drama. The story mostly follows the relationship of Mugi and Hanabi through Hanabi's point of view, but it's not just the two of them who are unable to attain their goals in romance. There's a consistent theme throughout the first volume (and likely the rest of the series) of not getting what/who you want. Building off this, Scum's Wish looks at its characters and how they react to this failure. While everyone is unsuccessful in love, they are all unsuccessful in different ways and react to it differently. It's this aspect that made the first volume surprisingly engaging for me.
As I previously said, the story is primarily told through Hanabi's viewpoint. Hanabi is by far the most engaging character, which makes sense considering her protagonist status. The main reason for this development-wise though is because the narrative is good at building her up as a sympathetic character. Hanabi's plight definitely makes you feel sorry for her, but it's not that straightforward. For one, though Hanabi is hopelessly in love with someone, it's not as if she's a completely helpless heroine. Although the internal dialogue reveals a pensive kind of person, she is very assertive and intelligent. She's more than capable of performing well academically or winning verbal arguments, and is generally a charismatic and emotive person. But despite this happy, outgoing exterior, there's a lot more distress going on in her mind behind the scenes. It's this contrast in her character that makes her sympathetic for me; she's strong, but despite her strength she isn't immune to being heartbroken.
Ironically, my main problem with the volume stems from missing development or vagueness on the part of Hanabi's significant other, Mugi. Mugi's primary development so far in this first volume has been through comparison to Hanabi, which would be fine if there wasn't a lack of other information about him. Mugi's similar situation of impossible love and the frequent examination of Hanabi's handling of her issue makes me want to know more about how he is handling his own problems behind the scenes. There are vague, mildly tantalizing hints to his character throughout the volume, but I feel that Hanabi's emotional struggle would be strengthened if Mugi was further developed. Thankfully, these hints make it seem likely that Mugi will be explored much more in the near future.
Scum's Wish starts right off the bat with Mugi and Hanabi in a relationship and fleshes out their romantic pasts later in the volume. This is done quite effectively for the most part, and the progressive fleshing out of Hanabi's backstory benefits because of it. However, this has a side effect of making her relationship with her unrequited love Narumi a bit vague for western readers. Since we don't actually learn of how she knows Narumi until later in the volume, Yen Press's usage of "onii-chan" (a term generally used by children in Japan for boys older than themselves, regardless of their relation) might lead some readers to misunderstand the fact that Narumi and Hanabi are neighbors. Unfortunately for Hanabi, Narumi is a couple of years older than her, already a teacher in training at her school, and completely oblivious of her feelings towards him. This exploring of her past experiences with Narumi over time is a very engaging addition to Hanabi's character. Outside of potential interpretive pitfalls, learning of her past and motivations for the present helps develop Hanabi effectively and is generally a narrative plus.
Scum's Wish's use of a non-linear story line is not the only reason its plot is engaging for me. In many Japanese romantic comedies and dramas, the romantic side of things progresses very slowly. Because of this, it's always nice to see a series that moves past hand-holding and explores more fully what comes after the start of a relationship. Scum's Wish's particular style of the coming-of-age drama benefits heavily from more realistic and personal character interactions. The angst and general romantic stress is palpable throughout the volume, and every aspect of the story, from character development to dramatic tension, benefits from it. In addition to this, author Yokoyari's illustrations are particularly effective at conveying emotion. Although backgrounds are fairly sparse, there is a consistent level of quality in character illustration, from the shading of hair and eyes to facial emotions and body posture.
Scum's Wish is a surprisingly thoughtful and emotionally evocative coming-of-age drama. The non-linear narrative and engaging protagonist are made even better by design of the characters and the realness of their relationships. While there are potential pitfalls for reader understanding and future development, Scum's Wish is off to a promising start with its first volume. If you're looking for a quality romantic drama manga, then I would recommend giving the series a read.
Scum's Wish is written and illustrated by Mengo Yokoyari. It is translated by David Rowe-Caplan and Megan Denton, and is published in English by Yen Press. The second volume is scheduled to release on January 24th, 2017. The series also has a planned anime adaptation that will air starting in January.
Date of Publication: October 25th, 2016
Author: Mengo Yokoyari
Translator: David Rowe-Caplan, Megan Denton
Publisher: Yen Press