In general, romance is a genre of hopefulness. In certain ways, it’s full of very idealized stories where readers and viewers place their hopes and dreams on the shoulders of characters and their happiness. There are struggles and there is conflict, but fans are generally assured of their “happy endings.” Romance isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s hard to deny the eagerness and authenticity of classic romance anime like Nodame Cantabile or more contemporary hits like Ore Monogatari. It takes excellent characterization and plot to elevate a show above the rest. Kuzu No Honkai (Scum’s Wish) has a premise that draws attention over the rest of the season’s anime.
Seventeen-year-old Mugi Awaya and Hanabi Yasuraoka are the perfect high school couple. They are both pretty popular and the seem to suit each other well. However, what outsiders don’t know is that their relationship is built on a single shared secret: They’re each in love with someone else.
“Hopeless Love. Painful Love. Unrequited Love.”
Love triangles are a standard staple of the romance genre. Sometimes, there are even love polygons, well used in the much loved (and much derided) harem genre of anime. After the first four episodes, Kuzu No Honkai seems to dance with both love and a concept that often mirrors it – desire. Love and desire can be easily confused with each other, especially in both real and fictional high school. Hanabi is in love with her childhood friend and mentor, Narumi Kanai, who became her teacher at her school. Mugi is infatuated with his middle school tutor, Akane Minagawa. Fate is cruel to the series protagonists, as Narumi and Akane are more interested in each other than in their younger peers. Puppy love transforms into unrequited pain for Hanabi and Mugi and it’s utterly unbearable for the two.
“Everything But My Feelings”
Misery loves company, but Mugi and Hanabi vow that love will never be on the cards. They share their frustrations with each other and, over time, even more. However, love is rarely a single, one-way street and the plot is steered into more complex territory with the introduction of other characters. In a touch of irony, the dual leads are themselves objects of affection and desire of their classmates. Sanae “Ecchan” Ebato pines for her best friend Hanabi and Noriko Kamomebata, aka Moka, sees no future with no one else but Mugi.
“There is nothing more revolting…”
Emotions are tantamount in Kuzu No Honkai and it’s fascinating discovering how each character rationalizes their decisions. Love makes people blind and vulnerable to a whole host of questionable thoughts and actions. Convictions are tested when words boomerang, forcing characters to face their own dirty hypocrisy. Questions familiar to anyone who’s ever been in love pop up over and over. Should a person risk the friendship for love? Is a person truly in love with you or just the idealized version of you in their head? Can there ever only be “The One?” Is it alright to play second fiddle? All this makes it easy to sympathize, at least in part, to the characters.
Every episode peels back more about the backstory of each character, with Hanabi clearly in the lead of characterization. Recent (and surprising) revelations indicate that she will be the driver of the plot moving forward. Thankfully, occasional doses of comedy and levity help save it from being a complete downer.
“If I can just imagine his face…”
This waltz of desire doesn’t shy itself from the physical aspect of love, which undoubtedly caught many unfamiliar with the source material off guard. So far, it tackles intimacy in the wonderfully awkward way of anyone in high school. In a sense, it can also show how the physical can both be divorced and intertwined simultaneously with the emotional. Sometimes it can be sweet and other times, it can be genuinely uncomfortable.
A Living Manga
The overall art direction of Kuzu No Honkai helps solidify the themes of the show. Many scenes utilize manga-like panels to show several POVs or to highlight minute details. This is often used to give a clue to the state of mind or emotions of each character present. Frequent use of filters and smoke-like transitions emphasize flashbacks and character epiphanies.
Eyes are another striking detail of Kuzu no Honkai. Often, there’s a distinct shift from normal eyes to a more sullen “dead” look. It’s during these times that the characters seem to retreat inward, either in anger, reflection, or shame. This anime truly utilizes the idea that the eyes are the windows to the soul.
Music adds more dimensions as well. In fact, the opening, “Uso No Hinabi“, and the ending, “Heikousen“, hammer home the idea of the unrequited love of all the ill-fated characters. The kinetic energy makes it easy to feel the that the characters are running towards some unattainable goal. Background music adds to the atmosphere, especially with melancholic piano arrangements.
Kuzu no Honkai can be a divisive show. It’s easy to see how deplorable they can be. As a fictional medium, people can explore these kinds of situations safely. Additionally, the characters feel so real in the convictions and confusion that it’s hard not to relate, in one way or another. It’s arguable that the romance itself isn’t clear or even present at all. Nevertheless, it’s shaping up to be a unique piece of psychological drama that warrants watching the first four episodes.
Can Hanabi, Mugi, and the rest capture their hearts’ desire? Is that even what they truly want? Only the next episodes can tell…
You can watch Kuzu No Honkai at Amazon!