A common flaw in personality tests is that they tend to engage in a kind of ‘cold reading‘. The ‘answers’ they give are just the answers you gave it, given a small spin, and focusing on the positive – or what it believes you’d consider the positive – traits that you informed the test you had. When in actuality people, and fictional characters, tend to be a blend of positive, negative and even neutral traits. We all have our weaknesses. The phrase ‘Mary Sue’ is, at least allegedly, a criticism to say that the writer wrote a character with solely positive traits thus making them unrelatable and therefore bad. Scum’s Wish does the opposite. Scum’s Wish defines it’s characters almost entirely by their negative traits. How it does this, I feel, is what makes it brilliant.
Scum’s Wish is a story of high schoolers and adults, hurting each other. The main ‘couple’ in the manga are a guy and a girl in love with two teachers and thus dating each other as ‘substitutes’. In effect: we have two high schoolers making out with each other as a coping mechanism for their fool hardly and, as a teenager, world ending crushes. From any kind of rational stand point it’s clear why such a coping method is intrinsically self defeating. Seeking physical pleasure and pretending it’s from the object of your crush is ultimately a way to not move on from said crush. Instead, these main characters are reinforcing their own desires, even though there’s no chance – and there shouldn’t be any chance – of them getting what they want. So, as well as doing a disservice to the person they are using in this fashion, not that they haven’t consented in this instance, these characters are doing huge disservices to themselves through encouraging their own self destructive spirals.
The adults in this manga aren’t much better. One of the teachers in question has made it her central life philosophy to make everyone love her. By ‘love’ I mean, she wants people to completely and utterly fall in love with her, and then she moves on. She’s only interested in sating her own sexuality and her own self obsessions through other people; she sees other people only as means to her own ends. This character, for instance, sets out to make the other teacher – the male teacher that the main protagonist is crushing on – fall for her for the sole purpose of making the protagonist suffer. She has no other reason for doing so. She doesn’t even know our protagonist at this point, just that she is a student at the school and is constantly eyeing the male teacher up. She just wants to make the protagonist suffer and play with this teacher who somehow still blushes at a woman touching his hand briefly.
The rest of the cast is as self destructive as these two, and as the manga goes on things get far more complicated and messy (The protagonist’s tribulations with her own not-straight sexuality is only one part of the relationship web in this manga). But what makes Scum’s Wish particularly special is that all this self destruction is very relatable. For all it’s soap opera extremes, Scum’s Wish never transcends far beyond what high school life can consist in. If I just overlook the whole ‘having sex with students’ thing (which is definietly a non-small thing to overlook!) the woman teacher’s life philosophy is painfully close to how I, at least aspired to, act as a teenager. My high school life was very much made up of me being utterly terrible to those around me in selfish attempts to be loved and adored by others, without necessitating any real emotion from myself. Whilst I can’t say the exact details of the protagonist’s life is particularly relatable, her many self destructive spirals and monologues capture a lot of those dark thoughts and feelings that I never expressed as a teen.
I like personality tests. I’m self obsessed enough to enjoy being told such things like “Which Bakemonogatari character are you?” or whether I’m more ‘extraverted or introverted’. I like self reflection. The kind of self reflection Scum’s Wish allows is not at all a positive one. But I think there’s an important place in the world, in fiction, for such negative self reflections to take place.
(Scum’s Wish is available online at Crunchyroll! Volume 1 (and 2 by the end of January) is also available in stores and on Kindle should you be some inclined! There’s also an anime coming in January but I have no clue what that’s going to be like.)