I confess it, I’m still pretty much stumped by Kuzu no Honkai. We’re getting to the point in the season where most decisions normally get made (three episode rule and all that), but rarely have I found a series more vexing than Scum’s Wish. It’s an odd duck to say the least, but so far it’s undeniably compelling and in this extraordinarily thin season, that’s more than enough for now. But if I’m honest, the show is compelling enough that it would be hard to turn away at this stage in any season – it’s not really about the competition (or lack of it).
About the only thing I can say with certainty is that anything and everything involving Noriko is sure to be excruciatingly bad, and if she becomes a major part of the plot that would be a deal-breaker. At thirty seconds or so of screen time like this week it’s a manageable situation. Everyone else is at least watchable, and they all contribute to the fascinating trainwreck of a story that’s Kuzu no Honkai‘s main draw.
Here’s the bottom line, for now – the execution is excellent, both in terms of narrative in direction. Yeah, Andou-sensei is paying stylish homage to Hourou Musuko to the point of imitation, but in terms of presenting the story it’s working. But I can’t shake that uneasy “in bed with a viper” (and I don’t mean that kind) feeling while I’m watching. I feel as if the heart of this series is probably venal and rotten, that it’s going to turn the corner into exploitation and outright depravity at some stage. But until that actually happens, it’s not really fair to treat Kuzu no Honkai as if it has. Innocent is the wrong word, for sure – but maybe “not guilty” until proven guilty is closer to the gist of it.
Ultimately, it seems at the very least Kuzu no Honkai is a story about the ugly side of love – it’s just a question about how ugly the souls of the participants are. There’s a lot of focus on people using each other, and on possessiveness. Ultimately I don’t think either Mugi or Hanabi are bad people, just self-obsessed in the way kids are – but the night is dark and full of terrors on the path they’re treading. There are those who seem to be collateral damage – Noriko and poor Ecchan, for example – they believe their love is the most important thing in the world but to the targets of that love, it’s nothing but a weight that has to be borne.
As Hanabi notes, being the object of such affection is indeed a burden. I feel for Ecchan but if a guy had done what she did, some would be calling him a sexual predator. It’s early days but I honestly believe Hanabi feels nothing romantic towards Ecchan (or as far as we know, towards any female), but her actions in the aftermath of Ecchan’s forced intimacy were rather interesting. She went straight to Mugi’s house the next day (it’s kind of cute that his wallpaper on her phone is wheat), and after he didn’t answer either the phone or the door, let herself in and promptly crawled into bed with him (rather inconveniently for Mugi). It seemed like she was trying to reaffirm her interest in men to herself, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.
We finally got some backstory on Mugi, and it was very welcome. That Mugi was sexually experienced was pretty clear from the start, but I actually think he’s the most innocent among the major players in the drama. In effect he was sexually assaulted by a sempai when he was just a seventh-grader – as she later said, she “stole his adolescence”. Mugi came to feel something for her, naturally enough, but this was not a healthy way for him to be introduced to sexual intimacy. In their interactions so far it’s been Hanabi who’s instigated the physical contact with Mugi, and Mugi who’s pulled back for fear of going too far. He understands the consequences of that better than she does.
It was rather touching (no pun intended) when Hanabi said she wanted to “try and love” Mugi, because it’s the most selfless thing she’s done so far in the series. Things would certainly be easier if those two did come to love each other, and he seems like a genuinely decent person especially given his circumstances. But I don’t think this is that sort of story (I’m repeating myself there), and now that she and Mugi have caught Akane-san in the act of cheating on Narumi, Hanabi seems to be on a mission. That had to be especially galling for Mugi, not just that Akane was with another man but that it was in fact, a boy his own age. His reaction smacks of denial – maybe it was the only way to keep himself from going over the edge – but it ties back into his own rather innocent nature.
The problem for Mugi, as I see it, is that Kuzu no Honkai seems like the sort of story that chews up innocence and spits it out in disgust. This could go in any number of directions, and almost all of them are unpleasant. How far are we, really, from Hanabi and Mugi going from being partners in comfort to partners in revenge? Not very, I would argue – and when things start to go dark here (well, darker), I don’t see a whole lot of friction to slow down the runaway truck. Part of the fascinating nature of the show, no question, is that sense that a horrifying bloodbath is imminent at any time – but that it’s still fascinating is impossible for me to deny.