Anyone who has ever tried to create something artistic knows that doing so is as far removed from simple and painless as any task can be and is every bit as exhausting as it is time consuming. Newer and younger creators who have only recently chosen to dedicate their time and mental energy to crafting a creative identity for themselves are intimately familiar with the struggles all artists face on a daily basis, only in their cases those difficulties are amplified by their inexperience and lack of knowledge in their respective fields. In addition to the initial challenge of learning the basics of their crafts, through time and experience they must also discover for themselves what it means to be a creative person and how that identity fits into their everyday lives. Creating artistic content requires extensive thought, planning, introspection, hard work and brutal self analysis that often leaves the creator feeling overwhelmed and discouraged with the task they’ve taken on. Those who persevere through this initial learning curve find the self satisfaction of having done so to be more than worth their while, but during that period all potential rewards for the young creator’s tireless efforts seem despairingly small.
One of the things that I find most interesting about Scum’s Wish is its structure of having multiple narrative perspectives. In the first couple episodes Hanabi immediately seemed to take on the role of the protagonist, the character whom we would vicariously live through as the story unfolded, experiencing her feelings and thoughts exclusively. However, the series didn’t waste very much time before taking a sharp turn in its narrative and character progression and perspective, proving this original assumption to not be the case. It begins to shift in episode two, which ends in Ecchan’s point of view, and from then on it slowly but steadily breaks free from convention altogether. Half of episode three is seen from Mugi’s point of view, followed by episode four being told from four different perspectives, and it only grows more sporadic from there. As the series goes on entire episodes are devoted to exploring the individual stories of what in any other series would be considered “side characters”, making any semblance of narrative consistency completely non existent.
It’s hardly unusual for a series to devote entire episodes to developing the personalities and backgrounds of their side characters. In fact, amongst critics who hold concepts such as character development in high esteem, it’s intrinsically required for a show to do so in order to be considered to be of high quality.However, narrative consistency is also a crucial factor for many of these same critics. Background characters should be developed, but also shouldn’t distract from the central narrative.
Scum’s Wish blatantly defies these critical standards. What we would think of as being the show’s “side characters” aren’t simply given a momentary place in the spotlight before being pushed aside to return to the established narrative perspective. Most series featuring large casts of characters among whom it would be difficult to distinguish a single protagonist generally take a much broader narrative approach, telling the story from the perspective of an outsider looking in rather directly from the character’s point of view. However, in Scum’s Wish, so long as they’re given focus, the story becomes about them exclusively. They become the protagonists of the series, blurring traditional character roles altogether.
While being one of the show’s most audacious ventures from a narrative standpoint, for many viewers it also became its downfall. When the story required the viewer to separate Hanabi from the role of the protagonist to allow the perspective to shift to the other characters, it understandably created some confusion and ambivalence amongst some viewers. According to the MAL statistics, this aspect of the show’s structure wasn’t overly detrimental to the majority of its viewership, but as the show entered its second half I started noticing people becoming more vocal about their criticisms of the series. The story begins and ends with Hanabi, which, for many of these viewers, made her inseparable from the role of the protagonist regardless of how the perspective would change throughout the series, and seeing the writers temporarily put her development and exploration on the sidelines to examine the worldviews and perspectives of completely different characters, for lack of a better term, feels wrong, and even without sharing this sentiment it’s not difficult to understand why some viewers would feel this way. It’s partially because it provides us with little time to get to know and care about each of the characters individually, but perhaps more fundamentally because it’s radically different from how we’re used to experiencing every day life.
As people, we are only able to see the world through a singular lens, that of our own. We’re incapable of fully understanding what the world looks like through the eyes of others, which is why the best stories focus on creating a protagonist that general audiences can easily relate to and root for, and perhaps most importantly, that they can vicariously live through. By removing the role of the protagonist, Scum’s Wish created a void in its narrative structure that is difficult to fill and justify with plot and characterization.
I might as well just get it out there; I wasn’t a big fan of Scum’s Wish, primarily because I don’t relate to or connect with any of the characters personally like some viewers are able to, and its multiple narrative perspectives certainly didn’t help in this regard. I understand that the characters aren’t necessarily supposed to be likable, but none of them were focused on long enough for me to become attached to their personalities and individual stories. It’s not that I can’t become invested in or enjoy a show with unlikable characters, it’s that it didn’t give me the time needed to become invested in them. With that in mind, I can actually agree with many of the criticisms I see of the show and understand from my own experience how it left some viewers unable to relate to it.
Despite its narrative perspective being the source of my disconnect with the series, I think this unique style of storytelling reflects and enhances the interpersonal nature of its conclusion. Thanks to the show’s multiple perspectives, throughout the series we explored how each character saw themselves as the protagonists of their stories. Each had their unique individual goals and wanted to experience a traditional “heroes journey” to achieve them. However, by the end of the show, none of the characters were able to accomplish their goals, or at the very least didn’t gain the result that they would have preferred. But their stories didn’t end just because they didn’t get the happy ending they wanted. In the final episode, each character prepares to move on with their lives with all of the emotional baggage that they picked up along the way, and in this moment I was finally able to make an emotional connection with them. They all seemed to say, “Yeah, we made some mistakes, and now we have to carry their weight, but that’s okay. We’ll live on”, and the show’s structure of having no protagonist allowed me to understand what this realization meant to each of the characters individually, making the conclusion to the story feel almost personal, something I can’t say for most of the show.
Maybe I’m being too romantic about all of this, given I was more than happy to put the series to rest when it finally concluded. However, paradoxically, the part of Scum’s Wish that has caused me to feel so indifferent towards it as a whole is the very same thing that intrigues me about it the most. Its multiple narrative perspectives exemplify a fascinating and audacious style of storytelling that I rarely encounter outside of the literary field, and despite some of my critiques of its application within this particular series, I’d really like to it see done again. If this storytelling method was able to keep me engaged in a series as personally unmoving as this one, then I’d be interested in seeing how I would respond to a show with a similar structure featuring characters that are a little bit easier for me to connect with and relate to.
Well, I just finished Bakemonogatari for the first time and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it. The problem I’ve been experiencing since the final ending theme has been making those thoughts and feelings cohesive, even to myself. Since they’re all still too scattered in my mind to make a full article out of them (for now), I thought I’d just offer a few of my initial thoughts upon completing one of the best selling anime series of all time.
If I were to attempt to describe Bakemonogatari in a single word I’d have a difficult time deciding on one that completely sums up the shows intentions and impressions. Intriguing comes to mind, as does fascinating. I’ve heard it described as a bit pretentious, and although I’m not really fond of that word, I can understand where they’re coming from. I suppose I’d probably end up summarizing it as innovative. From the direction to the soundtrack, the editing to the flow of the story, and the characters to the art and color design, this show broke boundaries. One of the things I find most interesting about Bakemonogatari is that none of its individual facets are original by themselves. The show combines bits and pieces from the horror, romance, harem, drama, suspense and thriller genres, all of which have been done extensively in anime. What makes this series so fresh and creative is the way in which all these individual parts work and flow together. I can name many, many shows with colliding, conflicting genre conventions, but none that work nearly as well as Bakemonogatari does.
Relient K is a difficult band to summarize in a few sentences. In the eighteen years that these Christian punks have been rocking and writing, they’ve changed, evolved and matured with each new release. When the wave of punk-pop began to recede in the ocean of Christian contemporary music and many of the bands that were once at the forefront of the movement began to fade into obscurity, Relient K remained, continuing to change and experiment while staying true to their original creative spirit. Not many of their contemporaries can claim as much.
When Relient K first got their feet off the ground with the help of Toby Mckeehan, I’m not sure anyone was entirely prepared for what their first few albums would bring to the table of Christian music. What the industry gained were songs about Marilyn Manson, Matt Theissen’s fictional crush on Nancy Drew, comparisons between a car and mental breakdown, college life and, as the band would later title their debut book, The Complex Infrastructure Known as the Female Mind…Oh, yeah, not to mention Jesus and church and stuff.
While their songs were goofy, ridiculous and reminiscent of nineties punk-pop acts such as blink-182, the brutal honesty of their lyrics and catchy melodies caught the attention of many listeners early on. Over time, their lyrics continued to mature, and with their gradual changes in sound and style the band begin to tackle bigger, more philosophical questions in their lyrics, climaxing in their albums Mmhmm and Five Score and Seven Years Ago, with tracks such as “When I Go Down”, “Devastation and Reform”, “Let it All Out”, and the eleven minute epic, “Deathbed”. However, after their 2013 album Collapsible Lung, a conceptual pop album about growing old and reminiscing in which Theissen brought in a team of mainstream songwriters, many fans were concerned about the future of Relient K, some going so far as to say that they had “sold out” to the mainsteam music industry. Three years later, Matt Theissen and Matt Hoopes, the two original and remaining members of the band, announced that they were working on their eighth studio album, Air For Free. Right now, I want to try to flush out some of the core themes and ideas behind this album by analytically examining the lyrical and musical content. Let’s do this.