The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
O Maidens In Your Savage Season
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O Maidens in Your Savage Season ?
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I'd been looking forward to this adaptation of Mari Okada's coming-age-dramedy ever since I read the manga for the first time awhile back, and Studio Lay-duce has not disappointed in how they've translated this funny, biting, and delightfully honest story to the screen. We've seen more and more anime recently that have attempted to explore female adolescence through a lens of honesty and empathy that doesn't skirt past the awkward and uncomfortable phases of youth that other shows choose to tip-toe around, or simply play for raunchy laughs. What makes O Maidens such a great story is that it acknowledges the horrible paradox of puberty, where sex is both terrifying and humiliating, yet often inescapable and infuriatingly alluring.
You need look no further than the title, which cribs one of the episode's central jokes that I can't help but find supremely hilarious (and absolutely on point). The girls in the Literature Club have been doing what so many young nerds do at their age: They've discovered that the high-minded literature that is coveted by adult society is horny as all get out, and they're using the graphic depictions of lust and love in the books they read as tools for their informal, communal sexual education. I have obviously never been a teenage girl growing up in Japanese society, where young women's sexual expression can be even more difficult to explore and learn about in a healthy way, but I can totally remember when I was a kid getting both freaked out and inspired by all of the dirty stuff hiding between the covers of the grown-up books. When Kazusa, Niina, and the other girls are confounded by a book's culinary euphemisms for a woman's bodily fluids, they get trapped in a feedback loop of making involuntary dirty jokes (as most kids do). When a flustered Rika proclaims that promiscuous girls must taste like miso soup “down there”, there's no coming back from it. Poor Kazusa can't even watch her mom make a homemade meal without her mind turning to the gutter.
It's a difficult time that can be hilarious to look back on as an adult, even when one is also remembering how hard it could be to handle all of those feelings to begin with. O Maidens uses this understanding of melancholy nostalgia with surgical precision, engineering what may be the most awkward visit to a childhood friends' home in the history of anime. It begins when Kazusa catches her crush Izumi right in the middle of what looks to be a very rigorous session of self-pleasure – the kid is whacking away with the door unlocked and the volume up loud, with his feet double-docked on top of his desk like a professional pole polisher, which means he's either incredibly stupid or just banking on the thrill of getting caught. Either way, Kazusa hits sex overload at this point, and what follows is a montage of ridiculously euphemistic store names and trains careening into tunnels that manages to be gut-bustlingly funny and painfully relatable all at once.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season's premiere is a home run for anyone looking for an anime that isn't afraid to cringe along with its cast as they figure out exactly where they stand on the topic of sex and growing up. It won't be for everybody, but it's easily earned a top spot on my watch list for the summer.
Most anime staff are largely unknown to western audiences, and though there are a handful of widely known directors, there are far fewer recognized, acclaimed anime writers. Mari Okada stands as one of the few exceptions to this trend, and for understandable reasons. Not only has she written the original story or done series composition for a wide variety of acclaimed shows (anohana, Toradora!, Hana-Saku Iroha, Wandering Son, etc), but she also has a very distinctive authorial style, and an unabashed love for messy characters and tearful melodrama. When it comes to adolescent character dramas, Okada is one of the best in the business, and thus I was highly anticipating O Maidens in Your Savage Season, which teams her back up with frequent collaborator Masahiro Andou.
If you're thinking Okada might have tuned down her preference for messy, over-the-top adolescent emotions and hilarious personal drama, rest assured, O Maidens is one of the Most Okada things I have ever seen. This first episode is a frank, incredibly awkward, and extremely funny introduction to a literature club full of hormonal teen girls, all dealing with the inescapable nature of sex in their own ways. There is talk of pork miso soup juice coming from between a girl's thighs, and after another girl says she wants to have sex before she dies, she goes on to clarify “I won't want an idea, I want actual penetration.” After the heroine Kazusa walks in on her childhood friend masturbating, we even get an incredible sequence of a train approaching, Kazusa declaring “it can't possibly fit,” and then the train flying beneath the bridge she's standing on and directly between her thighs. While Okada has dealt with plenty of adolescence romances before, O Maidens is specifically and intensely focused on the process of teens coming to terms with sex itself.
This episode's utterly unfiltered approach to sex in teen lives felt refreshing and true to life; though anime often frames adolescent romance in totally chaste terms, the reality is that hormonal teens generally tend to have sex on the brain, even if it's in the form of “sex is gross and I'll never have it.” The five members of Kazusa's literature club all have very different attitudes and approaches to the topic, and watching them awkwardly discuss their feelings offered plentiful examples of Okada's gift for convincing yet funny characterization and dialogue. Additionally, O Maidens' art design and Andou's graceful direction naturally amplified the sense of superficial chastity within this group, making it even more amusing when one or another of them bluntly declares “lately, it feels like sex has been taking over my life.”
O Maidens is funny, well-executed, refreshingly frank, and full of engaging characters from start to finish, but it's really that final masturbation setpiece that tips it into must-watch territory for me. Kazusa sprinting down the street in a horny panic, as phallic signs fly past and a riotous punk anthem plays in the background, felt like a genuinely iconic moment, capturing both the uncomfortable messiness of adolescence and the fond grandeur Okada always brings to it. I think we've found this season's essential character drama.
If the main purpose of a premiere is to tell viewers what a series is going to be about, then the first episode of O Maidens in Your Savage Season absolutely nails it. This show is nothing if not frank about its subject matter, which is actually something of a rarity in this medium. While there's plenty of romance anime out there and shows with sexual content are a dime a dozen, very few titles deal openly with the topic of sex or address how individual characters feel about it. Even fewer manage to do so without devolving into a crass medley of dick and boob jokes. While this episode isn't above the occasional dirty joke, it deserves credit for striking a tone that feels both natural and honest.
Kazusa certainly helps out in her role as the leading protagonist. Her point of view is ordinary enough that most viewers should be able to relate to her on at least a basic level, yet she doesn't feel like a completely blank slate. Her relationship with her childhood friend Izumi (and the middle school drama associated with it) adds some depth to her backstory and gives her a reason to value the relatively calm oasis of the literature club. She also has enough self-awareness to acknowledge the more ridiculous elements of her situation, and that running commentary is a key part of the show's sense of humor. The other club members cover a pretty wide range of perspectives on the topic of sexuality, which should open the door for some compelling discussions as the season plays out.
At the moment, the series seems to have found a comfortable balance between drawing humor out of the perpetually uncomfortable experience of being a teenager and acknowledging the emotional pain that discomfort can inflict. Perhaps most importantly, the two aren't completely separated from one another; the characters are able to use humor to address things that would otherwise be too awkward to face head-on. This premiere is at its best when it's maintaining that balance, and doing so will also be the show's greatest ongoing challenge. If it can steer clear of being too trite or too maudlin, we might have a winner here.
Throw in an art style that fits reasonably well with the overall tone of the story, and you have a first episode that does just about everything pretty well. I can't point to any single moment that really blew my mind, but there's an overall sense of competence here that bodes well for the long run. O Maidens in Your Savage Season runs the risk of getting a little too real for some folks, but if its straightforward approach doesn't turn you away, this is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Our review of the first volume of the source manga, combined with it having one of the most provocative titles of the year to date, got my interested piqued in this title. The first episode did not disappoint; in fact, this one will probably make the cut for my seasonal viewing list. That's because it looks like it is going to firmly and unhesitatingly focus on a topic that anime series about teenagers are usually dodgy about: sex, and especially from a girl's point of view.
To be sure, anime regularly has prominent sexual elements in it; any fan service show or series where harem girls are actively trying to jump the bones of the male protagonist shows that. However, this is a different and much less commonly approach. Here the sexual elements are not being used to titillate or spark outrage but to ruminate on a stage of life that most people – whether girls or boys – go through in their adolescent years: the awakening of sexual interest. The approach the series takes to introducing the topic, where the girls read about it but don't seriously think about it until one girl mentions being interested in actually trying it, is effective, and already we see a variety of different reactions forming to that proposal: one communicates on sexually-laden message boards to get an understanding of it, another considers anything but literary descriptiveness of it to be vulgar but then gets flustered when one boy speaks favorably enough about her to get her imagination running, and two others are perplexed enough about it that they cannot get their minds off it, now seeing sexual references in everything. Further, one is shaken on seeing her male childhood friend, whom she has always regarded as innocent and pure, masturbating to porn. All of these are perfectly normal reactions, and most people – regardless of gender or sexual preference – can probably find at least one of these characters to relate to from their own experience. But the active question is how each girl is going to follow through on her sexual awakening.
So far the series has just the right balance of humor and more serious content, combined with a requisite amount of frankness, to make this exploration work. The color scheme used is curiously flat but the animation is pretty good and the direction is effective; I especially liked how the scene where Kazusa walks in on Izumi and the following scene where she's running were handled. That this is written by (and the original manga was co-created by) Mari Okada is also a potential selling point. The series might have to walk a fine line between being topical and ecchi, but I think it can handle that.
What's the big deal with sex, anyway? That's a question that starts to be considered childish right around high school, when all of a sudden it becomes a status symbol or at least a mark of “adult” maturity. For the kids who don't have a lot of interest in pursuing romance or having sex, that can be a one-way ticket to the social outskirts, especially when all of the information and media around you is pushing the idea that sex is, if not the be-all and end-all of adulthood, then at least pretty damn close. That's the position the girls of O Maidens in Your Savage Season find themselves in, and each of them approaches the issue in their own way, which is where this show seems set to succeed. While Momo has thus far remained quiet, we already know that Hongo believes that she can't be a great writer without sexual knowledge (apparently those “how I write sex scenes” books don't exist in Japan, or she thinks they're silly) and that for Niina it's an item on her nihilistic bucket list. On the other side, Sonezaki is repulsed by the idea of sex, although we don't know why yet, while Kazusa basically just wants to go back to when she could pretend it didn't exist.
In some ways, Kazusa's position is the easiest to understand – she's scared of growing up and having things change, and this new awareness of sex and sexuality is part and parcel of it. She's already having a tough time because of her childhood friend Izumi: he's grown up to be very attractive, and her friendship with him has made her the target of bullies, specifically girls who think she's not “good enough” to be with him in any capacity. Even if you don't want to take that sort of message to heart, it's hard not to when it's constantly repeated, and it's begun to force her to look at Izumi as something besides a friend. When she overhears two girls talking about taking his virginity, she's scared that he's going to be really taken away from her, thrown into an adulthood she's not sure she wants or is comfortable with. That she earlier walked in on him masturbating and so knows he's more sexual than she thought is just the icing on her fear cake.
Momo and Kazusa right now seem like the only two girls not caught up in the very teenage need to be somehow “deep,” and that stands to separate them from the other three. Sonezaki's yearning to be seen as serious is probably just a mask for a similar fear to Kazusa's or an identity on the Q+ end of the LGBTQ+ spectrum that worries her, but it's easy to recognize the need to be seen as mature (or the high school perception thereof) in both Hongo and Niina. Even if you weren't one of these girls – and the jury's still out for me on that front – you probably knew one or all of them, and that fidelity to teenage girlhood is a selling point of the episode. Even if you're not on the Mari Okada bandwagon, this looks like it's going to follow the manga and be a more honest look at female sexuality than we often see.
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