Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
O Maidens in Your Savage Season
Kazusa never expected joining the literature club to lead to so many discussions of sex, a topic she hadn't thought much about before. But the jump from reading children's novels to the great works of Japanese fiction is a shock to her system, and not necessarily a welcome one. She and the other girls in the club use the books to begin thinking about sex and what it means for and to them – a goal, an unwelcome change, a part of life – or maybe something they don't want to think about at all.
Frank discussions of female sexuality in young adult literature are no longer quite so rare as they once were and have certainly come a long way since Judy Blume wrote Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and Forever, which are still likely to be many western readers' first introduction to the topic. Mari Okada's manga O Maidens in Your Savage Season now joins the still relatively short list of titles on the topic. It isn't entirely surprising that she'd be the author of such a series – Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine certainly took a more direct view of Fujiko as a sexual woman than some of the other titles in the franchise and Okada also penned the film adaptation of the novel The Dark Maidens, which definitely has themes that fit the topic comfortably. While her manga still won't be fully comfortable for all readers (in the first volume at least it is very firmly heterosexual-exclusive), it's also a clearer look at the various ways girls begin to explore what sexuality means than we typically get.
The story follows five high school girls, all members of their school's literature club: Kazusa, Hongo, Momoko, Sonezaki, and Sugawara. The girls have begun to read classic Japanese literature of the 20th century, and are somewhat surprised and/or shocked to find how sexually explicit it is. Each has a different reaction to it – Kazusa is largely simply thrown by the sudden shift in her reading, but Sonezaki is deeply uncomfortable, especially when Sugawara, largely regarded as the school idol, reveals that having sex is on her bucket list. The volume mostly focuses on Kazusa and Sonezaki, the two girls who are the least comfortable with the topic, but Sugawara and Hongo provide the most interesting counterpoints to them; Sugawara with her frank admission and Hongo with her perhaps fabricated blasé attitude towards sex.
That Hongo may not be being entirely honest is one of the more interesting less-developed elements of the volume. While she maintains her disinterested façade, implying that she finds the other girls' louder reactions to sexual content immature, we learn that she's been engaging in risqué chats online with someone in the Internet answer to phone sex. She's also looking to break into publishing by writing an erotic novel; although it isn't fully explained, the implication seems to be that she wants to use “high school girl erotica author” as a springboard to publishing fame. The fact that she hasn't quite managed to pull it off to her editor's satisfaction speaks to her increasing frustration, and it isn't difficult to imagine that she's taking a much more dangerous path than any of the other girls.
Kazusa, who appears to be the main protagonist, follows a much more common storyline for this sort of story, although in all honesty we more often see it in series with titles like A Childhood Friend Doesn't Hold Back: she's got a childhood friend, Izumi, who has grownup to be something of a heartthrob, although he's unaware of it. Girls who like him tell her that she's not good enough for him, and that, plus her own tumbled emotions for him, cause her to distance herself from him a bit. They still interact at home to a degree, however, and she's jolted out of her relatively comfortable current relationship with him when one day she walks in on him masturbating to porn. This throws Kazusa, who is already uncomfortable with how her club's increasing sexual preoccupations are making her think, into a total tailspin, which naturally affects Izumi (who is deeply embarrassed) as well. Kazusa's resistance to what is essentially growing up is familiar; she's torn between wanting things to remain the same and being afraid that if they do, she'll lose both a friend and at life. For her, sex and sexual thoughts are the line in the sand: if she crosses it, there's no going back to being who she was, and that's a terrifying thought, but she's also afraid that the tide's coming in and if she misses crossing that line, it will be erased forever.
For other readers, Sonezaki is the character who will feel most relatable. She's so deeply uncomfortable with the idea of sex and sexuality that it's almost become an obsession as she tries to navigate her classmates' increasing infatuation with the topic. It isn't clear if she's not interested because she's asexual and her classmates' words are making her feel like a freak or if she's just not at the point in her life where she's ready for it, but in either case, it's obvious that she's put off by the idea of not just sexual attraction, but of someone being attracted to her. When a boy in her class tells her that she's pretty without her glasses, she's freaked out; when a girl in class makes a joke about her tearing her hymen when she crashes into a piece of gym equipment, she's upset beyond the scope of the jibe. While her classmates label her as a prude, that's far too easy an assessment of her, and Sonezaki's storyline may be the most interesting to follow as the roots of her feelings are explored.
Adolescence really can be a savage season, if not because of your own conflicting emotions and rampaging hormones then certainly because of how you deal with others'. O Maidens in Your Savage Season's first volume sets the stage for an interesting exploration of that time with its focus on female sexuality and the attitudes governing it – whether that's Sonezaki's discomfort, Kazusa's reluctance and conflict, Sugawara's dark days, or the way the adults around them react to their discussions. It isn't perfect, but it also seems as if it isn't going to fall into old toxic tropes, and it's definitely worth a look if you want a series that isn't all sweetness and light.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Emoto's soft art works well, covers a variety of reactions and attitudes to sexuality
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