O Maidens in Your Savage Season ramps up the melodrama as its five frustrated heroines come to terms with all their confused emotions on love and sex. This week, Micchy and Steve discuss these relatable character arcs in Mari Okada's latest creation.
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So Steve, it's been a while since we last talked about the maidens in their savage season. And in that time, they've experienced the sweetest of honeymoon phases, the most awkward firsts, and a whole lot of
Yep! That is pretty much exactly my reaction to something in every episode.
You can say a lot of things about Mari Okada's work, but "restrained" is not one of them. Whether it's dwelling on the highs of first love or delivering the most pointed savage commentary, O Maidens never pulls its punches. It's especially apparent now that our girls have moved beyond their initial curiosity about sex and started exploring it for themselves in wildly different ways.
Y'know, I was going to suggest we start off with the happier plotlines before moving into the more troubling ones, but O Maidens is adamant about emphasizing that adolescence is a living hell for everybody in at least one way or another. That said, I'd wager Sonezaki has been the luckiest (if we wanna call it that) when it comes to diving in.
She and Amagi are awkward as hell but shockingly functional as a couple, considering Sonezaki's previous qualms about associating with boys or sex in any capacity.
Nothing she says is remotely new to anyone else, but to a girl in the honeymoon phase of her first relationship, everything is a revelation to her. She's so giddy about the simple idea that somebody might actually like her that she gets carried away and spins everything in the most positive way she can. Now I doubt Sonezaki and Amagi's sweet puppy love can sustain itself for long in the emotional storm that is adolescence, but for now the two of them are happy, so good for them!
It helps that Amagi is a genuinely nice boy, plus she hasn't walked in on him jerking off yet. So compared to the rest of the cast, they're doing super well! I think what resonated with me the most was Sonezaki's revelation that romance is distinct but not necessarily separate from sexual desire. That dampens her affections initially, but with some help from Jujo, she comes to realize that she has nothing to be ashamed of, and the feeling of loving and being loved back is worth any embarrassment.
That moved me, because that shame and guilt is something I remember struggling with after being
That she announces all this in front of the entire student body is the cherry on top. She's spent so long trying to keep her outward image of honor student separate from her inner girl in love that to put all her feelings out in the open, not just to Amagi but all her peers, is a huge step in shedding her previous animosity toward the Other Girls.
I especially loved her little Power Pose:
She's so awkward. They're both so awkward. Neither of them are particularly elegant or aligned with teen romance archetypes—Sonezaki's far weirder than the usual "charmingly awkward" heroine, and Amagi in any other show would be the friend who plays wingman from the sidelines—but that's what makes them adorable. Children, you are alone at a bus stop at like 9 pm. Nobody's watching you hold hands, I promise.
They were only at odds because Sonezaki bought into the narrative that sexually active girls are brainless and shallow. But that's not true; that dichotomy is just a tool to pit women against each other and prevent them from questioning the boxes they've been put in.
Yeah, O Maidens is all about kicking those boxes in and revealing how shallow they truly are.
Yup! Just as Jujo is more than her sex life, Sonezaki's more than just a nerd and Niina's more than the pretty girl. Each of the characters has hidden depths, and O Maidens shines when recognizing their complexity. "Complex" can sometimes mean "a goddang mess", though. Luckily, Kazusa and Izumi more or less have things under control.
Oh yeah, O Maidens is also about awkwardness so palpable that it chills me to the bone.
At least they finally admitted their feelings to each other! That's a start! Even if Izumi did it in the same breath that he called Kazusa both his younger and older sister.
He likes her, but he's not sure exactly in what way—as a sister, a friend, or a romantic partner, it's not entirely clear. And it doesn't have to be; they're allowed to figure it out as they go. It gets complicated because Izumi is a hormonal teenage boy whose johnny gets distracted by all sorts of things, including his girlfriend's best friend.
Ugh, this scene hurt so much for so many different reasons. But to focus on Izumi, when we reach adolescence, everybody is just figuring stuff out about themselves and their bodies as they go along, and our childish preconceptions about those things end up hurting more than helping. So we have Izumi thinking he's betrayed Kazusa because he got a boner, which we know was entirely out of his control, but he doesn't.
It's so shitty.
Sexual desire is often linked to but not synonymous with love; the whims of his willy aren't a betrayal any more than jerking off to train porn is a betrayal. But he doesn't know that, and he's so hesitant to talk about it that it's bound to cause problems between him and Kazusa.
I think it's important that this is also tied to the guilt he already holds about the commuter molestation porn he watches. There's a delineation between sexual fantasies and reality, but it's often messy, and having that control stripped from him makes a bad situation even worse.
It's a crappy situation all around! Especially since the one pressuring him to overthink things isn't in the greatest place herself.
Niina is definitely following through on her promise.
But she's not the first one to blame. For the kind of narrative that doesn't exactly have heroes or villains, Saegusa is absolutely one of the skeeviest baddies Okada has ever written.
Izumi has the right impression of him.
He's such a pointed portrait of the esteemed male artist who regards women (and girls) as muses but nothing more, just to satisfy his own ego and desires.
He's awful in many ways, encouraging Niina's worst instincts for his own entertainment/inspiration. But it's also important to note that while Saegusa might be Niina's most direct abuser, he's in no way the only one to reinforce her warped self-image. Catcalled from a young age and assumed to be one of the Mean Girls, Niina's been pigeonholed and isolated her whole life. And while she hates being put in a box, it's also the only kind of validation she knows. So without any support, she latches onto the first person who shows her any sympathy, which happens to be Izumi. At first, she can talk to him honestly because they're not friends; with Momoko and Kazusa, Niina feels like she needs to be the mature one, but with Izumi she can be vulnerable.
Oh yeah, her friendship with Izumi has been sweet to watch before this point. They were both able to be honest with each other about things they were otherwise repressing, and absent of toxic outside influences, I think it was a good experience for both of them. Unfortunately, we live in a society that constantly pits women against each other, so even her best friends end up making assumptions based on tired stereotypes.
The only problem is that they don't quite hash things out all the way. They resolve the issue temporarily without fully addressing why they're so upset with each other, which would take a lot of self-reflection, communication, and pain.
And ideally, without the interference of an old pervert trying to groom one of his ex-students into a weird emotional vampire like himself.
Niina and Kazusa reach an understanding, but that doesn't change the crap Niina's been put through, nor does it fix Kazusa's lack of self-esteem. And their friendship can only do so much to stave off the influence of Creepo Director.
Dude's out here sounding like an Ikuhara villain.
Niina's relationship with him is a heap of contradictions. She wants to break free of him, but she's also desperate for his attention. She wants to live her own life, but she puts herself in a cliche love triangle situation for lack of a better plan. Whether she actually likes Izumi is irrelevant; what she wants is somebody to act as proof that she's free of Saegusa's influence. She's less interested in Izumi than in having a boyfriend to love her unconditionally, a partner to support her. Her bucket list wish to have sex is just a convenient excuse for her to act on her impulses.
This results in another excellent and painfully appropriate use of a Blue Hearts song in the middle of an episode.
The biggest irony is that everything Niina does to stick it to Saegusa is fascinating to him. Her very resistance is his entertainment; she can't win this game by choosing to play it.
She's scared because she was already abandoned once by her abuser, and nobody else cared or understood, so she's defaulting to what others project on her, for fear that she can't form connections otherwise. It's really sad, but it's an accurate portrait of how abuse messes with a person. O Maidens can be
What I appreciate the most is that through all this, Niina is written like a complex and sympathetic character, even as she makes bad decisions that hurt the "main" couple.
She's no simple rival, that's for sure. Niina's decisions, while absolutely terrible, are rooted in understandably messy emotions.
She just needs some help from a friend. Unfortunately, all of her friends are also going through their own messes. Like Momoko finally realizing that maybe she likes girls.
Just a girl getting platonically aroused by the back of her friend's neck, which is commonly regarded in Japanese pop culture as the torso equivalent of zettai ryouiki
She just thinks girls are super soft and smooth.
Momo. Momoko. Girl...
I for one appreciated the "queer girl who goes on a date with a guy without realizing it until halfway through" representation, speaking as someone who did that more than once in high school. The "wait I thought we were just going out for burritos, what is going on" squad.
It doesn't help that he's also the Worst Guy.
Sugimoto: "I'm not trying to hit on you or anything, I just want to get to know you better". Also Sugimoto:
Although in a sense, I suppose his consummate awfulness helped accelerate her realization that she was definitely not into the whole "boys" thing.
The red flags started at "it's abnormal that you don't have a dad, so I'm gonna take your confidence as proof that we're friends" and never stopped from there. Between texting nonstop, interpreting basic politeness as flirting, and telling his friends that they're an item, Sugimoto is 100% a Reply Guy, that dude in your DMs who won't take a damn hint. If only it were so easy to call out the randos who won't leave you alone.
Extremely good riddance to him, and I'm glad the scales seems to have finally fallen from Momo's eyes. But since we can't have nice things in O Maidens, the object of her affection is of course a huge mess right now too.
Honestly, admitting to crushing on a friend is terrifying when you're queer and have no idea how they'll react. So kudos to Momoko for being brave (or impulsive) enough to say as much. Figuring out your sexuality is tough when it goes against how you've been raised, and these girls are having no easy time of it.
It's so tough out there, and I'm rooting for her all the way!
On the other end of things, there's the girl playing Sex Chicken with her teacher.
Ah yes, my favorite arc, featuring, Hongo, Milo, and my long unbroken scream. Short of actually sleeping with his student, Milo has consistently made the worst decision in every possible scenario, and their scenes together have been alternately cringe-tastic and sad.
It's so painful yet so funny. I can never decide whether to laugh or scream.
This is Okada at maximum power, using bawdy sex comedy tropes as a vehicle for genuine pathos between two deeply lonely people.
A voice in my head yells at max volume every time these two push their game of Chicken even farther, but Okada's framing of their arrangement is plenty nuanced. Hongo tries so hard to prove she's adult enough for Milo-sensei, but all she gets is pain and disappointment.
They play these back-and-forth mind games because they think that's the only way to get through to each other, but in the end, they're each too scared to tell each other what they really need to say. It's a pretty accurate portrait of how people will dance around issues for fear of hurting or getting hurt, but only hurting each other even more when the dam inevitably breaks. I'll forgive Hongo for being a dumb horny teen, but Milo should've put the kibosh on her advances immediately.
If he were a responsible adult, that's what he would have done. But I guess he's barely a functioning adult himself. Not even his extra years of life experience can give him all the answers.
I think as adults ourselves, we can all agree with that.
If it makes a difference, I have read ahead and I can tell you that Milo-sensei is about to get hella owned. I can't wait.
I'd expect nothing less from the master, Mari Okada