My first impression after finishing this series was that the ending was rushed. There were certain characters and sub-plots that needed more time develop, but instead felt pushed to the side in order to give focus to a more bombastic and engaging climax. After said climax, an arbitrary time jump occurs to showcase the characters’ near futures but ignores the immediate falling action of the incident and repercussions for the people involved. The conclusion feels like a hastily tied together bow for a series that was, at the last minute, assured not to receive a second season. However, after looking into the manga, I found out the anime actually follows the source material quite accurately. This isn’t to say O Maidens in Your Savage Season: “the anime” is excused from critique of having a lackluster ending, as an adaptation shouldn’t necessarily be judge on the merits of how well it copied the original. I’m just merely pointing out that this was the original creator Mari Okada’s intention. And although I started this review at the end, and seem to have favored it rather poorly, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this funny, awkward, and earnest coming-of-age story.
For starters, I really liked almost all the characters individually, and certain pairings even more. Kazusa is a fine protagonist, average by design and thus a source of her inner struggle—anxiety birthed from the natural changes being made in her adolescence, amplified by being confronted with the fact that she modest and normal amongst girls who are seemingly more unique and developed than her. She finds comfort in her platonic friendship with Momoka, as well as being with her literature club, which by the way is the center of all of these relationships. Early on Kazusa realizes she has feelings for the handsome neighbor boy and childhood friend, Izumi, and thus quickly gets into many awkward scenarios which leave her face in an almost permanent shade of ruby red. As the story progresses, her situation goes through ups and downs, but doesn’t tread any annoying paths of “will they, won’t they?”.
Momoka is the weakest of the 5 main protagonists, being not as interesting or as developed as even some of the supporting cast. Her first main conflict is resolved so fast it’s hardly noticeable, and the conflict that follows isn’t truly resolved at all. She seems like a needless addition to the cast and a distraction from the better storylines at play.
Sugawara Niina seems to be the most eccentric of the group, the quintessential “beautiful blonde girl” with a personality that comes off as bold, intelligent, and distant from others. Her inner turmoil is quite fascinating, stemming from a childhood where she was propped up as special—a unique and exceptional breed with potential far beyond the likes of you average child. These expectations shaped her current personality and desires, a convoluted zigzag between rebellion and conformity, contempt and acceptance for her former teacher. Without spoiling the roller coaster that is Sugawara Niina, I will say this: her character and her story is confused and disturbed, but it never leaves the realm of reality (going into places like yandere land).
Sonezaki is one of my two favorites of the show, a loveable prude with a loud and forthright attitude. One big part of her charm lies in her righteous indignation, which is often played with comedic effect. Usually shortly after these moments, Sonezaki will fall straight into her second most charming attribute: her bashfulness. All the girls share, at some point, in this simple, humanifying element of shame, and it’s this sense of red-faced confusion and humiliation that really makes the show stand out. Many anime rely on this basic trope of exaggerating embarrassment, often breaking visual continuity with large, red, chibi-style faces to add a sense of comedy and levity to a scene. O Maidens in Your Savage Season, however, goes in a different direction, usually maintaining the same visual style and conveying the moment as something that brings the scene and its emotions closer to reality, rather than further away from. Puberty, as anyone that has gone through must know, is an immensely embarrassing time in one’s life, and this anime goes great lengths to remind us of this. Sonezaki’s ultimate charm comes from combining the two aspects mentioned earlier. Her cuteness is formed in the contrast of being ostensibly the strongest (intellectually and in conviction), only to reveal that she’s probably the most fragile and naïve. When she blends the two together, shouting through her chagrin at the classmates who complemented her looks, as well as the boy she likes—it’s really quite fun and endearing to watch.
The last member of the literature club and my other favorite character of the series is Hongou Hitoha. As a writer and a creative, Hongou resonates with me personally for obvious reasons—because she’s a writer and a creative—but aside from those reasons, there also remains the fact that she is a huge pervert, which also resonates for…other reasons. In the sense that she acts contrary to accepted/expected standards, Hongou often says and does perverse things. One of her very first lines in the series is reciting a filthy metaphor in an adult novel that their club is reading aloud and discussing. She’s a bit of a deadpan however, often showing very little emotion in public and delivering lines in flat and straightforward manner. She only seems to lose her cool when she talks to her scumbag publicist, or her club advisor/teacher, Milo. The relationship that develops between her and Milo is one-sided, as Hongou continues in her exceedingly desperate attempts to arouse him and deepen her understanding for sexuality—a desire that’s born not only from her just general coming of age, but also the fact that she’s being pressured as a young novelist to write about sex. After being humiliated by her first attempt (her sexual prose being compared to the likes of a 40-year-old virgin), she compels herself to go further and further into the realm of adulthood.
For the most part, Hongou seems to be the most isolated from the group, having almost no scenes with the other members outside of club activities. I wish we could’ve seen her interact more, as her relentless perversion does provide a nice dichotomy with Sonezaki’s stoic prudishness. Even though their relationship is rather cursory, never doing anything together that would give an outsider the impression that they were “friends”, their brief impasses and interactions lead the series to its best plot twist and reason for the girls banding together. In comparison to them, all other character relationships fall flat, either by sheer dullness or just wasted potential.
The biggest issue that stuck with me after watching this show was how weak the group dynamic of the literature club was. While it’s not a requirement for students to be close friends with the people in their clubs, in O Maidens in Your Savage Season, it’s a little strange that they barely feel like friends at all. Their shared interest in literature seems fairly arbitrary, with a majority of the members often not even enjoying the stuff they read due to its risqué content. It should make more sense for a show about the discomfort, fear, and anxiety of adolescence that this round table of girls reading smut have some sort of motive for doing so—their coming-of-age being a perfect reason for wanting to explore the scary new world their changing bodies are rapidly forcing them into, safely through the realm of fiction. However, this motivation seems to only be the case for Hongou and Sugawara, the trailblazers who quickly try and move on from fiction to real world experience. Hongou has the most well-developed reason by far: as a debuting novelist she feels pressure to write about sex in a way that’s truer to the experience that she herself has never had.
As the literature club goes through a cliché shutdown threat, the weakness of their bond really shines glaringly through. Out of the blue one day, the principle comes into their room to inform them that they can no longer be a club because they lack a staff advisor, thus creating a conflict for which the group can overcome together. As hackneyed as this scenario may be, it should still be a good chance to develop the group, their individual reasoning for wanting to stay together, and their combined resolve. Instead, they briefly try to find an advisor, then go on to ignore each other a bit and focus on their own problems, only to come back together and make a petition that wouldn’t change anything because it doesn’t address the original, simple problem the club faces. Once the problem is solved by Hongou in her individual story thread, the group can move on and go back to their usual club activities. The issue here is that Hongou solving the physical “problem” does nothing in regard to resolving the philosophical, psychological, and perhaps even metaphysical issues at play here. Why do these girls need this club? What is important about them being together, in this space, at this time, doing this thing? These questions have not even been attempted to be solved. If they had been, the girl’s actions would be the deciding factor for their success, or at least they would have had to face the consequences of their failure—and not just have some unrelated blackmail of Hongou’s teacher save the day for the rest of the clueless club members.
Now, there could be a possibility that it was Mari Okada’s intent all along to have this literature club’s friendship be in a pathetically shallow and fragile state. One big clue to this could be in the early episodes where Kazusa and Momoko have this loud, gooey “friendship” hug—perhaps clueing us in on the ostentatiousness of high school friendship, an exaggerated bond primed to break with just a wee bit of applied tension. Afterall, most if not all of high school relationships in real life are just as fake, empty, and meaningless—based on consistent proximity rather than shared interests and genuine admiration for each other. Everyone you think means something to you will eventually leave if you don’t first. And if anyone still in high school is reading this…sorry kids. As for this anime, however, I didn’t see many other signs of this painful truth being an intentional theme.
Despite all the flaws I’ve just mercilessly listed, I quite enjoyed this series. As I’ve stated on Twitter before, I really like young adult fiction that handles the topic of sex maturely, mainly because I think an incredibly important part of becoming an adult is coming to terms with sex and sexuality. I like that puberty hits these young maidens like a ton of bricks, because that’s pretty much how it is in real life. They act confused, scared, flustered, and excited, and they separate into their own paces ranging from “take it slow” to “full-speed ahead”. Even if I think their struggles could’ve been better defined and interwoven with each other, I still found myself gripped by the sheer sincerity of embarrassment being conveyed.
When it came to visuals, I must admit I didn’t pay too much attention cinematography—but perhaps that could be attributed to nothing being impressive enough to grab my attention. The Opening certainly impressed me with its use of water and light imagery to symbolically represent birth and purity. The point in the song where the lyrics are: “Be savage, young maidens. Fight back, young maidens.” is timed with this awesome shot of the five girls’ silhouettes stepping forward in lockstep, towards the camera and away from the setting sun behind them, which illustrates their march into darkness and away from their pure maiden selves. The build up to that moment is a lot of individual shots as well as group shots where they all have a fair bit of space between them, and so when that context is lined up into the climax of the OP, and we see all their silhouettes overlapping each other, the shot gains the added meaning of “strength in togetherness”. As for the rest of the show, there’s some forms of symbolism such as the oh-so-subtle commuter train going into a tunnel, but nothing bold as the series’ excellent Opening.
Overall, this series had some fascinating and memorable characters, but the unity of their ensemble just doesn’t manifest properly, leaving it so that when there are pivotal moments like the group “breaking up” or “getting back together, it fails to feel earned or significant. I was really hoping to learn more from this work, but it ends in a middling fashion where if there was a takeaway to be had, it would be something along the lines of “don’t worry, everything will be okay”—which is a particularly weak message, especially for an intended audience of young girls. But this is where I fall a bit into bias, as maybe I’d just prefer more of a “don’t worry, go kick some ass!” sentiment from these brave young maidens, in their savage season.
Thanks for reading.
[Afterword: I’ve noticed it’s taken me a lot longer to write articles than it used to, due to several factors including the amount of time and effort I have during my days, and also just being well out of practice. It’ll take a while for me to get back into a rhythm, if I ever do, but for now I’ve decided to adopt a new writing approach. In the past, I would usually try to knock out my posts in one to two long sittings, and as I started to lose more and more of my daily time to do that, I stopped writing altogether. Now I’m striving to write a bit each day, and every time I come back to add some more, I find plenty to revise as well. So, my posts are going to take longer to produce now, but I’m hoping my quality will improve because of it. But you’ll be the judge of that. See you all next post.]