No anime this season has left me in bewilderment as much as O Maidens in Your Savage Season has. Based on a manga by Mari Okada (Okada is also responsible for the anime’s series composition and script), the anime ostensibly tackles the topic of sex through the viewpoints of five high school girls from the same literature club. I thought it sounded interesting, but this ended up being an absurd experience that often had me shaking my head in disbelief.
What are you saying?
The show covers quite a lot of sensitive topics within 12 episodes. These include student-teacher relationships, pedophilia, grooming, teen pregnancy, attitudes towards sex and relationships, homosexuality, sexual attraction vs romantic attraction, and so on. While sex is admittedly a pretty broad subject, the show ends up lacking focus, and, by doing so much with so little time, it doesn’t always do its themes justice.
Not only do some of its themes feel undercooked, but many of its story arcs are messy and poorly tackled. The character arc of Hitoha Hongou provides the best example of this. She’s an aspiring writer who struggles to write realistic erotica, so she frequents adult chat rooms for inspiration. One day, Hongou discovers the regulars she chats with is in fact a young teacher, Tomoaki Yamagishi, from her school. Explaining everything that happens next would require too much space, so let’s just say that she ends up asking him to help her with her writing, and he agrees.
This could’ve been an interesting journey where Hongou learned about what sex in real life is like, as compared to how she depicts it in her writing. Instead, O Maidens places the two in an odd relationship that becomes increasingly baffling as it goes on. Yamagishi refuses to sleep with Hongou, but he decides that it’d be fine to have her discreetly flash her underwear to him while at school or request that she wear a thong. Hongou’s goal soon shifts from improving her writing to getting Yamagishi turned on, and eventually, she decides she wants to sleep with him. This is when Yamagishi finally decides to end things… by driving her to a love hotel and indirectly getting her to back off there. When Hongou takes him by surprise and proceeds to unzip his pants, Yamagishi ends up telling the tearful girl that his lack of arousement isn’t because of her unattractiveness, but because he doesn’t “have the guts”.
This isn’t an arc where a teenager learns valuable lessons about sex, apart from, perhaps, the fact that thongs are uncomfortable. This is an arc where two people do ridiculous things that defy belief. A more generous interpretation would state that it’s normal for teenage girls to have sexual desire, but the journey is just too much of a farce to be a worthy medium for that message.
Another theme that O Maidens bungles is grooming, and it does so spectacularly with a single scene. Here, Izumi Norimoto, the childhood friend and eventual boyfriend of main character Kazusa Onodera, is talking to the cool beauty of the literature club, Niina Sugawara, about a pedophile from her past. He states that, “Pedophiles are disgusting, but the fact that he came to the cultural festival… That person still likes you, I thought.” Norimoto thinks that the reason she unexpectedly came on to him during her club’s performance was to make the pedophile jealous. So, if she still likes the pedophile, he would be “happy to help.” I’m not sure how many brain cells I lost after hearing that.
This ends up moving the plot along, partly by making Sugawara like the boy even more (“You’re too good, that’s why you got it wrong. But… that’s what I like about you,” she thinks to herself. If I were her, I’d be concerned by the fact that my crush – despite his good intentions – supports the idea of me getting together with a pedophile). However, it’s hard to imagine that the series wants to say anything serious about grooming when a main character spouts such a nonsensical declaration of “support” for his friend.
Interesting characters… maybe
Now, not all of O Maidens’ arcs are a disaster. Two are pretty good, and, coincidentally, they happen to feature the “purer” relationships in the show. The other three arcs, including Hongou’s, are technically more interesting. Like Hongou’s, they also squander their potential with questionable execution. Aside from failing to deliver their themes well, they also fail to do justice to potentially intriguing characters.
One of the victims of this execution is Momoko Sudou, who spends most of the time trying to be a good friend to Onodera and Niina Sugawara, the seemingly calm and mature beauty of the club. Eventually, she comes to realize her sexuality and attraction to Sugawara. The problem is, as mentioned earlier, she spends so much time playing the “good friend” role that it becomes the defining point of her character.
In addition, the midpoint of the show illustrates Sudou dealing with an annoying suitor. Initially, this provides good lessons about the importance of considering the feelings of others and shows how some teenagers can sometimes act clumsily when they’re interested in someone. Unfortunately, one of O Maidens’ later episodes turns the boy into a stereotypical jerk and uses the rejection of his physical touch (he suddenly grabs her as she’s walking away from him) to emphasize that she’s not into guys. Rejecting unwanted physical contact from the other sex shouldn’t be tied to homosexuality, and by doing so, the show leaves Sudou’s most pivotal episode with a bitter taste.
Still, Sudou’s depiction doesn’t suffer as much as Sugawara’s. The latter has a lot of hidden internal issues that eventually motivate her to act ugly. On paper, she’s the flawed and fascinating character, but in practice, her arc doesn’t quite pull that off. A large aspect of her arc involves the unhealthy influence of a pedophile but said pedophile’s motives seem to change throughout the series in order to drive her story. When Sugawara asks him to sleep with her, he agrees even though that seemed like the last thing he would ever do when first introduced. While the pedophile had been creepily physical in the past, the sudden sexual interest in teenage Sugawara doesn’t seem consistent with his motives in previous episodes. I struggled to see Sugawara as a victim of grooming when the screen composition and script seemed to be the more obvious manipulators of her arc’s trajectory.
Frankly speaking, O Maidens utterly fails to make Sugawara sympathetic in general. If anything, it does the opposite. Late into the show, Sugawara attempts to seduce Norimoto – first by placing his hand on her butt – after he has become Onodera’s boyfriend. When he rejects her twice, she preys on Norimoto’s naivete and conflation of sexual and romantic attraction out of spite. Even if she’s kind of messed up at this point, she shouldn’t simply be given a get-out-of-jail card, which is pretty much what happens by the end of the season. When Norimoto comes close to having an opportunity to explain the situation in front of everyone, O Maidens silences him with weird plot development. “Better” yet, because Sugawara’s actions inadvertently helped Onodera and Norimoto’s relationship, they end up feeling grateful to her.
Sugawara doesn’t have to answer for her attempted seduction, and the pedophile part of her arc gets an unsatisfactory resolution too – she simply gets turned off by the pedophile’s nose hair and decides she should be chasing after Norimoto instead. Whether or not she has properly freed herself from his influence is vague. As a result, she still feels like an unresolved mess in the end, despite the happy conclusion of the show.
Am I supposed to laugh?
The tone of the show itself is another issue. It’s not meant to be a perpetually serious experience, but there are moments that are just incredibly silly. In one episode, our heroines have a pillow fight in order to resolve an argument between two of their members. As they do so, Onodera thinks to herself: “Here, there are ten breasts wobbling together. Small ones, big ones… all wobbling. Bumping into each other. It’s fun.”
As laughable as those lines are, they’re at least harmless and show up in a scene that’s not meant to be serious. The issue is when the show’s tone clashes with the topics it tackles. Sudou realizes that she’s a lesbian while playing as Chun-Li in Street Fighter, but the scene has such a solemn and “dark” atmosphere that it’s as if she tortured someone to make that realization. After the physical contact mentioned earlier, she tells Sugawara: “I was touched by a guy I hate and I can’t help but want to disinfect the place where he touched.” She later adds: “Where this guy touched me is now unclean. I was hoping you could touch me there.” It’s so dramatic and odd that it becomes impossible to take it seriously.
In contrast, the next example injects deliberate humour into a serious matter that should have no room for laughs. When Sugawara mentions to everyone that she felt sexual desire from Norimoto’s touch, the reveal is initially played for comedic effect. The tonal choice just beggars belief given that the audience is aware of the circumstances of said touch. Worse still, Sugawara pulls off this sneaky stunt after seemingly mending her relationship with Onodera in the previous episode. Why are we made to laugh at this? The manner in which the show deals with these topics just feel like inane missteps when instead, they should be earnest attempts.
In the end…
If I had to describe O Maidens in one word, it would be “bewildering.” Another anime I watched this season was Wasteful Days of High School Girls, and while that was intended to be an absurd comedy, O Maidens turned out to be even more ludicrous with its sometimes illogical approach towards important topics and odd tonal choices. I wasn’t necessarily expecting the show to tackle sex in a super-serious manner, and I was ready to accept a messy but earnest approach. I just wasn’t ready for the mind-boggling mess of a show I got instead.