Thursday, June 27, 2019

O Maidens in Your Savage Season Volume 1 - a careful balance of comedy, sex talk, and high-school (Manga Review)

Mari Okada and Nao Emoto
O Maidens in Your Savage Season Vol. 1 - 8/10

I knew nothing about O Maidens in Your Savage Season Vol. 1 (Kodansha Comics) when I bought it. Somehow it made it to my wishlist on Amazon where I keep track of manga to read. When it arrived, I noticed that it had been written by the creator of the Anohana anime, one of my favorites for its tough balance of grieving and loss, love, comedy, and melancholy. Would this be more of the same? Well, yes actually, although with perhaps an even tougher topic than childhood death - childhood sexuality! Yikes!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season is set in high-school, where the five female members of the literature club seem hell-bent on reading novels that, for whatever reason, have a fair amount of sex in them. We're told, and through a host of literary references throughout, that these are well respected pieces of literature, and that the girls interest is purely literary. After all, how can one eventually write classic novels, if one does not know and understand the world of adults?

But this is a comedy, of sorts, and the girls are actually quite prude and naive when it comes to sex. They blush at the words they read, they're not quite sure how the mechanics work, and one of them is particularly upset when overhearing other students talking about their own sexual exploits (or maybe just talking big).

What sets this manga apart as a story, is that it acknowledges that teens are sexual beings, at varying points on their pathways, and that girls, yes even girls, think about sex. But rather than making this about girls thinking about sex to turn on male readers, this manga feels as though it is wistfully talking to all of us grown ups who can look back and remember just how confused and naive we all were back in high-school. It uses its comedic frame to highlight very real conversations and thoughts and concerns girls have. (After all, just look at how overwhelmed Kasuza looks on the cover!)

As anyone who has consistently read this blog knows, or those who know the work I do in real life, you know that I have absolutely no tolerance for the sexualization of children. I cannot stand anime and manga that sexualize or exploit children, particularly when the only point is the titillation of adults. Rest assured, that O Maidens in Your Savage Season so far shows a deft touch in its exploration of the developing sexuality in teens and in no way feels exploitative.

There is no service, no exploitation, and actually just the opposite. We witness real moments that I doubted would ever make it to print, but are handled sensitively and realistically. For example, one of our characters walks in on a boy masturbating. The end fall-out is exactly the sort of emotional range we would expect from two teens. They are embarrassed, angry, confused, grossed-out, etc... There is nothing the least bit erotic of fantasized about this volume.

This first volume roughs in the overall characters and arcs these five teen girls are likely to explore in the series. We get the president of the club, Rika Sonezaki, who is perhaps the prudest of them all, going so far as demanding they come up with a euphemism for "sex" - but then actually comes up with a long phrase whose acronym accidentally (Freudian-ly) spells out "sex." (This is the well written/subtle comedy we get, where sex is acknowledged to be both scary and inescapable in the minds of teens and handled with kind humor). She also, despite her attempts to be "above" the base-ness of sex, seems to have the same typical drives that most humans have at that age, no matter her attempts to deny them. Could there be a relationship in her future?

We have Kazusa Onodera, who functions like our mirror, a girl who perceives herself as nothing special, who likes a boy, who probably likes her back, but they haven't connected yet (so basically our default shoujo couple). There is also the beautiful Nina Sugawara whose confidence and forthright nature belies a past where men tried to take advantage of her (which is used to provide needed commentary on the sexualization of children) and her attempts to take the power back.

Our fourth lead character is Momoko Sudo, Kazusa's friend, who we don't quite know yet and don't quite know what her journey will be. And finally, we have Hitoha Hongo, a teen writer of erotica, through whose experience we see how adults (men in particular) take advantage of young women through their power. We are shown the very real way that Hitoha suffers emotionally just from the way her male publisher is manipulating her (emotionally - thankfully there is no physical contact, just the jerky way he pressures her to change her writing to please the male audience). It is the subtlety of the way this man pressures Hitoha that should be so concerning and eye opening about the very real way women are harmed by current power structures and socially tolerated subjugation.

And so the first volume takes us through the setup, meeting the characters, some early hints at where their arcs might take them, a couple boys who might keep surfacing, and sets up the first real drama - with the school principal over their club's work. It manages to take teenage sexual exploration and handle it sensitively and with humor, from a female perspective, and not for the pleasure of male readers. All this despite being published in a shonen magazine. In fact, being published in a typically "young boys" magazine may actually help young men who read this story have a kinder, more complete perspective on women, and might do some good. For those of us who are already adults, this is a funny, kind, sweet, slightly dramatic, occasionally difficult look back at a very real time in our own lives.

The art, by Nao Emoto, is top-notch and pairs perfectly with Mari Okada's writing. The characters are easily distinguishable from each other, the lines are delicate and detailed, and there is wonderful use of shading and screen tones. Moods and facial expressions are clear, backgrounds are detailed when they need to be, and there is a subtle uniqueness to the art style that keeps it from feeling cookie-cutter. I don't know anything about Emoto-sensei but I'm curious to see other works by them.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season (perhaps one of the greatest titles ever - particularly in how it sets up the content) was surprisingly good. It could have been a disaster, it could have been total titillation material for adult men: "Ohhhh, high-school girls talking about sex, exploring themselves and boys, look at those panty shots, etc..." But instead, it is a meaningful start to a conversation about what it is really like to be a confused teen girl without all the facts but with a body and mind slightly out of control (thanks hormones!). I really really hope that the rest of the series maintains this sensitive balance of realism, comedy, and care. O Maidens in Your Savage Season Vol. 1 gets a relieving-ly high 8/10!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3