Friday, July 12, 2019

O Maidens in Your Savage Season volume 2 shows the quality is for real (Manga Review)

Mari Okada and Nao Emoto
O Maidens in Your Savage Season vol. 2 - 8/10

A series about five naive high-school girls learning about sex through 18th century literature should be good, but could easily be awful. It is with much relief that the second volume of O Maidens in Your Savage Season (Kodansha Comics) shows that the quality and promise of the first volume wasn't a fluke. This series is for real, and deftly balances comedy, nostalgia (for our own youth), romance, and messaging with great art and great writing quality.

At the end of volume 1, the literature club (our club of five high school girls using literature to learn about sex - having deemed that ages written expression to be a pure form of sex over whatever their peers are constantly talking about) is being shut down by the principal. One of several arcs in volume 2 consists of gaining student support and a new adviser for their club. Those are fine, but its in the more character driven arcs that this series flexes its muscle.

Kazusa continues to be the audience's window into this world, as she is the "normal" average girl, in love with the boy next door whom she grew up with, but has just stumbled onto the reality that...yes...HE...THINKS...ABOUT...SEX! It's handled in the first volume in an amazing moment where she walks in on him masturbating (nothing gratuitous, just that possibility of being caught in the act that every boy dreads) and in volume 2, she stumbles on his porn collection! The awkwardness between them, the mixed signals, the poor communication is totally honest but we are also given the little moments that show us they might someday get together (if she can process that sex isn't a bad or scary thing and that it isn't the only thing on his mind). In fact, the recurring theme for her this volume is that she can't stop thinking about sex. Which seems about right for an adolescent.

Hongo on the other hand, our aspiring writer of romance novels, gets told that her writing isn't realistic and sets out on a dangerous path to learn how to write good dialogue by finding someone to have sex with. Unfortunately, she turns to the internet for this. I was really worried that the story was about to go off the rails, and it really looked like it would when a particular side character shows up. But at several pivotal moments, this series yanks it back to reality or handles itself in a way that supports the values of youth, internet safety, propriety, etc.. such that it doesn't glorify her bad decision making, ignore it, nor does it exploit it. It's immediate resolution was just serious enough but with a comedic flourish that was totally in context and appropriate. Whew.

This volume doesn't do a lot with Sugawara, and Sonozaki only has a small arc (but her confrontation with her crush that includes assigning him a 50 page essay on why he likes her is hysterical), so it is Mo-chan that I want to mention briefly. She wasn't given much to do in volume 1, and it appeared she wasn't going to have much to do in volume 2 either, so I was really struggling with why they needed this character at all. But then there was a scene with Sugawara and her talking about Kazusa. And I don't know if I'm totally misreading it, but my heart jumped at the ever so slight sense that maybe...just maybe...Mo-chan likes girls (and that she might like Kasuza or Sugawara). I would love to see this series add a gay character to show the universality of puberty. I might be way off, but there's something there (two scenes actually, one with Kazusa on the slide as well as the conversation with Sugawara).

So somehow, this series packs some real emotional resonance and balances the comedy with its message and exploration of puberty and with romance. It feels like the messed up heads teenagers carry around with them and it is sensitive to that reality while also not getting self-serious.

On top of that, the art is great. I think it's even better in volume 2 than it was in volume 1. Each of the girls has a very distinctive look, not just their hair styles and heights, but there is a subtly different art style used in depicting each of them. There is a lot of nuance in the line work. It doesn't have the super richly detailed backgrounds and tons of sparkling screen tones of a classic shoujo series, and that seems generally in keeping with its shounen or seinen roots, but I really feel that this series' art is an asset that complements the story and the writing quality.

I took a bit of a chance on the first volume and was really pleasantly surprised. I had a bit of trepidation that volume 2 wouldn't keep up the quality. But if anything, volume 2 showed this creator team (Mari Okada and Nao Emoto) know exactly what they are doing and will delicately dance on the knife's edge of what could be a fraught topic (girls in puberty) in a genre that doesn't always treat female adolescence with a lot of respect. Thankfully, volume 2 was well crafted and thoughtful and I'm really excited to see where this series goes from here. A strong 8/10 for O Maidens in Your Savage Season volume 2.


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