Saturday, March 14, 2020

O Maidens in Your Savage Season volume 6 was polar extremes (Manga Review)

A teen boy and girl in uniform with their backs to each other with lilies
O Maidens in Your Savage Season vol. 6 - 6.5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

I’m not sure where O Maidens in Your Savage Season is going as a series. In the first volume, it really felt like a fairly realistic, but comical, examination of puberty from the female perspective. However, by volume 6 (Kodansha Comics), the series is struggling to balance that realism against some very intense, and not altogether believable, drama. And it isn't so much the drama that's the issue, as the lack of story or authorial critique of that drama that concerns me. What message are we to be taking from this?

In volume 6, Kasuzu and Izumi have finally started dating. They have fun together on the way to school, but are super awkward with each other when she comes over to his house. I totally remember the feeling of not knowing what I should do once I started dating my high-school girlfriend. This scene was perfectly depicted, right down to each of them thinking that theirs are the hands that are sweating when they hold each other’s.

Momo talks to Nina about Nina’s statement that she will keep pursuing Izumi even though he’s dating Kasuza. Momo is worried that it will destroy their friendship. Nina seems okay with that even though she is clearly thankful for the friendship. When Momo says that staying friends will be worth it, Nina simply says that “you can’t have sex with a friend.” Momo looks devastated, and for complicated reasons as we’ll soon see.

Nina escalates this further by offering to give Izumi advice on Kasuza, but instead putting the moves on him. When he rejects her advances, she looks truly devastated. But it leaves him feeling very very confused. What does it mean to be sexually aroused by someone other than your girlfriend? 

At the same time, Momo has an awful encounter with the boy who has been pursuing her. Her intense and frightening reaction shows some signs of deep trauma and emotional pain in her past.

Hongo, on the other hand, is still trying to get Milo-sensei to sleep with her. It’s no longer clear if this is about advancing her writing ability by giving her new experiences or if it is now about her self-worth. She tells him that she’ll give up on pursuing him if he only sleeps with her once. He agrees (WHAT?!) and takes her to a love hotel.


In the love hotel, Milo-sensei’s inner thoughts more or less suggest that he’s again trying to show Hongo that she isn’t ready for sex and to scare her off (FYI this is a terrible idea for an adult). But when Hongo jumps him and unzips his pants, things get bad. Whether she just sees it through his underwear, or actually sees his penis, she is beyond hurt and upset that he isn’t hard even though she’s throwing herself at him. Fundamentally, although they do not have any intimate contact, Milo admits that he’s attracted to her. But he also directly admits to her that the only reason he isn’t hard is because he’s a coward, thereby confirming that he would sleep with a student and her in particular. (FYI this is NOT how adults should behave).

The other big SPOILER is that out of nowhere Momo confesses to Nina. I always thought she liked Kasuza, so I guess I have to go back and reread the first five volumes. But at least this is a sign that maybe Momo will get more time in the spotlight as the series moves forward. It will also be fascinating to see how the author chooses to handle the lesbian teen experience. I wonder if we'll get true LGBTQ+ representation, will there be social pitfalls, or will this be treated like a dreamy yuri-type crush (no offense to well-written yuri, which I love).


So the Kasuza and Izumi storyline is cute and awkward and realistic. Although I didn’t mention Sonazaki, her few scenes with the literature club and with her new boyfriend are priceless, funny, and sweet. There's a particular moment at the end of the volume where her internal dialogue about her boyfriend perfectly captures the moment. So these two storylines are really well done and consistent with some of the early tone of the series.

Nina’s story is more complicated. While what she’s doing isn’t unthinkable, I’m not sure it’s totally realistic either. However, she bears some deep scars from her acting days and the way she is desperately throwing herself at a boy in a relationship may be symptomatic of that. Her confusion and hurt at his double rejection was painfully depicted in her face – the art was just heartbreaking in that panel. This too, could be another realistic depiction of a young woman's experience.

But it’s Hongo’s continued pursuit of Milo-sensei and his poor decision making that have me concerned for this series. I’ve struggled with it over the past few volumes, but this one went to an extreme I can’t really forgive. I don't see this as containing the sort of implicit or explicit commentary on youth development that the early volumes and some of the other stories present.

In past volumes, Milo-sensei has chatted with her online, given her "exercises" to express her sexuality, all of which are bad for an adult, and worse for a teacher to do. But actually taking a student to a love hotel is simply not acceptable, no matter what his motives are. If he genuinely wants to help her, then doing that was incredibly stupid and hurtful and not at all realistic for how a sane adult would act. However, maybe he really is a pervert and a predator. If so, the series had better take it out harshly (and realistically) on him in the end. 

As an educator myself, the constant depiction of teachers in relationships with students in manga and anime really hits a nerve, especially since it isn't depicted with the long-term trauma it inflicts on the student, nor the legal fall-out for the adult. There’d better be consequences in the end if this series is going to hold up. I want to know where the author stands on this issue and that will come across through the resolution and the lasting implications of what the characters have done. Or not, if the author takes the cheap way out and undermines the promise of the early volumes by not diving into the harm caused by this episode. We'll see.

The art continues to be really good. It’s emotional, with dramatic lines, clear character depictions, intense use of grayscale to change the mood in faces. The art truly enhances and adds to the experience of the emotionally intense writing.

So, like the volumes before it, volume 6 of O Maidens in Your Savage Season is a mixed bag. There’s some good, critical examination of puberty and finding yourself, but there are also some real problematic elements that as of yet are uncritiqued. The Hongo/Milo-sensei story took a very bad turn in this volume and it remains to be seen where it goes from here and whether that will be a satisfyingly realistic depiction of just how wrong it was. Volume 6 gets a 6.5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 8 - you can't fault it for lack of interest. There's so much going on with each of the characters, and it definitely is a page turner.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 8 - yes, they are each complex, and fully realized people. They don't feel like stock characters at all.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 8 - there are some painfully emotional moments mixed with really vividly sweet moments that capture exactly what any of us would feel in those situations.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - I struggle here with both Nina, Hongo, and Milo-sensei. I buy the rest of the character's actions/thoughts in this volume, but not necessarily those three. They seem more dramatic than real people.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 7.5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 2 - Between the writing and art, there are times where we really experience something new, or something that confirms our own experiences.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 - not yet, but might be coming...
  • Female agency (0-5): 2 - like the way they do it or not, these girls are driving their own stories
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 2 - both Sonezaki and Kasuza are taking steps forward and consciously so. Sonezaki is like a woman reborn and her speak to the club about boys' value is hysterical!
  • Quality art (0-5): 3 - definitely a strong point of this series
  • Other (0-5):
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +1

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0 - no, and actually, it was nice to see Milo-sensei (who is otherwise a terrible person) remind Hongo that high-school girls are too obsessed with being skinny and that it's nice to see a woman who is healthy.
  • Fan service (0-5): 0 - there are two scenes with some intimate contact, but these aren't used for the audience's titillation (although the girls are trying for that with the boys)
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 4 - Whether Hongo saw his penis through his underwear, or actually saw it, this is waaaaay too far without being critically examined as a bad thing. However, the rest of the series may walk back this problem appropriately if it shows just how damaging it was to Hongo. We'll see.
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
  • Other (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -2



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