Content Notice: Please be aware that this article, and the series it is about, contain discussions of sexuality. Reader discretion is advised.
O Maidens In Your Savage Season‘s opening sequence features, among other things, the core cast ankle-deep in the sea. It’s an apt metaphor, this is a series where absolutely everything feels as huge as the ocean, despite the relatively small stakes of the actual story.
That’s not to say that the series is dour, far from it actually. It’s hard for anything that ends its first episode with the flustered protagonist running through the streets of her hometown, screaming at her own inability to turn off her dirty mind “serious”. Conversely, it’s hard to call Maidens strictly a “comedy”. We are certainly well away from the innocent school life comedy of something like last season’s Hitoribocchi, or last year’s Anima Yell!.
Maidens is primarily a coming of age story in the most literal, biological sense. That is to say, it’s basically about puberty, study of budding sexuality included and, in fact, foregrounded. It is also, consequently, a show in which characters are frequently run through the ringer of their own teenage emotions and outside circumstance alike. Maidens is a great show, but occasionally painful to watch because of this, if you’re prone to secondhand embarrassment, it’s going to be a bit of a rough one. Its stars are the members of a high school literature club, each of whom is going through a unique journey.
O’ Maidens, In Your Savage Season!
It should come as no surprise, all this in mind, that Maidens is the brainchild of Mari Okada. It is adapted from a manga she wrote, and it shows. Okada is one of the best and most prolific writers in the anime industry. Her scripts bubble with an emotional intensity that most writers simply can’t match. It is that, matched with gorgeous animation from the still-young Studio Lay-duce, that drives Maidens‘ first two episodes. This through highs and lows for its characters alike.
That swirling storm of emotions is tackled from a lot of angles too, each girl has her own story, and the series is pretty good about juggling them all, at least so far.
Knock Before Entering
Maidens‘ arguable main character is Kazusa Onodera. Kazusa is a character who is in many ways the archetypal ‘perfectly average’ anime high school girl. Her arc so far is perhaps best described as a youth drama romance hyper-compressed and cranked to 11. Okada is known for writing characters with strong emotions, occasionally at the expense of realism. Kazusa, though, seems to me a very true-to-life kind of teenage bleeding heart.
Her story is in many ways the simplest; she is in love with her childhood best friend. It takes her two whole episodes to realize this (though that’s not actually that long, in anime terms), and in the mean time her perspective is the one that gets the most outright jokes. She’s easily flustered (though not as much as Rika) and a bit dense.
In the first episode, this leads to what became said episode’s defining scene. Looking for Izumi, she enters his house, and thinks nothing of checking his room, despite hearing some weird sounds coming from there. She promptly catches the boy…well, doing what young boys do when home alone. Which leads to the freakout described above.
A Tempest In Your Heart
It’s funny, but it’s also quite genuine, and it leads to the further development of their relationship in the second episode. Kazusa can’t get the image out of her head, and despite eventually realizing that she was in the wrong by barging in, it takes time for her to sort out her feelings. She tries to remain on friendly terms with Izumi, and the two in fact have a cute bit of (very embarrassed) banter about the subject.
But it takes one of Kazusa’s friends and fellow literature club members, Niina, to make her realize what’s really going on. Niina helps Kazusa eavesdrop on Izumi turning a girl who’s asked him out down, and Kazusa, being who she is, is upset with Izumi specifically because he specified that there’s “no one” he likes right now. The bridge from her being upset about that, to figuring out why, is about ten minutes and a scene transition. It nonetheless leads to what I’d argue is Maidens‘ single best sequence so far.
As the girls relax by the sea, Niina poses to Kazusa a question.
They say eyes are windows to the soul for a reason.
I really have to point out this cut specifically, because this kind of thing is indicative of Maidens‘ key strengths. The soundtrack swelling and us being able to actually see Kazusa finally make the connection in her brain by zooming in on her eye. This is a show that understands the experience of teenage girls very, very well. It is not afraid to put all of its weight behind portraying those experiences with the drama they deserve.
The Art of Avoiding Unwelcome Attention
It’s tempting to center all conversation about Maidens on Kazusa. She is the main character and her arc is so far arguably the strongest. But there are other members of Maidens’ core cast, and each has had some development of their own already. The show likes cutting between story lines, making for a well-paced viewing experience. This is kind of a pain if you’re trying to talk about the show’s events chronologically, but it’s great for organizing things around character arcs.
Niina Sugawara is the second of the three characters who’ve gotten significant development so far. She’s established as a relatively recent arrival to the literature club. She is also, we learn, a former drama student, something that comes up in the second episode here.
Niina’s story in the second episode here is about a pretty common problem in Japan and, really, the world. That being; having to fend off unwanted attention from men.
We’re not given context as to how this person started bothering Niina, but she’s clearly uncomfortable. She catches a glimpse of a nearby Kazusa out of the corner of her eye, and texts her.
This kind of impromptu enlistment tactic is pretty common. Stories abound all over Twitter and similar platforms about having to rely on friends when things get dicey. Maidens‘ willingness to actually go here puts it a cut above many similar shows. It’s not exactly comfortable territory.
Maidens is still Maidens, of course. The way this ends up being resolved involves Kazusa loudly, woodenly declaring that she has an STD. Is this cringe comedy? Yes. It’s pretty darn funny because of her delivery, though. The comedy shouldn’t conceal that it’s still an example of girls helping each other. Something Maidens seems poised to tackle in broader ways over its remaining 10 episodes.
The last of the three most-developed characters so far is Rika Sonezaki. Rika’s defining trait is that she’s a huge prude. In any other show, this would be played exclusively for laughs. Even here, the series gets a lot of mileage out of just how far she’s willing to go to avoid having to say the word “sex”. At one point she commands her fellow literature club members to come up with “literary” euphemisms so they can avoid using the term. The results are….less than ideal.
This is not the limit of her characterization though. Honestly if it were, it’d be kind of jarring. Rika’s prudishness is also played as a dramatic element. It drives a wedge between her and her significantly more promiscuous (or at least playing at being so) classmates. In the first episode, she’s outright bullied for it after she blows up at a group of gossiping gyaru.
This is not something we’ve been given a concrete reason for so far. The signs point to a self-image issue, though. Rika has a potential romance partner of her own, actually, as she’s been now twice comforted by the same boy after outbursts. Rika’s arc is very much open-ended at this point, but it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes.
The First Rule of Book Club
There’s one final thing to cover, the role of the literature club itself. The idea of a school club as a place of solace and genuineness is not a new one to anime, and it’s actually here where Maidens hews closest to genre convention. That’s not a bad thing, though. The girls are threatened with a club shutdown, both because of their loud arguments about “vulgar” topics and for their lack of a club advisor. The series portrays the teachers quite unsympathetically here. I’m pretty sure everyone had some variation of this guy in their high school.
The second episode does not resolve if they’ll be able to get the club re-approved or not. But the girls do make it very clear where they stand. Niina, in fact, explicitly says why she loves the club so much. It’s a place where she can be who she is, without worrying about the performative standards of the outside world.
It’s a more elegant summary of the appeal of a school club–or any closely-knit group of high school friends–than many anime manage.
To Be A Daisy
There is so much more that could be discussed about Maidens. Niina’s internalized, toxic view of losing her virginity as “dying”. The two other members of the literature club–Momoko and Hitoha. The delightfully varied cast of minor characters. This is a show with a lot to unpack. There is one last thing I want to get in here though, a comparison I’ve consciously avoided making for the rest of the article.
The anime O Maidens In Your Savage Season reminds me most of is actually last year’s A Place Further Than The Universe. The similarity runs deeper than just both having long titles and being written by women. They’re both ensemble dramedies with strong female casts who all feel unique and three dimensional. They both primarily deal with growing up. It is true that Maidens lacks (at least currently), Further‘s adventure element, but the two shows otherwise really do feel like they’re speaking the same language. They also both feel like anime that are logical progressions beyond the school life genre, without necessarily being refutations of it. One great anime is notable. Two is the possible rumblings of a trend, and that is such a thrilling idea.
I think the highest compliment I can pay to Maidens, at this early stage and in all sincerity, is that it makes me excited about the future of the art form. The show risks going under-watched, being confined to the somewhat obscure HiDIVE platform as opposed to the more well-known Crunchyroll, and I think that would be a shame. Consider this a thorough, hearty recommendation of Maidens. It is uncommonly intelligent, well-written, and I might even say powerful. This is one to keep your eye on.