Onodera Kazusa is an almost aggressively normal high school girl. She doesn’t really stand out anywhere, and is part of a literature club whose members include both a budding author, a glasses-wearing prudish type, and a serene senpai who is perfectly comfortable reciting very steamy sex scenes in the book they’re all reading.
Kazusa has a best friend in fellow lit club member Sudou Momoko, and she has a childhood friend in the train-loving Norimoto Izumi. She and Momoko are each other’s main source of verbal and emotional support in these trying adolescent times. She and Izumi were once as close as brother and sister, but have drawn further apart due to his increasing popularity—particularly with other girls.
Kazusa is voiced by relative newcomer Kono Hiyori, who does a splendid job modulating her voice for Kazusa’s vulnerable and frustrated inner monologues. It also helps that she closely resembles Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, a rare Ghibli film grounded in contemporary life and one of my favorite anime works.
It helps because Shizuku never strayed past the “pure and innocent” phase of her romance with Seiji; the film ended (spoilers!) with her suddenly proposing marriage after they bike up the highest points in West Tokyo and watch the sun rise on the city. It’s beautiful, and it marks a major milestone in their trudge toward adulthood…but it’s incomplete.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season (written by the great Okada Mari) is not incomplete. It reveals all of the insecurities and worries and downright dilemmas far beyond simply developing feelings for someone and being frustrated by one’s comparative lack of accomplishment. By the end, we have a nearly complete picture of who Kazusa is (just a kid), what she is gradually becoming mentally and physically (an adult) and how she feels about that (not so great so far!)
When Kazusa’s mom—whom she says many describe as “child-like” even though she’s most definitely not a virgin due to Kazusa’s existence—asks her to take some food to Izumi’s next door, the comfort of their familiarity is evident, but so is a growing awkwardness punctuated when Izumi asks if he should talk to her around other people.
Kazusa’s wishy-washy reply (depends on who and where) doesn’t help matters. Talking about their issues clearly would be optimal, but again…these are kids. She’s aware enough to know she didn’t handle her interaction with Izumi in a satisfying way, leaving so much up in the air and unclear, but she doesn’t yet possess the tools to do so, hence her frustration and very Shizuku-like private mope on Izumi’s front stoop.
Back in lit club, Sugawara Niina, with her confident stride, ever-calm tone, and shorter skirt, all indicate she’s more mature than the other four members. To put it far more harshly, some boys consider her a diamond atop a pile of dung. But when a story with the premise of “doing something before you die” comes up, she blurts out “have sex,” because as mature as she looks and sounds, she’s still a virgin—still in the bubble with the rest of them. Despite all the classy smut they’ve read, it’s still a totally unknown world.
But her stated desire to have sex before death brings that subject too the forefront, like poking at the bubble until it bursts. Now sex is the first thing on the minds of the four other girls, from Rika (glasses) telling some gals to shut up about sex and being verbally abused by some classmates and then complimented by another; to Kazusa overhearing two of the girls who like Izumi talk very openly about wanting to take his virginity.
The more Kazusa hears about Izumi and sex, the more those two seem like something possible and thus terrifying—a far cry from the little boy with which she used to run around, fall over, and wade in the kiddy pool. The boy who’s crazy about trains. With the bubble of obliviousness popped by Niina, Kazusa finds herself on the deep end, her surroundings growing darker and more morose. But she has to kick and swim and breathe, or she’ll drown.
Things already feel like they’re starting to spiral out of all control for Kazusa, who asserts that she doesn’t like this and isn’t ready for it at all, but she has no idea what’s coming down the track to knock her off the rails of innocence for good, where she was once only teetering and threatening to fall. In an absolutely stunning sequence that plays like, well, a train wreck, Kazusa hears music inside Izumi’s, and so enters through the unlocked front door.
She makes her way up the stairs to Izumi’s room, where the door is cracked but not closed, and lets herself in without knocking. Izumi is inside, his pants down and his feet on the desk, masturbating to porn on the internet. The director lets the two just sit there in the moment of horror, completely silent but for the (likely fake) orgasmic screams of the woman on the laptop. Izumi gives a half-hearted “Hey,” then asks if she’ll keep this a secret. Pretty smooth, considering one of every guy’s worst nightmares just came true.
Kazusa…snaps. She bolts out of the house screaming and just…keeps running and screaming (the action animation is superb) through a market district. Naturally, every food sign is a double entendre, lending credence to her lament that there’s just too much god damn sex in the world.
Worse, her pure, innocent Izumi has changed forever. The boy is dead; a man has taken his place. The last time he saw her penis it was tiny and harmless. Now, not so much. As she stops on a bridge over a train track to catch her breath, she tearfully declares out loud that “that won’t fit in there!” Then, in a moment perhaps almost too on the nose but also pretty damn effective, a train passes beneath her, lining right up between her legs, and enters a very tight tunnel. “It fit,” she says, relieved, but she soon collapses back into a heap of adolescent frustration.
O Maidens is a refreshingly bold, sincere, brutally frank depiction of sexual awakening and its maaaany pitfalls. So far the experience is largely horrifying, terrifying, and overwhelming for Kazusa, and it’s sure to continue to be so. But the show balances the drama and comedy, never letting you forget these are human beings with human being minds and parts, all of which are in a state of open rebellion, but all of which are also very complicated.
The stakes for Kazusa and her friends are far higher than looking fit in a bikini for the summer. This is for all the marbles. All we as viewers can do is ball our fists and hope she hangs on for dear life to this train ride that can’t be stopped, until the ride becomes at least little smoother, if not joyful. I’ll be in the cafe car, quietly cheering on these maidens in their savage season.