The best manga of 2016? Review of Savage SeasonPosted: August 24, 2021
Granted, the first chapter of this manga came out in Japan at the very end of 2016. Still, the lack of buzz it got abroad is surprising, given that it is written by none other than Mari Okada, anime screenwriting superstar of Anohana (etc. etc.) fame.
Savage Season (荒ぶる季節の乙女どもよ / Araburu kisetsu no otome-domo yo; English title: O Maidens in Your Savage Season) chapter 1
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Authors: Mari OKADA (writer), Nao EMOTO (artist)
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Kōdansha)
Year: 2020 (originally 2016)
Number of volumes: 8
Website: https://www.tokyopop.de/buecher/josei/savage-season/ (German publisher), https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=140875 (Baka-Updates)
The world of the five members of an all-female high school Literature club gets turned upside down when they discover sexuality – first in the books they read, then in their own lives. Each has her own issues with sex: Kazusa finds it difficult to accept that she has fallen in love with her male childhood friend Izumi, while Sonezaki feels deeply embarrassed when anyone around her even mentions sex. In later chapters, we learn that Hongo secretly writes erotic novels (which are deemed not realistic enough by her editor, so she starts researching), Sugawara is so attractive that she always has to fend off advances of older men, and Momoko goes on her first date but finds it disappointing.
By volume 3, things get decidedly creepier when two of the girls experience or recount sexual encounters in the wider sense (i.e. there’s no nudity or sexual intercourse depicted or implied) with adult men. But let’s stick to the more innocent beginning of the series. The main selling point of Savage Season is undoubtedly its fresh main topic, female teenage sexuality, which so far has hardly ever been thoroughly explored in manga. In most other romance or romantic comedy manga, if that’s the genre we’re looking at here, sexual intercourse is conspicuously absent (Wolf Girl & Black Prince being a notable exception). Savage Season handles this sensitive topic in a way that has been described as “wholesome”, “sweet and understanding” and “frank” at the same time.
That in itself isn’t what makes Savage Season a good manga though, just as the thorough exploration of the fresh topic of off-season camping alone isn’t what makes Yuru Camp great. Instead, one can think of Savage Season as an ‘enhanced’ high-school romance manga: there are multiple parallel but intertwined love stories, tied together by the school club at which the protagonists meet. This is not unlike e.g. Boyfriend in which the love story is set against the background of school bullying which becomes less and less important as the plot progresses. Except that in Savage Season, the sex angle infuses a healthy dose of realism (and also a source of humour).
An important contribution to the overall quality of this manga is the artwork. Nao Emoto had an entire host of assistants (ten, according to a group picture in vol. 2), and this shows above all in the vast amount and variety of screentone used; e.g. on the very first pages in which the afternoon sun shines into the club room onto the girls’ heads. There are also some brilliant and unusual panel compositions, such as the one in which we see Kazusa’s crouching figure from behind. As for the writing, its quality is harder to assess: due to its uneven structure, it takes some time before e.g. Momoko comes into focus, which makes this character appear “largely undeveloped” at first. Perhaps in later volumes the parallel story arcs will be interwoven more tightly, but will readers have the patience and take the gamble to find out?
At least the first chapter, which is supposed to be the item under review here, should leave readers wanting to find out how things turn out between Kazusa and the boy next door. As most manga, however, Savage Season seems to peter out somewhat after the first volume. In the end, as a contender for the title of ‘best manga of 2016’, Savage Season would have to compete against other romance and rom-com manga such as My Love Story, and maybe it isn’t quite on par.
Then again, as Sonezaki says in volume 3, books help us to define feelings for which we didn’t have a name before, and if we absorb that feeling again, a new one arises. Perhaps there is something of that in Savage Season too. E.g. when Kazusa, also in vol. 3, ponders whether love and sex are separable at all and whether “all those wonderful feelings that exist in the world […] ultimately come down to Ess Ee Ecks”, which in turn informs her conflicted feelings for Izumi – a notion that e.g. Kimi ni todoke only vaguely hints at.
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○