Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo Review

Title: Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo / O Maidens In Your Savage Season
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
Year of release: 2019

A literature club that dallies with erotic works; that’s the kind of synopsis that might make you think this is one of those panty-leering comedies where girls squee at the thoughts of sex. No, this is not one of those shows. No, Araburu is a drama. A drama with gigantic stakes, massive emotions, and one that somehow walks the tightrope precisely to not fall into melodrama – despite how table-flipping its latter-series plot points are.

It would probably be best to make a correction about that synopsis, as that’s more of a catalyst than anything seriously to do with the plot of Mari Okada’s manga and screenplay. A group of nerdy, lonely girls are united in the literature club and go far out of their comfort zones to talk about, well, sex. These are the kinds of girls that don’t really know that much about what sex is or how it works, so a spiralling amount of character introspection is lit by this event. Who am I, sexually? is a question that these girls have never really had to ask, and suddenly one that turns their worlds upside down.

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Before I delve into who these girls are and the magnitude by which they change, I should probably address the fact that the series probably wouldn’t work if these were boys. While Araburu is more interested in depicting a handful of girls growing up over 12 episodes than making poignant societal satire, there is a clear understanding and demonstration of the differences in the way we view teenage male and female sexuality. It’s seen as normal if boys are thinking about sex, whereas girls are seen as promiscuous if they talk about it too openly, and further, the way that society already has a girl’s sexual place figured out by the way that she looks. That latter aspect is focused on a bit more later on, but it gets muddled by that character’s mixed delivery. In any case, there is a definite message that sexuality doesn’t define, and that’s really important when we get into how wildly varied the core cast are, as their journeys all have the same themes but go about it in extremely different ways.

Straight-laced, average Kazusa takes the role of ‘main character’ by timing of plot-line, but her impact is no more or less than the other characters. Her storyline, whereby she is attracted to her childhood friend and has to battle with the platonic versus romantic versus romantic feelings attached to that, is perhaps a little vanilla, but due to the microscopic attention to detail, is actually quite fulfilling. Her sexual awakening is definitely the most dramatic, as she begins to wonder where he feelings fall for this boy, and is ultimately made complex by Izumi’s airheaded reactions. Throw in a late-introduced plot-point and I was quite surprised by this varied reading on a classic romance story.

Sonezaki, the club president, is one you’ll be getting to grips with first, though. Her story is another classic – the loner girl gets hit on by a popular boy, except this show is much more down-to-earth and serious about the whole thing than you might be used to. The antagonist here is her own pride, and showing her grow up and overcome herself is just as cathartic as it might seem.

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Throughout the rest of the series, the other 3 girls are developed… somewhat. While brilliantly portrayed by Tomoyo Kurosawa’s voicework, Hongo’s story consistently feels close to uncomfortable, and while it’s hard to ask if the show plays safe in these encounters, I was definitely intrigued to know how far it would take itself. Momoko’s storyline is perhaps the most poignant of the bunch as she’s not served a simple happiness with only herself preventing it, but sadly she’s a bit under-utilised and only used to bounce off of another character.

And then we come to Nina. I knew from episode 1 – in fact, probably, earlier than that in the promo art – that Nina would make or break the series in my mind. That feeling got constantly preyed upon as every development felt too little for how much it had to move the plots. Ultimately, Nina acted as a string-puller to too many situations for how unclear her thought process was, and that’s simply because her background was just a little too complicated that we had to make some leaps and guess. The series did well to avoid that soap-opera cheapness in-spite of how convoluted her thought process was, though.

In any case, all of these stories are wrapped up in strong dramatic direction and have a clear momentum – even as the plots go seemingly haywire. The comic timing was generally fierce, often utilising visual innuendo to drive the point home, and yet at the same time, the characters shone through each engagement. Indeed, the quality of art and animation took a hit later on down the line, but that didn’t stop Araburu from being one of the smarter and well executed coming-of-age-cum-romcom series you can find right now. And, with the absolute balls it has, it’ll be one you definitely won’t forget.

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