At one point in high school, my middle sister consistently got Freud and Murphy confused, resulting in a lot of conversations about “Freud's Law.” That's what came to mind during Hongo and Milo-sensei's drive through town to the cheapest, seediest love hotel he could find – all of Hongo's so-called brilliant plans going to waste just because they never hit a red light in a very weird combination of Murphy's Law and Freudian frustration. But despite the way things looked to be going (too far and too fast for two reluctant people who definitely know better), Hongo's storyline was one of the least upsetting of the episode. It gave us confirmation that neither she nor Milo-sensei was acting with any sort of actual desire, but instead out of anger, confusion, and self-loathing. Milo-sensei calls himself a coward when Hongo asks why he doesn't want her, but the more cowardly decision would have been to sleep with her just because it was the easy thing to do and because it would give him false confidence.
That's where we can see a parallel between him and Niina. All of the intertwined narratives have at times mirrored or paralleled each other over the course of the series, and this time that line is drawn between two sets of reluctant but frustrated people. Niina, as we've mentioned and debated, is still suffering from being under the influence of her abuser, but also from the fact that she was abused by a man who now deems her unattractive and boring. Angered by the fact that Izumi chose Kazusa over her, she's decided to be the bitch people accused her of being all along by attempting to seduce him away from her former friend. But is she really doing it because she likes him? Or is she just lashing out and he and Kazusa are the easiest targets? Both of them are basically sweet, nice people who aren't likely to ostracize Niina or to yell at her for her actions in the same way someone like Hongo or Sonezaki would. Essentially they're safe – she thinks she can play with their emotions or use them to fulfill her own needs without having to worry that they'll hate her in the morning. That's why she's shocked when Izumi removes his hand from her backside (where she's placed it) and storms off the train, why she's hurt when he flat-out tells her that no, he does not want to sleep with her. So in a moment that's far crueler than anything else she's done thus far in terms of emotional damage, she gets in the last word – that if Izumi means what he's saying, he wouldn't have an erection.
Of all of the things Niina has done thus far, this is the one that made me the most angry. That's a classic abuser line, one used more familiarly against female victims of sexual assault. We're most aware of it as “if you didn't want it, you shouldn't have dressed like that,” but it has a lot of variations, many of which are used far too carelessly in certain romance subgenres. The fact of the matter is, human bodies can react to stimulus independent of what the emotions want, and just because Izumi has an erection does not mean that he actually wants to have sex with Niina. Whether she knows that or is just parroting back lines she's heard before isn't clear, but she triggers a full-on emotional crisis in Izumi, who clearly is not aware that bodies and emotions aren't always on the same page. Now he feels guilty even though he's done nothing wrong, and guilt is the great destroyer as far as I'm concerned, and a far bigger threat to his fledgling relationship with Kazusa than anything else. (Also, for a moment I forgot what series this was and was afraid he was going to throw himself in front of a train.)
That Niina is now convinced that she's a worthless, ugly human being probably should make me feel worse than it does. She is just as much a victim as Izumi, and arguably one with less agency, influenced as she is by Saegusa. She's done her best to burn her bridges as well, so even though Momoko has reached out to her with proof that she's not unlovable, she can't bring herself to accept that. And really, if she isn't attracted to girls, she shouldn't try to pursue a relationship with Momoko just to make herself feel better, because the realization is perhaps more significant to Momoko than to Niina anyway. (And almost anti-climactic in terms of storytelling.) But I do wish she had someone to turn to, because she's in a lot of emotional trouble.
Right now Sonezaki seems to be in the best headspace of everyone, because Kazusa's heading for a tricky patch with Izumi. But the revelation that her new friend has had to leave school because she's pregnant is going to be a blow. It's going to force Sonezaki to rethink everything and to try and decide whether or not her friend deserves to be judged the way her homeroom teacher, who apparently knows nothing about respecting someone's privacy, is clearly judging her. For Sonezaki, this could be the moment that truly changes everything. Hopefully she'll be able to think it all through.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season is currently streaming on HIDIVE.