Saturday, February 21, 2015

Anime Review No. 95 (Strawberry Panic)

“Lesbians!, Lesbians! ~”
Strawberry Panic (2006 TV Series)
Studio: Madhouse
Director: Masayuki Sakoi
Writers: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu, Hideo Takayashiki and Tatsuhiko Urahata

Well February 2015 closes out with a personal favorite of mine, a seminal classic in a sub-genre that if you haven’t paying attention, I really love. The show in question is Strawberry Panic, also slight spoilers.

Strawberry Panic is the story of a new transfer student Nagisa Aoi as she comes to Astraea Hill, the site for 3 interconnected all-girls vaguely Christian schools: Le Rim, Spica and Miator. On her first day, she meets her interesting roommate Tamao Suzumi and the mysterious Etoile-sama, Shizuma who holds some deep and dark secrets. Together, Nagisa does the typical adventures at school-making friends and hanging out with them, and also lesbian relationships.

That is the very much the landmark of a yuri series, a focus on lesbian relationships or relationships between women with lesbian subtext. In Strawberry Panic, at least in the TV series, its the former where there are 2 main plots that are all about relationship dynamics. Shizuma and Aoi is the main (A) plot with Hikari and Amane being secondary (B) plot. Plot A is mainly internal conflict fueled by indecision and inner turmoil on the parts of Shizuma and Aoi. Plot B has more external conflict preventing Amane and Hikari getting together, with Kaname and Momomi (2 senpais who very obviously lesbians) serving as rough antagonists though they act more like cartoon villains in much of what they do in the course of the show. Plot A I find is the more compelling, especially when Shizuma’s backstory is revealed and we understand her a bit more and why she acts the way she does. Granted it does get a bit overdramatic and leans into melodrama/soap opera at times but it is still one of the strong elements in the show.

Goodness, Yaya you are way too good for Plot B's story
Plot B is the weak link of the show, mostly because I can’t really care about Hikari and Amane. Hikari is such a wallflower and Amane is an oblivious bifauxnen. The only interesting aspects of this plot is Yaya you do manage to feel something for because to see how much stuff she goes through in the series and a shame she doesn’t really get anyway by series’ end. Oh well, that’s what fanfiction is for. There is a rather valedictorian feel to the final episodes and the show ends on a satisfactory if a bit telegraphed conclusion.

Granted there are other characters, like Chikaru (student council president of the Le Rim school) and her band of classmates (megane Remon, genki Kizuna and the quiet cutie Kagome with her teddy bear Percival) who provide a lot of the levity to the more sombering drama of the main story. There are side adventure episodes, based on rather cliche situations, peppered throughout the series which do come across as filler at points, but are still enjoyable. Well these episodic plots are a just a bit fresher when the show came out in 2006.

Now, Strawberry Panic is one of the more definitive entries in the genre. In fact it is the show that got me interested in the yuri genre, and thus held in high regard by many yuri fans as their first exposure to the genre. It solidifies a lot of the tropes for the genre presently: The senpai-kouhai pairing and the complex relationship dynamics. There is the main theme like the notion of lesbian love: Forbidden, unconditional, unrequited and lost forever, tied to Shizuma’s past for instance. There is also the fleeting nature of youth and innocence and the regret and sadness that follows that, all of this couched in a cute and soothing slice of life atmosphere and environment, adding in tropes and notions from slice of life and high school stories. It is a tad romanticized, that hey that’s the nature of fiction.
Lesbian cuties hanging out.....and such xD
Strawberry Panic is a nice jack of all trades show. What I mean by that is that it is really good at balancing light-hearted comedy, soothing slice of life and serious drama but doesn’t quite excel at any of them, though it certainly tries. Focus episodes on side/supporting characters like the previously mentioned Chikaru and the Le Rim girls are a highlight for me (episodes 6 and 8 especially).
Chikaru you are best girl ^_^
Now the visual presentation is well-done, but not exactly the best work by Madhouse. It has a real somber and subdued look, with a light and pastel color palette. It derps and dips a bit, but thats nearly expected for a show that’s nearly a decade old. The orchestral music is warm and neo-classical in a chamber music style with woodwinds, strings, light brass and piano music abound. It does remind me a bit of the contemporarous Ouran’s equally flowery and melodramatic OST. The OP and ED songs are pleasant enough.


Now, this show was released sub only a few times by Media Blasters (singles in 2008, with complete set releases in 2009 and 2012)  just following the economic crash in the States. In fact, it was one of the first series that got this and set a precedence for sub-only releases that we in the States get in recent years. Fact is that dubbing became too costly for every anime acquired and just releasing with subtitles and a bare-bones release is cheaper and you got a better shot at getting your money back. The japanese language track is good and worth a listen, though a lot of the acting is archetypal and typical of how those tracks are done. One of the reason why I don’t usually talk about Japanese language tracks is because as an English speaking fan, I can’t really judge fairly the performance standards of japanese voice acting.

Cute yuri kiss scene ^_^

Overall Strawberry Panic is very good. It is a great exploration of blossoming romance between young women and an examination of an anime genre that recently has gotten some resurgence which I find very pleasing. Granted, its a bloated towards the middle as the story and plots drag in the middle third and does indulge in the melodrama a bit too much, but still worth a look at. And well, the moral of yuri is that indeed, girls can love girls.

Next month’s reviews will be in a post tomorrow- ‘Til next time dear readers.

1 comment:

Overlord-G said...

The show's melodrama can be annoying for some but it is also part of the show's charm.
Oh yes, everyone but Amane and Hikari are interesting in Plot B.
Team Chikaru FTW!

SP, like it or not, is legendary amongst yuri fans and it still holds up to this day even though the animation can feel dated even though it's from 2006.