Drawn in by one of the ubiquitous "I Kissed a Girl" AMVs, I came to Strawberry Panic! wondering why all those girls were making out with each other. I can't say that I left the series entirely sure of the characters' motivations, but I can say that I've come to love the silly, racy, melodramatic, and heartbreaking world of shoujo-ai anime. Despite its mediocre looks, occasionally vapid storytelling, and frustrating characters, I fell in love with this show. And then Hikari and Amane ruined everything.
Strawberry Panic! tells the interwoven story of two transfer students at a collection of three all-girls schools with mixed results. While the absurd frequency of lesbian relationships initially makes little sense, the cloistered feel of the campus and the purposeful omission of anything that could conclusively tie the story to a specific time eventually draw the viewer--and the protagonist, Nagisa--into this charming world.
Nagisa's story centers around her bizarre and tumultuous relationship with the upperclasswoman Shizuma, which reads more like a coy romance novel than a steamy bodice-ripper. Nagisa's uncertainty combines with her roommate's creepy infatuation (and steadfast friendship) to provide plenty of twists and turns from the younger girls' side of the plot; throw in the sempai's "tragic past" and the will-they-won't-they tension carries much of the series. While this narrative suffers a little from its younger lead's amorphous characterization, Shizuma turns out to be interesting enough to support the drama all by herself.
Sadly, the show also tells Hikari's story. Having transferred into St. Spica in the previous year, the blonde waif sings in the choir team with her roommate and best buddy, Yaya, and a younger girl Tsubomi. For some unfathomable reason these two girls dote on the oblivious and meek singer, who falls instead for St. Spica's "Prince" Amane. The juicier events playing out in this academy include school political intrigue, attempted rape, unrequited love, a tennis match, and amnesia. While all of these twists and turns should have made this drama more compelling, the lackluster protagonists hamstring much of the emotional content. Skittish and cowardly, the flaxen-haired lead allows all of this interesting plot to happen to her until the show's very end. Because Hikari refuses to seize her own destiny until the final moment, her ultimate resolution feels more like an intrusion on Nagisa's unresolved drama than the emotional culmination of a standalone love story.
Strawberry Panic!'s visuals suffer heavily from being only passing fair. Adding a touch of much needed believability, Nagisa, Tamao, Hikari and Yaya all look clearly younger than their sempais and obviously older than the featured kouhai characters, which sets the art design apart from many high school series. Of the characters, the main romantic leads deserve special attention. Amane's design emphasizes her "Prince" status. Tall and strong, she looks equally at home in the feminine St. Spica jacket and skirt or astride her white horse in full hero mode. Shizuma, on the other hand, left much to be desired. While the silver hair, gold eyes, and full figure communicate "beauty" adequately, I had trouble reading her bizarre magnetism from her character design. Given that she enthralls Nagisa on sight in their first encounter, the fact that I can't see a glimmer of what the younger girl sees makes it hard for me to buy into their plot line until Shizuma's character traits overcome her inadequate design.
Many of the scenes and characters also lack significant detail. The rich environments and charming school uniforms should provide ample opportunity for beautiful stills at least, but the line work doesn't rise to the occasion. The backgrounds similarly lack definition without achieving the impressionistic aesthetic that makes the static backdrops in series like Nodame Cantabile so attractive. While it's possible that the art design represents a deliberate choice to communicate "ephemeral", the accomplished effect reads more like "cheap".
Aside from one gratuitous moment of English, the voice acting is competent and emotive. Nakahara Mai manages the chipper Nagisa ably, but her usual partner (Mai-HiME, Mai-Otome) Shimizu Ai delivers the better performance as Tamao, owing mostly to her character's rich complexity, which offers more opportunities for subtlety. Yaya and Hikari's voice actors tackle the awkward challenge of pretending to be high school choir singers, each one delivering a solo song in a convincingly amateur manner without offending the ears.
The highlights of Strawberry Panic!'s aural component come from the music, however. The series sports two emotionally epic OPs (my favorite being the first opener, "Shoujo Miero Tsukamaete") paired with two playful ending themes sung by Tamao and Nagisa's seiyuus. While there is some dissonance between the EDs and the dramatic content of the series in the second half, I found that the closing songs added a needed air of levity--the situations are somewhat ridiculous and the series seems to know it. During the episodes, classical themes abound, with piano music punctuating the more important emotional moments, and not without reason. Shizuma and Nagisa share more than one moment at a piano and its mournful strains reflect back into the text of the story itself.
While unimaginative and underdeveloped, the cast's verve and humor carry the show. Supporting the mewling Hikari and princely Amane, the student cast of St. Spica reads like it has been plucked from any standard boarding-school teen novella. Momo and Kaname provide buckets of intrigue and racy fan-service while the St. Spica student council president plots to win the upcoming Etoile election for her school. Their scheming combines with the more delicate machinations and desires of the sexy and outgoing Yaya and her tsundere sidekick, Tsubomi, to round out the complex love polygon that dominates Hikari's storyline.
However, even the strong side characters can't compensate for the weakness of the romantic leads. Amane's regal manner comes across more as wooden than anything else and her infatuation with the doe-eyed singer seems to appear out of nowhere. Hikari, for her part, doesn't offer the viewer any justification for her sempai's affection. The younger girl spends the majority of her time on screen praying, apologizing, or running away from people. While pretty, the younger lead has none of her roommate's sex appeal and looks uncomfortable nearly the entire time. In the end, the viewer has to wonder why the perfectly well-adjusted and attractive Yaya and Tsubomi find her appealing.
In St. Miatre, Shizuma smolders with pent up sexual energy and exudes a kind of imperious grace that hides her vulnerabilities until the series' second half. Likewise, the cheery and gung-ho Nagisa perfectly balances optimism and mischief, complimenting her interaction with the mercurial Shizuma and wily Tamao. The most delightful character in the show, Nagisa's blue-haired best friend swings wildly from supportive companion to chillingly possessive guardian, all while maintaining the same demeanor. Instead of hampering her believability, the moments where she airs out her creepy obsession with the new transfer student give Tamao an endearing emotional honesty that sets her apart from the gaggle of self-denying ladies that comprise the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, this more complex group sees precious little development and the characters end--save for the two leads--in either much the same place they entered or with their own personal issues unresolved.
Despite their tangential relationship to the main plot lines, the cast from St. Le Rim contains the series' dark horse, Chikaru, who acts like a big sister to all of the younger students with whom she interacts. Cute, insightful, and fun, Chikaru provides answers, shoulders to cry on, and costumes (costumes!) on demand, but never upstages the important on-screen action. The remaining girls fill their important comic relief and plot-related roles without trying the viewers' patience. The fact that all of these characters seem to have little history or life outside of school actually plays to the show's benefit; focusing on the events within the school almost exclusively heightens the slightly fantastic air that pervades the series and goes a long way toward casting Astrea Hill as another world. In this context, the casual treatment of lesbian relationships starts to seem less preposterous as the show moves forward.
While not a masterpiece, Strawberry Panic! provides a good deal of humor, drama, and delectable girl-on-girl fan service. As a first foray into the world of shoujo-ai, this show gives the viewer a balanced overview of themes available in the genre and uses its fairly breathless pacing to keep things interesting. The experienced fan will likely find that this series feels a little shorter than other yuri offerings because the story covers a fair amount of ground during its run instead of lingering on each small interpersonal incident. Hikari and Amane nearly ruin Nagisa and Shizuma's interesting little romance, the weak animation makes it hard sometimes to appreciate all of the melodrama on display, and the anime ends in only partial resolution, but overall it manages to rise above its considerable shortcomings. You might want to kill Hikari by the end, but if you enjoy watching girls break other girls' hearts, then you will find this show a pleasant diversion.
Strawberry Panic is a shoujo romance anime. And a rather serious, sensible take on romance at that. Not exactly an amazing anime, but it wasn't terrible either. It's definitely not an anime for every individual, primarily aimed at young Japanese girls (hence shoujo genre). But it isn't exactly a normal romance either, the anime features no male characters, thus the romance blooms between girls, making this a shoujo-ai anime at that. And if any guys think there's hot girl-on-girl action, you won't find it here, thankfully. Nope, this is a rather mature take on such relationships. It does have aspects of comedy and maybe a few annoying things here or there, but by golly it's better than supposed 'romance' anime (yeah right) aimed at adolecent boys. This anime actually had me bored for a good deal of it, a lot of filler and eventually it got to some surprisingly serious story. As such, I wasn't paying attention to a good deal of the earlier episodes.
The animation isn't anything special. A bad thing in my book. I was unable to find it in HD quality, but given the 2006 release, I'm sure it's around somewhere. Looking closely, animation seems to be smooth and it does suggest that I just got a non-HD quality version of it. The character and background designs seem a bit generic, especially given the time it aired. Some parts have a particular 'flowery/girly' asthetic, not necessarily a bad thing. There is no nudity or fan-service of any kind, makes sense given the primary audience. Occasionally things do get a bit 'heated,' but such sections are very limited in length and are mainly just girls passionately holding or kissing each other. Further things are only implied. Nothing wrong with that. The outros are an interesting topic, they use live-action music videos with lip-syncing that seems a bit off to me.
The soundtrack to this anime is very orchestral and instrumental. The exception is the intro and outro sequences, which are very j-pop, a genre of music I don't like. Personal tastes aside, the main soundtrack is rather nice and soothing. It suites the atmosphere of the scenes very well and music is used to good effect in this anime. Given the direction of this ainme, it also has a lot of choir and singing too, especially as a few characters in the story are involved. Being such a niche anime, the audio is Japanese only, but also contains a bit of French her and there, for all of that extra elegance. A few interesting voices. Nagisa's voice actress Mai Nakahara did the voice of Hatsune in Angel Beats, Nagisa in Clannad and Mai from My Hime. Hitome Nabatame, who does Shizuma's voice, also did Yukiji from Hayate no Gotoku, Arcueid from Lunar Legend Tsukihime and Margery Daw from Shakugan no Shana. The voice of Hikari, Miyu Matsuki also did Misaki/Yoriko in Da Capo, Isumi in Hayate no Gotoku and Kaoru in Tsuokomi: Moon Phase. Many good anime roles between them it seems.
The main character is the redhaired Nagisa Aoi, a new transfer student to St. Miatre's girls academy. Just a heads up, there are no other characters other than those at the women at the academies in this anime, including parents. I'm very tired of this trope of no parents/family for all characters, so I can't be bothered to complain about it once more. Nagisa is a difficult character to describe, perhaps because I wasn't always paying attention to this anime or that I'm writing this section of the review after a break of over a week after watching the anime so far. Nagisa often gets into trouble running around, being late, being easily scared of things. One thing I did notice was that she cared a lot for the plants in the greenhouse, which are not hers to take care of.
None of the other characters are particularly terrible, some may seem a bit generic, like the cutesy junior with her teddy bear and others seem interesting and a unique addition to this sort of anime like the evil couple of girls who want to 'win the popularity contest.' As I haven't been able to say much on characters, I will leave characters unrated.
*** - Please go to the end
Initially not much happens in the story, besides each character being introduced. But little events do take place. We learn of a few one sided crushes/affections and occasionally friends try to push the boundaries of their relationships. Later on Shizune's story progresses and we learn of a big 'hidden truth.' I wouldn't say twist is the right word, this aspect of the story wasn't done too well as there wasn't enough foreshadowing and build-up to the reveal. Characters just happen to not mention it before a certain point in the plot. Things gets serious as we learn of the past and the story suggests that certain characters have trouble dealing with relationships. One particular discontinued relationship appears to come to the conclusion that some things should be forgotten. It's difficult to explain without spoiling things, but I disagree. Love is (or at least should be) everlasting and loved ones shouldn't be forgotten, no matter how much pain it brings. That's my opinion on the matter, but the anime wants to say otherwise. There's also a parallel plot of living up to other's expectations and rising to the occasion. A certain character isn't feeling very ambitious, when perhaps they should be. It's just a matter of filling a role and the character is perfect for it. An individual's happiness is important and is something the plot appears to explore. Overall the story is about the relationships of girls with girls. I can't really discuss it in much depth, since it isn't something I've experienced. Otherwise, there isn't much to it. Even if I wasn't paying too much attention to it, the rest of the plot is rather bare and contains the day-to-day events these characters go through. While I'm not a fan of slice-of-life, there have been a few that I've enjoyed in the past.
Again, this isn't a terrible anime. It isn't amazing, but that may be because the audience for this anime is rather niche. I personally would say it's okay but my time would have been better spent on an anime I'd enjoy more and want to pay attention to. I didn't hate it like I do with some anime and it isn't a bad try at romance. There are better romance anime like 'Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien' but I can't put a finger on many same-gender romances. Or serious ones, there have been a few abysmal ones involving gender-swap. Try it, see if you like and if you do, that's great. Perhaps someone who is able to relate or enjoy this would be able to better explain why this anime isn't terrible.
Family-friendliness Rating: 2/5 There is quite a bit of lip-locking, 'safe' shower scenes and further implications (lower is better)
Overall Rating: 6.5/10 (higher is better)
*** - And CUT! The review for this anime is going to conclude differently. Unfortunately, when I left home last week I was unable to continue watching this anime, simply because I was unable to review it due to no internet connection on my little break. Picking up over a week since I last watched it proved rather difficult. I feel terrible for leaving an incomplete review, which could easily be amended by watching the anime again a second time, but I don't have the time to spare rewatching anime like this. The only missing section is the character section which was kinda difficult to talk about anyway.
This will hopefully be short and sweet, I mean, the cover says it all. Although it is so predictable that it isn't even funny, a bunch of it (I felt) were side adventures. Despite that it actually has a pretty good story line told really well with great characters, some I grew to really love (wish they got more air time, lol). However, the mysterious/rouge romantic lead (typicaly I love them, because I'm one of them!) I could not fully get behind, it's like "our" relationship was hot-n-cold, lol; I know they explained everthing, etc. and even when you put into account that it's high school, I still couldn't do it. I did learn one thing though and it's super important, every girl that goes to a all girl school is appartently a lesbian, lmao!
This was the first anime I ever watched, and, to be completely honest, I was...nervous to. I wanted so badly to get into an anime, to enjoy it like my friends and just be able to get "lost" into a show. And Strawberry Panic didn't disapoint.
Right away, I loved the soundtrack/ambient noise. I'm a sucker for classical sounding music and piano music, so that hooked me in right away. I appreciated how the characters were introduced. They were introduced gradually, not slammed into the middle of the screen suddenly. They had emotions, they weren't just there to be "cute" or to say random jokes. I also appreciated the theme: Yuri. Shizuma's and Nagisa's relationship was really awesome, for lack of a better word, because it blossomed over time and was met with countless obstacles. The only downside was that I wish it could have had more time to develop, or, a more sound ending. I felt that their love, toward the end of the show/last half of the episode was rushed. And though I am grateful they ended up together, I was a bit put-down on how their love was finally protrayed.
That being said, I'm grateful that I found it. I finished it in a mere week or so, I loved it so much. This show is for people that appericate yuri, (mostly clean/little nudity) anime, anime with backstories and time put into it and anime centered around relationships.
I'd totally watch a second season of this.
Okay so Strawberry Panic was the first yuri anime that I have ever seen, and it was the first one I actually gave a chance. It's a romance which is my favorite genre and I can definitely say it was a good on. It wasn't just a typical story and it had more drama than a lot of romances I usually watch, which I liked. It didn't have too many plot twist or anything real shocking but I do believe the ending was the right ending. It was a really cute anime with a little bit of slice of life mixed in and some romantic moments on the side. But then some episodes just changed into straight romantic moments and progressed the romance between each of the couples. So the story was good and there are no complaints here.
Overall this is an all around great story and is one of my all time favorites.