Strawberry Panic! is definitely a fun, flightly yuri adventure (the bath scenes and nakedness toward the end move this one out of pure shoujo-ai territory). While I intend for my review to cover my overall feelings about the show, I wanted to use this post to complain about one plot point: Carmen.
Let's back up and start at the beginning. Strawberry Panic! takes place on the campus of three Catholic girls' schools somewhere in Japan. The series itself follows two transfer students and their developing relationships with upperclassmen, and all of the delicious drama that comes with the territory. During the inevitable school festival arc (there's gotta be one in your high school anime) the girls put on a major play as the main event. As the students of Astrea (the name for the three-schools as a collective) take french as their second language, they choose Carmen. Wait for it... WHAT?
The choice of Carmen probably has to do with recognition. Although originally novella by Prosper Merimee, most of the world knows this story via the Georges Bizet opera (which is 'fantastique', by the way). Due to the fame of the opera, Carmen was likely chosen by the light novel author (and thus the anime) because it would be recognized as a French work of some merit. Problem is, I'm not sure that the author really knew what Carmen is about, and the anime clearly demonstrates some ignorance of the play's content.
The anime makes a big deal of the two male leads (played by Amane and Shizune) and the female lead played (initially) by Chikane. The anime plays up the sword fight in the third act and the final scene where Don Jose (played by Amane) holds the dying Carmen (played at the time by Nagisa--watch the show for the explanation) in his arms and laments her loss.
BUT, the anime glosses over how we get there. Here's the short version: Carmen is a slut. No, that's not anger, it's the truth. Don Jose, a valiant soldier turned police officer engages in a tumultuous relationship with the wild and attractive Carmen in the first half of the opera. Carmen is a free-spirit, confident in her sexuality, and a conquerer of men. Don Jose, with his will of iron manages to attract Carmen--for awhile. Eventually, however, Carmen tires of Don Jose and trysts with a charasmatic matador, Escamillo. Escamillo and Don Jose skirmish during the later parts of the play, as Carmen's love for Don Jose fades. In the final act, Carmen declares that she loves only Escamillo and spurns the heartbroken Don Jose. Jealous and in despairing, Don Jose murders Carmen on the spot. Nice.
The moral here, is that the wild and independent Carmen gets killed for following her heart. The novella itself is extremely misogynistic, focusing on Don Jose's emasculation and the vile seductions of the Gypsy temptress. Why would a bunch of young ladies put on a play that was so critical of women? Moreover, why would the audience swoon over its content? It's not a particularly happy story--in fact, it's one of the more tragic tales of unrequited love.
Likely, the authors had no idea about the subtext of the play. Given the heavy-handed romance in the main story, I'm inclined to believe this interpretation. But there's another (more amusing) possibility. Had the spurned Tamao chosen the play, she's essentially trolling the school and Shizune. The gung-ho and free spirited Naigsa--along with the majority of the student body--might be a little slow and therefore miss the message. However, to the French scholar Shizune, the message would be clear: I will murder Nagisa before I give her to you. Delicious.