Strawberry Panic

Title: Strawberry Panic
Genre: Romance/Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 3 Apr 2006 – 25 Sep 2006

Synopsis: Aoi Nagisa is a new student to the prestigious all-girls school St. Miatre Academy, which shares its campus with two other all-girls schools, St. Spica’s Academy and St. Le Rim Academy. After a bizarre and surprising encounter with a mysterious girl named Hanazono Shizuma, which culminates in Nagisa fainting, it becomes quickly apparent that Nagisa is in for some turbulent times ahead in her new school.

The Highlights
Music: Standard shoujo-ai fare… in other words, really good.
Romance plots: One is very intriguing and filled with interesting characters and twists; the other rather bland.
Drama: Some genuinely dramatic moments; some melodrama.
Ending: Terrible execution; quite ludicrous.

The shoujo-ai genre is one of the more haphazard in anime, and thus one of the more difficult to gauge. Though it has produced rare hits like the unforgettable Maria-sama ga Miteru (aka Marimite), it has also produced a fair share of ordinary titles, such as Kannaduki no Miko and Yamibou. Strawberry Panic ranks somewhere in the middle. While my initial impressions of the series were of a mix of Marimite and Gokujou Seitokai, StoPa quickly distinguishes itself from both and sets about telling what is essentially the story of two parallel romances, both with their fair share of intricacies and complications.

It’s almost a staple of the shoujo-ai genre to have good music, and StoPa delivers here. Hirano Yoshihisa’s compositions of rich and emotive orchestral pieces are used to perfection to augment the mood in almost every scene. The OP and ED themes aren’t quite as impressive, though. No review of StoPa is complete without mentioning Nakahara Mai and Shimizu Ai, seiyuu of Aoi Nagisa and Suzumi Tamao respectively. And while their performances in the ED sequences are forgettable, their portrayals of their respective characters certainly aren’t.

Even though it takes quite a few episodes to introduce the premise and entire cast (one that is sizable, considering the setting consists of three schools), once the story hits full pace, it becomes quite absorbing. However, there’s a big imbalance between the levels of intrigue of the two romance stories. While one contains interesting characters that are thoroughly explored and given a good amount of depth, the other is lead by two relatively boring lovers, and mostly driven by plot devices (including one ridiculous case of selective amnesia) and other outside influences.

StoPa actually does contain a few excellent examples of drama (true drama being something that is unfortunately rare in anime), but does flirt with melodrama on numerous occasions, and has more than its fair share of truly ridiculous moments. The ending is another point I have mixed feelings about. While I can understand the decisions that each character eventually arrived at, the public outburst in which it was announced was little short of ludicrous, and destroyed pretty much all emotional impact the scene was trying to generate.

Strawberry Panic will probably not make many people’s list of top anime of the year, but as a shoujo-ai, it offers a number of enthralling and emotional moments and does quite a few things right. It is also about the only twenty-six episode series I have seen without a single male in its entire run to offend the eye. My recommendation is to watch Marimite. But, if you’ve already seen that and need a shoujo-ai fix to tide you over before the upcoming Marimite OVA, then try Strawberry Panic. It’s nowhere near as good as Marimite, but as a second-rate substitute, it may suffice.

The Rating: 6
6/10

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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