Review: Strawberry Panic!

Strawberry Panic! was my introduction to the world of anime, in particular yuri/shoujo-ai. The anime can be summed up in two words: guilty pleasure. The storyline is a relatively simple romantic tragicomedy drama: a new girl has to deal with the attentions of the school’s famous leader, Shizuma Hanazono, while navigating the strange politics and problems of a (90% lesbian/bisexual) Catholic boarding school. The secondary story is about a sweet choir girl named Hikari whose relationship with sport star/heartthrob Amane Ootori causes problems. Eventually both main shippings have happy endings after a lot of drama and a few filler episodes. 

The anime uses basically every single trope and cheesy tool known to man to deliver a story that’s relatively unoriginal and predictable. The characters are merely likeable and mostly one- or two-dimensional. The three lessons I learned in 26 episodes were that molestation is commonplace in all-girls’ schools, every suspected pairing either is a pairing or a wannabe-pairing, and that creepy stalkers get the girl. Why, then, do I love Strawberry Panic! so much?

Because of all the shipping problems.

Despite the relative lack of plot, the anime is very good at delivering light drama and cute romance. The animation itself is nothing spectacular, but realistically detailed and cute. The character variety ensures that the viewer can relate to at least one or two characters, and the girls’ plights are either realistic or overly dramatic enough that the viewer feels some sympathy towards them. Because there are two main storylines, if a viewer dislikes one the other is bound to offer something better. The narrative hooks and twists, while predictable, are emotionally engaging. And the music is enjoyable and fits the anime perfectly.

Probably the strangest thing about Strawberry Panic! is the democratic system of government. The three schools in the anime are Miator, known for academics and housing the protagonist/immediate company, Spica, known for sports and the other plotline, and Lulim, known for being very chill and fun-loving with the best minor characters. Each school’s students elect one Student Council President who serves on the Student Council. The Council meets weekly to work through problems and plan major events. However since the three schools are so different, there are two girls called Etoiles who serve as mediators between the three schools. Besides mediating Student Council meetings, the Etoiles greet VIPs, manage the greenhouse, and do other such important duties. Each Etoile serves until graduation and is elected by the students of all three schools. The Etoile election is a main source of drama and tension in the anime.

Drama and tension. In the bathroom. With bubbles.

With regards to plot and pacing, the first season reminds me of My Little Pony with its semi-related episodes that are purely for establishing the setting and character development. Several times I asked myself why I was bothering to sit through another episode when nothing much seemed to actually be going on. Episodes seven through eleven in particular have very little to add to the central plot, but they each have some small significance that forces the viewer to watch them anyway. For example, the entire purpose of the beach episode is to establish how much the main character misses her love interest. Other than that the beach episode exists entirely to showcase skimpy bathing suits and sandcastle-building competitions, with a little love drama thrown in for good measure. Call it semi-filler.

My favorite character, Chikaru, looking as awesome on the outside as she is on the inside. In a bathing suit.

I was confused at the intended audience of Strawberry Panic!. The first season seems harmless and PG, perhaps for middle schoolers. But the second season includes lingering shower shots, the occasional sexual encounter, and lots of insidious bullying which led me to believe the intended audience is teenagers who want to sit through filler episodes. The gratuitous flashing of girls’ bodies indicates the show was probably targeted at (straight) boys, but if we are to stick to gender stereotypes/generalizations then all the drama and romantic angst indicates a predominantly female audience.

The second season is far superior to the first because it has more drama, action, and actual plot. Angsty backstories are revealed, hearts broken, revenge and sabotage carried out in an eye-roll-worthy but satisfying manner. The ending of Strawberry Panic! seems like the producers just got bored with the anime and tried to wrap up all the endings as neatly as possible. The last few episodes seem rushed, especially compared to how much time the setup takes.

Overall Strawberry Panic! does an excellent job at delivering a dramatic romantic slice-of-life yuri. The anime is good for when one doesn’t want something heavy, but still wants to be entertained mindlessly for a few hours.

*Yes, this review is very similar to the review of Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins: both stories are enjoyable despite their typical characters and a slew of tropes. What can I say? I like my cotton candy, FDA-approved colors and all. I haven’t reviewed my favorite books yet because I take them very seriously and thus am a total perfectionist about their reviews.


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