Saturday, January 19, 2013

Strawberry Panic! Review

Overall rating: 5.5 / 10

For starters, I should note that I dislike shoujo as a genre. But I do like shoujo-ai to some extent. There are complex reasons for that, but the one which is probably the most important is that from my point of view, female characters in a typical shoujo manga/anime are nice, while male characters are not. I don't appreciate how men are depicted in shoujo in general. And if I dislike the characters themselves, surely I won't appreciate watching them playing romantic leads, while shoujo is mostly about romance. I also have a thing for female same-sex relationships, but that shouldn't necessary be in the shoujo genre. It's just that I appreciate shoujo-ai more than a straight shoujo.

Minamoto Chikaru, the best girl in the show
I would call Strawberry Panic! a half-good show. If you take all the things which were good in this anime, that would be about a half of it. Basically, the show consists of two typical love triangles (Shizuma - Nagisa - Tamao and Amane - Hikari - Yaya) and a lot of peripheral material with lots of supporting characters. Nagisa's part of the romance content is a messy one. That's what makes it good and interesting. Hikari's part is a plain one. That's what makes it boring as fuck. Of course, the story wouldn't be complete without Hikari's part, but I think it should had been reduced at least by half. It was left as it is probably in order to parallel with Nagisa's part till the very end. But there weren't nearly enough material for Hikari's story, so they just repeated the same moves several times and then used cliched plot device to create some shitty drama out of the blue. Regarding the supporting characters, most of them don't have their own subplot and just serve as living decorations and screen time fillers. Still, I think that Chikaru is the best girl in the show by a landslide, regardless of (or to some extent due to) the fact that she doesn't participate in the Special Olympics called "romance". I also liked Momomi and always empathized with her, even though she and Kaname were meant to be antagonists. The rest of the dramatis personae didn't impress me at all. Especially those kouhai girls, who obviously didn't stand a chance from the beginning but persistently appeared here and there.

Catholic setting: Hikari and Yaya in the choir
The setting - I liked it a lot. I only have a vague idea of what all-girl catholic schools in Japan are like. Regarding the schools in the show, the "catholic" part is obviously just for decoration, fortunately. There were after-meal prayers, but no christian propaganda prohibiting intimate relationships, especially homosexual. The setting fits the plot or rather the setting defines the plot. Most of the yuri/shoujo-ai anime/manga depict girls dating each other like it's the most natural thing to do, while it is not. That's why I would say that most of the yuri/shoujo-ai anime/manga are quite unrealistic. There are also more serious yuri/shoujo-ai anime/manga which explore the theme of female (homo)sexuality and acceptance of lesbian relationships in the society. It's much more realistic, but it's not so cute anymore. Strawberry Panic! is somewhere in the middle. It completely ignores the serious topics, but it is realistic, while also cute. You can expect that among several hundreds of girls, studying in three isolated all-girls schools, there would be some couples. And that surely won't pose a problem in those kind of society, while the vast majority of Strawberry Panic! characters are not lesbians, of course. However, experiencing some degree of affection (probably romantic) towards someone is a pretty natural thing for girls in their age and circumstances. Since only two pairs of characters were openly shown having an intimate relationship, that's completely within my expectations.

Main characters, Nagisa and Shizuma are talking at the piano
Music is what left me with some strange impressions. The composer is Yoshihisa Hirano. I knew him from the Death Note, Tatakau Shisho and Break Blade series. He is one of my favorite composers, actually. His usual style is imitation of classical pieces which he does quite well. He always uses authentic acoustic instruments besides synthesizers. He is particularly good in writing climactic pieces with choir and orchestra, but not as good in writing lyrical and melancholic pieces for instruments like piano, violin and oboe. He wrote a very decent music for Strawberry Panic! It just probably doesn't have the right touch and atmosphere. The "classical" parts don't fit with the mood. And the "modern" parts are just too short, too fleeting (like "Kaori no Theme" for example). What the soundtrack lacks is a solid romantic theme or/and the personal theme for the main characters, which would serve as the theme of love. There is only the theme of fate ("Unmei"), but it is not suited for "happy" romantic scenes. And so, the situation is like this: I really appreciate listening to the Strawberry Panic! OST as the standalone piece of music, but actually I wasn't impressed by the music while watching the show. I would also note, that the Strawberry Panic! OST are very similar in both style and touch with the Kannazuki no Miko OST (another shoujo-ai anime) which is one of my favorites, but the latter one is stronger in my opinion.

In conclusion, I just want to note two things, which I can explain in details only in the spoiler part of the review. The first one is that I really liked how the show ended. It somehow caught me completely off-guard. And the ending was by no means sudden or unpredictable, I just didn't see it coming because I had different expectations (I explain why in the second part). But the ending is very righteous in my opinion. The second one is that the show is full of what is called "mono no aware". It's a recurring motif which runs through the show and I deeply appreciated it. It is also strongly related to the reason why I think that the show's ending is "righteous". Actually, I would have rated the show much higher if it wasn't that boring.

Continue to the second part (spoilers)

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