Strawberry Marshmallow Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, June 20, 2006



What They Say
Join Chika, Miu and Matsuri, as they go about their daily lives full of adventure and discovery. Follow the intrepid trio as they try to make a surprise birthday gift. Then meet Ana, a transfer student originally from England who pretends to a foreigner. This becomes more difficult to pull off when the girls pay a visit to her happy home. And when Chika & Company find out where Nobue is working, they decide to pay her a visit... with disastrous results!


The Review!
With a volume label of "Cute Is As Cute Does," you can easily imagine what kind of show this is.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. The series sports a very straightforward stereo mix which has very little in terms of directionality to it. It's also a surprising track in just how little background music there is to it which leaves the dialogue standing out there on its own all the more. The dialogue aspects are well done though but it's a very center channel based piece. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Like many shows set in similar settings, the transfer here is able to work beautifully with the soft colors and basic animation so that it looks like a great piece. The series has a few common settings to it, be it one of the girls bedrooms or some school classroom, and they use plenty of the standard light palette of colors that has a real world feel to it. There are plenty of vibrant colors throughout though, such as eyes or certain outfits, but they blend well into the overall setting. There are a lot of areas of single bold colors and they maintain a great looking solid feel while black levels in general come across very well. The transfer is free of cross coloration and there wasn't any noticeable aliasing during regular playback that caught my eye.

Packaging:
Using the cover artwork from the first Japanese release, it has a cute shot of two of the younger girls going along outside with a residential backdrop with a bright blue sky. It's a very simple cover and it really doesn't tell you a lot about the show but it's also the kind that does because it's just got the very basic images to it. It's a bright and colorful piece and the designs are cute and attractive enough that it will appeal to the crowd that it's supposed to but it'll also keep away those who won't find it to be up their alley. The back cover goes for a mostly white background with red and pink text that works nicely in showing off a lighter side to the show. There's a mixture of standard character artwork and some shots from the show as well as a basic summary. The features and other information is nicely laid out though not all of the extras are listed here. The show doesn't use a technical grid though which means there's duplicated information here. The insert uses the Japanese artwork from the second volume of Ana and Matsuri in waitress outfits and opens up to a two panel spread of various shots of the girls with Miu holding the camera that took them. The back cover has a very cute illustration of Miui in a bathing suit with a tube that has "Getting' jiggy wit it!!" written on it.

Menu:
The menu layout for the show is similar to other areas of the release in that it plays up the cute factor with character artwork from the packaging and some basic music to it. If the cute factor hadn't hit before now, it's very obvious by loading it up in the player. The layout and design is good overall but the cursor stopping on the blocks at times has it looking like you're selecting the wrong thing. Access time are nice and fast and the menus are easy to navigate but the language presets didn't pick up properly and it defaulted to English with sign subtitles. Even worse, you can't select English with subtitles, you can only do English or Japanese with English subtitles.

Extras:
The back cover doesn't reveal all the extras but they get it right with the textless opening sequence being here. The other included extra is the Episode 0 mini which is a cute little promotional piece that came out before the show premiered at it's 1:55 AM time slot in July of 2005.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Strawberry Marshmallow, which is a direct clean-up translation of the original title Ichigo Mashimaro, is a very cute show that doesn't have much to say or a lot to accomplish, at least going by these first four episodes. In a lot of ways, this show reminded me heavily of Bottle Fairies but without the magical elements to it.

The show revolves around five girls primarily; we're introduced to the twenty year old chain smoking Nobue, a college student who is pretty laid back and makes jokes about how she looks like a sixteen year old high school student, especially if she turns up the pitch of her voice and smiles. She's very mellow and her smoking and almost snarky style set her apart from many female characters. She takes advantage, mildly, of her younger sister Chika. Chika's twelve years old and in the sixth grade who is similarly laid back but manages to keep her money without spending it on things. Unfortunately, a lot of her savings tends to go towards Nobue's smoking habit. The two live at home but we don't see any hint of parents in these episodes and most of their time is spent either in Chika's room or doing things at school.

The lives of the two sisters is continually accented by their next door neighbor, another twelve year old named Miu. Miu is able to leap across the roofs between the houses and enter Chika's room where her bold and outgoing nature tends to set her apart from the more laid back sisters and their friends. Miu tends to be the really aggressive one in doing things and pushing the others into things but she's a manipulator through and through. Without her, odds are the show wouldn't actually do anything but have the characters sit around. The group is filled out with a pair of interesting but also mellow characters, from the very shy and easily emotional Matsuri who comes complete with glasses to accent her cuteness to Ana Coppola, a transfer student from England.

The opening episodes of the series do a good job of introducing the characters and setting while bringing in new ones like Ana to the mix. While a lot of the time is spent just hanging out and talking, they do these little fantastical trips into the imagination where they basically are playing. One instance for example has the characters playing out roles of a doctor's office and they all switch along the way. Miu starts as the doctor at first and diagnoses Chika with having a fat tummy which leads to Miu being outed for awhile. Nobue spends a lot of time with them in the room, often to try and shake them down for money, but she gets into the playing around as well. I remember fondly doing many of the same things with a friend of mine who was the same age as me back in my late teens so this has a real ring of familiarity and realism to it along with the slightly off kilter humor.

Where the show really started to click and get into a groove was with the final episode on the volume where Nobue finds herself forced into getting a job that will pay her a lot of money on a daily basis so she can buy some cartons of cigarettes. After some very amusing imaginations into the kind of work that the girls would want to do and Miu showing Chika how hard it is to give out tissues, Nobue ends up doing a waitressing gig. This isn't bad in and of itself, but when Miu finds out, she brings the others with her so that they can take advantage of many free deserts. The tug of war between Nobue and Miu is very comical here and very well played out as the characters all now really feel like they've bonded together.

In Summary:
Strawberry Marshmallow has a number of good moments to it and the characters are for the most part pretty likable, even the obnoxious Miu. But it is the kind of show that doesn't intend to go anywhere which isn't a bad thing. The show is well animated, the characters are grown dimensionally as the episodes progress and it has some good quirky humor mixed into it. This isn't a show to go into with a lot of expectations but rather something that you can sort of just snuggle up to and watch and enjoy without it having a long term impact. Strawberry Marshmallow is definitely "cute" and well executed but it's very much a niche show with a limited audience.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Episode 0

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Toshiba HD-A1 Progressive Scan HD DVD player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.




Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Strawberry Marshmallow