Strawberry Panic Vol. #1 (of 5) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, May 19, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2008



What They Say
Nagisa Aoi is a young girl about to embark on a new chapter in her life. She's just transferred to a new all-girls high school, one of three in the area. At first, she's excited about the new friends, new surroundings, and new activities that await her. But she soon becomes confused and disoriented, particularly when she encounters Shizuma, a student representative whose striking beauty has Nagisa flustered.

Meanwhile, her new roommate Tamao shows her around and introduces her to the other colorful characters that inhabit the dorms. The complex relationships that bloom expose Nagisa to all the drama and passion that comes with this new territory.

Contains episodes 1-6.

The Review!
When Nagisa arrives at her new school, one of three academies in close proximity, she finds herself caught up in some intriguing new relationships.

Audio:
With a very limited appeal, limited even more by what's done here, Media Blasters has opted to provide only the Japanese language track on this release. The stereo mix for the show isn't all that active which isn't a surprise considering that it's a dialogue piece outside of the opening and closing sequences. Those sections are pretty good when it comes to a full sound but beyond that it's a very full sounding mix without much in the way of directionality or depth. Nothing really stands out here as above average but there aren't any issues with it either. Dialogue was clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing throughout 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. Being a relatively recent show without much in the way of really active animation to it, I was expecting a bit more out of the transfer but was relatively disappointed. The show has a fair amount of gradients showing up in some of the outdoor late afternoon scenes while the interior scenes usually have a good amount of noticeable noise in the backgrounds. This is somewhat common with school based shows of this genre as the soft colors used for the walls and such tend to not maintain a very solid feel. There's also what feels like a hint of cross coloration within the character designs as there is a good deal of waviness along the edges of their hair. It doesn't devolve into outright rainbows but it has that wavy feel to it that reminds you of it. The show doesn't look bad but it has a number of small problems to it that keeps it from looking good.

Packaging:
The cover artwork for Strawberry Panic represents the show very well as it features Shizuma and Nagisa together in an embrace where Nagisa is blushing from it and Shizuma has a very forward look to her. With their hair and skirts flowing around them, it has a very ethereal feel to it which is further enhanced by the elegant framework and the background of red roses. It's a very busy cover in its own way but it's also quite simple and beautiful. The logo is the only thing that feels a bit out of place because of the pinks and purples in it. The back cover has a good layout that uses the same kind of red background but places some school design elements to it, such as the tall window and some of the crown molding. A number of character shots from the show are strewn about and the summary runs through the basics in a very clear and straightforward fashion. The discs extras are clearly listed and the amount of episodes is emphasized fairly well. Add in the basic production information and the technical grid along the bottom and you have a good looking back cover overall. No inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design uses the same pieces as seen on the front cover as it has the static image of Shizuma and Nagisa in an embrace. The framing from the front cover is here as well though expanded to include the navigation along the right half of the screen. The logo is shifted to the right as well and with the included music it's a light and inviting menu that sets the mood just right. Submenus load quickly and I'm amused they even included a setup menu since you can't actually turn off the subtitles. The layout is easy to navigate and submenus load quickly. Player presets are obviously a non issue here.

Extras:
The only extras included in this release are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novels and manga by Sakurako Kimino, Strawberry Panic is a twenty-six episode series which revolves around a range of teenage girls spread across three private academies. The show is part of Media Blasters' Yuri Fan line-up and while the opening episodes are very light on it outside of the older sister crushes, the implied elements certainly make up for any deficiencies. The first volume takes us through six episodes of the series and that certainly helps since the show is quite slow moving and takes a fair bit of time to really find a good rhythm.

Strawberry Panic starts off as many school based series do as we're introduced to Nagisa, a new transfer student who has come to Astraea Hill where there are three private schools that mingle fairly well with each other. The eldest school is St. Miator which has a lot of traditions to it and the girls all wear very elegant black uniforms that flow. The second eldest school is that of St. Spica which is a very competitive school that excels in academics and athletics. They mirror St. Miator in a fashion with their uniforms except that they're white and a bit shorter. The third and final academy on Astraea Hill is that of St. Le Rim which is a bit more fancy free and creative as it gives off a much lighter feel and something of a feel good atmosphere.

Nagisa has come to St. Miator as a new fourth year student and ends up running through a number of standard situations that one would expect in such a setting. Nagisa is a fairly simple character at this point who is providing the view of this world for the audience and through her eyes we see the various academies and their quirks. The most interesting quirk to it is that there is someone called the Etoile, a student chosen from among all the other students as the epitome of what they all want to be. The current Etoile is a very serious and beautiful young woman named Shizuma. Shizuma has the love and adoration of all the students and Nagisa finds that it's not always a good thing. Shizuma tends to "go through" her fellow students in a quick manner as she becomes attracted to them and uses them before tossing them away. That has Nagisa fairly unsure of her, but her first couple of encounters with her are startling. Enough so that she ends up fainting from what she sees within Shizuma.

Within any kind of setting like this, there are a number of situations that play out which aren't a surprise. The student council is made up of the presidents of each of the student bodies and there are plenty of shared resources among the academies. The politics of it all is somewhat amusing at times, particularly since Shizuma comes from Miator and that gives the academy a bit more influence in things since she sets the tone for things like the student council meetings. That's usually just when she shows up though which can cause problems in and of itself. Nagisa runs through the issue of finding an after school club activity that she could fit in with and that shows off the range of what Miator has for activities. There's also some interesting traditions that crop up, generally within Miator, such as the first year students that serve as Room Housekeepers for the elder sisters who in turn help and guide them in their academic pursuits.

With six episodes on the first volume, they're able to cover a fair amount of ground in introducing us to the main characters and the overall setting. Nagisa has plenty of silly moments along the way, ones that don't lend themselves to over exaggeration thankfully, which keeps it light and helps to balance out the more serious moments. The schools in general are quite serious and the Sisters that oversee everything run things with a real strictness, including having a late afternoon curfew. Nagisa ends up running afoul of the Sisters at times for a number of reasons, including on her first day, Between learning about the school and some of the basic social interactions, the main thrust of the show is exploring the slow growing relationship between Nagisa and Shizuma. Or at least that's the implied main thrust as Nagisa actually spends far more time with her roommate Tamao.

Being a part of the Yuri Fan label from Media Blasters, the series certainly has elements of that in these first episodes. A lot of it is just implied material and some mild hints here and there. A great deal of it can be easily written off as typical schoolgirl crushes that they have on older classmates, particularly when you're dealing with the first year students and their interactions with the fourth years and up. Some of it goes a bit more as you see Shizuma getting very close to one or two girls and her apparent interest in Nagisa as well. Shizuma is also talked about as having a number of throwaway affairs with other girls over time but that's more just some brief talk and not anything that's actually shown in any serious way. Considering some of the talk about the show, I have to admit to expecting a bit more out of it, but there's another twenty episodes to go in the show and hopefully it pushes the boundaries a bit more than it does here.

Visually, Strawberry Panic has a good look overall even if it is rather ordinary in a lot of ways. Outside of the uniform designs, the show feels like a lot of shows of this genre with nothing that really stands out as terribly original. The idea of three academies in close proximity certainly helps to give it more variety when it comes to the uniforms but the dormatories are average in their design and tend to be more functional than anything else. There are some ornate elements to it here and there, but the show overall lacks the kind of elegance and grace that I would have expected from it. The animation for it in general is pretty good since it's mostly a dialogue based piece that deals with a lot of pans and zooms as the girls talk and get excited about the various things they're dealing in.

In Summary:
Media Blasters has done pretty good by Strawberry Panic overall by giving it six episodes and a lower than usual price point. The lack of a dub hurts it to some extent, but a good chunk of the fans who are interested in this genre tend to not be dub fans to begin with simply because these kinds of shows rarely get brought over. The show itself has left me pretty ambivalent though as nothing here has really leapt out at me as a must watch element and the last episode didn't demand that I tune back in quickly for the next volume. It's very laid back and atmospheric in its approach but it just seems to lack a serious hook at this point outside of the implied lesbianism and the hint that there are more serious elements of it and fanservice to come. For a lot of people interested in the yuri genre, that's more than enough, but it keeps the show from really reaching beyond that core audience.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: C
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Media Blasters
MSRP: 22.99
Running time: 150
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Strawberry Panic