Strawberry Panic Vol. #2 (of 5) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, June 23, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, May 27, 2008



What They Say
Settling into the second chapter of her life, Nagisa Aoi experiences both normal and abnormal things as a student in an all-girl high school. Various issues creep up as the school year progresses, including the election process for the next Etoile, mysteries regarding the dorms, and the midyear exams en francais. Luckily, with summer break after those tests, Nagisa and many of her friends are able to enjoy a trip to the beach to bond and explore their relationships with one another.

Contains episodes 7-11.


The Review!
Nagisa continues to explore school life in Strawberry Hill as we see her interacting with more students while others find their own way.

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:
Strawberry Panic has a very particular look to it and this installment is much like the first in that it will make yuri fans happy as it has Amane and Hikari in an embrace of sorts where it's certainly hinting as to what's coming next. 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 Amane and Hikari 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:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The second installment of Strawberry Panic drops an episode compared to the first, but when the first had six episodes that's not exactly saying a whole lot. The five episode release here moves things forward a bit more with the general storyline of young women in love, admiration and sexual interest with each other while still going through normal school age shenanigans. The opening six episodes didn't exactly wow us and this set doesn't actually improve on it by all that much.

Because of the nature of the show where it's just about the character interactions, the things that carry it along tend to be pretty lightweight. The core of the series still seems to revolve around the potential relationship and feelings that are growing between Shizuma and Nagisa, but that gets the short end of the stick for the bulk of this release when it comes to actual interaction. The only episode that has them close together is the fourth one where Shizuma offers to help Nagisa with her French studies so she can pass the exam and make it to "Summer School," which just means time studying at the beach with friends and having fun. Nagisa is unsure about working with her, but the Etoile informs her that it's part of her duty to take care of those under her charge and that she's arguably the best in French at the school. The two spend a lot of quality time together and there are some small nods towards their relationship actually moving forward some.

Where it becomes interesting is in the fifth episode where the summer break material happens but Shizuma has to stay at the school. Her duties as the Etoile keeps her working during the summer and she can't be with everyone else. It's not that she's an outgoing party girl, but the sudden separation from Nagisa actually affects her and puts her into some sort of longing mode when it comes to thinking about her. Nagisa for her part does think about Shizuma at times, and her longing for her actually hits home the more she's away, but she also has to deal with all the serious summer break material as well and that can be quite draining. It's more amusing to watch how Tamao views Nagisa during all of this.

The episodes outside of this are cute but at the same time are fairly unmemorable for a lot of it. One episode has Nagisa and Tamao working together for the school paper in coming up with an article about the seven wonders of Strawberry Hall. The one that they focus on is that of voices that can be heard at times by students, which they discover is kept to just fifth year and younger students. The mystery of it is slowly revealed through some careful research and it's actually mildly enjoyable watching them go through interviewing people and expanding the cast knowledge this way. It's all very cute, especially with how the various stories overlap with each other and the way the stories differ slightly among some of them.

The most interesting story of this volume that dealt with the actual yuri elements of the show is the one that involves Kaname going after her latest game. With the help of her little honeybee, Momomi, she decides that it's time to steal Hikari away from Amane since Amane doesn't actually seem like she's going to do anything. Or rather, she intends to steal her away to tweak Amane about it. The setup for the little adventure is fairly pedestrian and high schoolish in nature, but it was interesting to see how overt they're starting to get about some of the sexual relationships between the girls. Momomi and Kaname are certainly fun to watch as they're both very predatory in a way about sex and wanting what they want and going after it. Unfortunately, Kaname comes off as a bit "manly" with her design, but that just makes Momomi all the more interesting to watch.

In Summary:
With eleven episodes down now, I'm still not quite sure what to make of the show. It has some flashes of interest here and there but by and large it's fairly mundane. The yuri moments are what sells it but they still aren't much of anything that will hold the interest of people outside of the diehard community. Strawberry Panic has been enjoyable enough for what it is, but it's not engaging me all that much nor proving all that memorable outside of the "smut!" moments. And if I wanted girl/girl stuff, there's certainly enough of it in the hentai world. Strawberry Panic is more about the mood and atmosphere of young schoolgirls in love and that can only go so far, for better or worse.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

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: N/A
Age Rating: 13 & 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