The Etoile elections are now upon us formally after drama and preparation dominate the bulk of these last episodes.
What They Say:
School life for the girls of Miator, Spica, and Le Rim is abuzz with activity as the �toile election is nearly at hand. Rivalries spark into open challenges, and during one modern-age duel, an unspoken matter is brought out into the open. Meanwhile, the student council president of Miator has a special request for Nagisa and Tamao, one that changes the dynamic of the race. But in the end, not even the election's importance can interfere with resolutions of love.
What We Say:
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.
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.
The final installment is given over to Momoi and Kaname as the two embrace, rather happily, with their uniforms fully on but with a good hint of sexuality to all of it. With the deep blue purple background to it, the framing of the white border and their uniforms really ties it all together wonderfully. It’s a very appealing cover overall and a good closer to all of it, though not the best. 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 blue 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.
The menu design uses the same pieces as seen on the front cover as it has the static image of the pair together. 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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The conclusion to Strawberry Panic is one that actually left me feeling like the wind was taken out of its sails. The shift in the previous volume to the Etoile elections changed the flow of the show and shifted the attention away from Nagisa and Shizuma to a direction that was fairly lifeless and flat. The direction tended to cover more of the other characters and their relationships, which isn’t a bad thing, but after the build-up of things between Shizuma and Nagisa, this shift is almost like pulling the rug out from under our feet. In the end, much of this volume felt like I was treading water and passing time until the good stuff happened.
The lead-up to the elections are complicated as the various pairings that are going to compete are going through their own issues. Le Rim has pulled out of it entirely, which isn’t a surprise, so that’s left the elections with just a pair of couples that will go for it. The initial issues between Momoi and Kaname are rather interesting to see as Kaname is working hard to get Amane to work with her on it. In a way, I felt the most for those two as Momoi simply wanted to be closer to Kaname and had a real difficulty in seeing Kaname going off and doing what she did. And with Amane having her own issues in general and simply not being interested in the entire process, it only makes things more difficult.
It wasn’t a surprise, however, to see that Nagisa and Tamoe working hard together to make a proper pairing. Tamoe’s revelations previously about how she felt about Nagisa were heart wrenching in a way and that she put herself out there like that, to come alive again for someone, really says a lot about her. The two certainly do work hard together to try and achieve the right kind of balance and chemistry in order to bring some magic to the dance floor for that part of the competition. But with the lateness of everything, and the way they’re keeping it secret until the last minute, it’s hard to see them really coming together in the way needed. What makes all of this more difficult though is that there are lingering issues between Shizuma and Nagisa that keeps Tamoe feeling a little like she’s still very much on the outside. Nagisa continues to be distracted because of this.
So when Shizuma is brought in to actually help the two of them make some progress towards the end, it’s all manner of conflicting for the two girls. Shizuma’s simply an older and accomplished person at this point, even with her issues, and she’s able to take control of the situation effortlessly. This only enraptures Nagisa even more and puts Tamoe in a more awkward position. When the actual ceremony begins, you can see the uncertainty about it all in Tamoe’s eyes as she watches the way Shizuma watches Nagisa, or the way she avoids her eyes and focuses on Tamoe.
It’s only towards the end when the elections actually get underway that the show started getting to the things I wanted to see. The change in relationship between Amane and Hikari was rather surprising since they decided to become the couple for Spica. I’ve always rooted for Hikari to get what she wanted and for Amane to realize just who was wanting to be with her, so seeing the two of them working together was really nice. The only downside was that I really didn’t care for Amane really taking on the male role with the outfit for the election, especially since there was something far more elegant in how Nagisa and Tamoe looked. I would have far preferred to see Amane really dressing up and taking on the role in a dress and dazzling Hikari.
In the end, I’m rather glad with how the finale turned out since it got back to some of the core things I wanted to see. The sexual side of Strawberry Panic makes a nice appearance here – bare bottoms and all – as one couple finally connect properly. All in all, Strawberry Panic left me fairly underwhelmed with what it wanted to tell. The characters I liked the most, Nagisa and Tamoe, didn’t really get to connect properly throughout the show, though they come close. The times that I liked Shizuma, they ended up cutting her out of the story to be all angst filled for awhile. There are things that I liked, but overall Strawberry Panic was fairly light and when it tried to be more serious, it didn’t come across in a way that made you take it seriously. If the show had been half the length and focused on fewer characters, it likely would have been far more appealing.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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.