There’s something in the water at the schools as the girls are all getting decidedly hands-on with each other...
What They Say
Summer is still here, and the girls of Strawberry Hall are mostly away for the break, though a few do stay behind for various reasons and perhaps even a few ulterior motives. When school is back in session, romance continues to blossom among the young ladies, though not everything is as harmonious as it seems. Ultimately, the conflict is put aside in order for the students to join together in putting on some performances that will not soon be forgotten.
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 third installment of the series feels a good bit lighter because of the blue shading used, and it’s a color that works well for pairing Nagisa and Tamao together. The two of them have rather happy looks to them here as they wear their green uniforms while laying about in the petals which looks really good with the white leaf framework used. 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 Tamao 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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Strawberry Panic asks the obvious question with these episodes by wondering if adding more obvious hands-on interactions with the girls will make it more interesting. Sadly, I have to say that it does, if only because the show wasn’t all that interesting for the first eleven or so episodes. When you have the girls now getting a bit more mean towards each other while others are roughly groping friends who didn’t realize feelings went so deep, well, now there’s some drama to watch unfold.
The summer break portion of the series is still underway and that puts the school in a different light since so few people are still left. Nagisa’s parents being overseas keeps her at the school so she has a mildly emotional sending off piece with Tamao. Tamao is still very much interested in Nagisa, though it’s hard to tell in exactly what way, so she does all she can to show her interest by giving Nagisa a ribbon to wear and asking her elders to watch over her. While one of them works with Nagisa on her French lessons, the real learning comes when Shizuma and Nagisa spend more and more time together, enough so that Shizuma becomes more of her aggressive self and practically forces herself on Nagisa. That’s certainly jarring for Nagisa, but familiar enough from how Shizuma appears to have acted with others earlier in the series.
The scene does force a few events into play as Nagisa has to cope with it and because she loses the ribbon that Tamao gave her. That reunion is rather unsettling for Tamao, especially since Nagisa isn’t quite herself and Shizuma is rather aloof at the time. Awkward meetings are really the name of the game in these episodes in general though, such as the growing bit of time that Hikari and Amane are spending together as Hikari does her best to get closer to her. She’s not able to do it quite as easily as she’d like though as Kaname and Momomi continue to find ways to meddle. Kaname’s domineering personality and her desire to win over what she wants has her seeking out Hikari rather regularly and that causes plenty of problems for Hikari.
What’s really surprising is that the more that Hikari gets taken advantage of by Kaname, the more Yaya becomes protective of her. The two have a short history overall which does get explored a bit more in this volume, but it’s explored because Yaya finally can’t restrain herself anymore and becomes aggressive about her interest in Hikari. The timing of it is incredibly poor of course and Hikari is thrown for a loop because of it, but also because it wasn’t just a simple admission or even just a kiss, but rather a full on groping experience. Yaya’s intensity is fascinating to watch as is the way she reacts to Hikari’s reaction and the realization of exactly what she’s done. Seeing whether the two of them can get back on a friendship level alone is interesting enough and could span a few episodes.
Unfortunately, for all the fun relationship drama we get in the first three episodes, Strawberry Panic wants to hit up more ensemble pieces for the final two. The school puts on a stage play every year with the three academies involved in it and this year it’s been decided that it will be Carmen. There’s a good bit of politics going on between those on the student council about who will do what and who will handle what roles and that sets the real stage for conflict between the characters. With Tamao tapped to write the script, she ends up coming up with a version that takes a number of the primary characters and puts them in engaging situations within the storyline, especially since Rokujyo runs with unusual choices for the cast itself and goes against the will of the general student body for the leads. Spanning two episodes, it is fairly predictable and comes across as rather weak after such engaging character episodes before it.
The third volume of the series takes us up through episode sixteen and we’re finally getting to some juicy material. So many of these shows feel like faux yuri titles since it’s all just implied material. When we get to something that’s actually a bit more, especially more than just Kaname and Momomi bathing together intimately, it does become more engaging and fun to watch. Of course, the show will only go so far, but with the first three episodes here it already went further than the first eleven episodes did in total, and that has piqued my interest in how they may actually finish out the series in the next two volumes. Strawberry Panic isn’t top tier material, but it’s introducing a bit of trashiness to it that certainly livens it up, which it very much needed.
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.