Strawberry Panic Vol. #4 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • 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: 125
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Strawberry Panic

Strawberry Panic Vol. #4

By Chris Beveridge     September 16, 2008
Release Date: September 02, 2008


Strawberry Panic Vol. #4
© Media Blasters

The past comes to haunt the present again as we learn a great deal about Shizuma and Tamoe.

What They Say
The hidden histories of both the Ätoile system and the current Ätoile herself begin to come to light. Nagisa is at the forefront of the revelations, and the pieces of the puzzle steadily fall into place one after the other. And with the election fast approaching and Shizuma's term coming to an end, the future is unclear and depressing to some. Fortunately, those individuals are supported by the bonds of friendship and perhaps something more.

The Review!
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:
This volume runs with the troublesome trio from Le Rim as they’re together with their varying levels of smiles and blushes. Set against a very fall oriented background with the same white leaf border as the previous volumes, it has a very upbeat and happy feeling to it even if you have a hard time remembering who all these girls are. 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.

Menu:
The menu design uses the same pieces as seen on the front cover as it has the static image of the trio 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.

Extras:
None.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Strawberry Panic wanders into potentially dangerous territory with its fourth volume as the five episodes delve into the Etoile elections. Elections generally are rather predictable in the anime world and in the school arena in particular as you know what to expect. Very few shows shake things up and often the elections turn into big rallying points for the characters that are usually implausible at best. Strawberry Panic certainly has a lot to deal with in this regard.

As with most things of note in this series, we’re introduced to new revelations through Nagisa asking the right questions. With word that the Etoile elections are coming up, she’s at first simply surprised as she thought Shizuma was always Etoile and would always be Etoile. She’s got a very simple view but one that truly isn’t surprising based on what we know of the character so far. What’s surprising to her and the audience is that there are always two people that are made Etoile during the elections. Two people of strong bond and trust go through the selection process and face the trials that will lead the best choice to take on the responsibilities of the role.

That leads Nagisa to asking the question of why Shizuma is all alone in the role. Unfortunately, nobody is really willing to say anything on it because there’s some deep seated issues involved with it. With Nagisa asking the question however, it puts Shizuma in the position of having to face the past and to reveal it all to Nagisa. Or, at least, try to explain it as it’s something that strikes very deeply within her. Shizuma is hopeful that Nagisa will be the one that will help her move on from the past and even Rokujyo is desperately placing a lot of hope upon Nagisa in this regard.

While Shizuma can’t spell out what happened and revisiting it has her even more out of sorts than most students there, Nagisa is able to get the goods at long last through Rokujyo. The actual story isn’t all that much of a surprise in general as it turns out that Shizuma had fallen in love with a new transfer student a few years ago named Kaori who had come to the school. Kaori was the kind of student that always had health issues and rarely went to schools, That the two bond so closely isn’t a surprise nor is it that the pair end up in the running for Etoile, a position that Kaori will be hard pressed to handle, never mind the trials that they must face before it.

Where Strawberry Panic is able to take it in a slightly different direction is that it’s not just a sisterly love that the two share, but a true romantic and sexual love. The closer bond between them gives this a very different feeling as they’re not doing everything out of just the sisterly love we usually see. The physical and emotional connection is much stronger and the loss that eventually happens is all the more of an issue for Shizuma. When you love wholly and completely, especially at that age, losing someone is brutal. Even more so when the two go through something of a wedding of sorts with the actual Etoile ceremony.

The story that runs through here with all of its little side plots and issues all started off with the idea of the Etoile elections. Surprisingly, the elections really don’t come into play much yet during these episodes as all the time is spent either on the past or the ramifications thereof. There is a lot of ground to cover and it’s all given the right amount of time to be dealt with and for all the secondary characters that need to be involved to be so. Nagisa’s relationship with Shizuma continues to cause problems with Tamoe and we get a better understanding of Tamoe’s past in this storyline as well as her need to be with Nagisa is given more clarity. The fact that everything is dealt with in the way that it is really helps the flow overall and allows the story to breathe in a more natural way. They could easily have gone right into the rush of the elections and tied Shizuma and Nagisa together in a very predictable way.

In Summary:
Strawberry Panic as a whole still hasn’t sold me completely. There have been some interesting things coming out at times and the show certainly earns points for being more brazen with its lesbian themes. But the stories themselves and the characters are otherwise rather predictable and fairly bland. Nobody truly stands out here and in the end, even with all that I’ve learned about them and their pasts and relationships, there aren’t any that I really care about to see where they end up. Where the show can go is certainly up in the air since there’s the age difference between Shizuma and Nagisa but there’s also the changing bond occurring between Nagisa and Tamoe. With one more volume to go, I’m certainly curious to see if they’ll do anything intriguing but I’m really expecting more of the same, just with added blatant lesbian themes.

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.

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