Hello and welcome to my readers. Today I’m discussing Strawberry Panic, a 2006 shoujo ai (girls’ love) school romance anime. Typically, I would write a standard review, but I didn’t want to feel boxed into a certain format for this one. So for most of the article, I’m just rambling about various aspects of the anime without a structure. However, I’ll include a brief ending section where I score the anime by category like usual. Anyway, enough prefacing. Let’s rant!
An innocent girl named Nagisa transfers into an all-girls school emphasizing strict “feminine” values. Here, she will find herself wooed by the mysterious and elegant senpai, Shizuma. This setting is not unique and was directly inspired by the less romantic but much more widely known series, Maria-sama ga Miteru (Maria Watches Us). That was where the whole idea started of strict all-girls schools as settings for shoujo ai. This brings us to my main point about Strawberry Panic: even though I enjoy it, it’s unoriginal. It doesn’t stop with the setting. The series is basically a lesson in overused tropes and scenarios that should not be in a well-written romance.
For starters, Nagisa is guilty of the cringeworthy teenage romance trope of inexplicably and completely freezing up when close to her love interest. In turn, Shizuma falls into the trope of “oh, originally I fell in love with you because you look just like my dead lover in the past.” There are also some big no-no’s here particular to the girls’ love genre. These include a) making the less traditionally feminine characters look pretty much like boys, and b) showing sexual harassment or assault as a plot device more than necessary or believable. The horseback-riding champion Amane looks like a guy with small, hastily drawn boobs thrown in one some angles. The angelic choir girl Hikari is physically/sexually attacked not once, not twice, but three times by other characters.
One other thing on the topic of shoujo ai tropes in poor taste. There is a girl-girl couple who serve as antagonists to the “good girls” who are more discrete with their sensuality; this couple also provides most of the fanservice in the anime with steamy but unneeded scenes being frequent. It’s just cheap and low to make the “bad girls” into fanservice characters because “audiences won’t feel guilty seeing these characters as sex animals.”
Much of the atmosphere and specific situations in Strawberry Panic give off the vibe of a YA romance novel. There is immense sexual tension, angst, and drama between characters. Shizuma’s got her grief over her dark past. The romance between the two lead girls is erratic and dramatically emotional, with very “teenagey” but sometimes beautiful scenes. (For example, the underwater kiss was something to behold.) There is nothing wrong with enjoying this sort of stuff when you are a teenager, and if you’re like me, you can enjoy some of the sweeter moments regardless of your age. But if you are looking for a more mature and believable romance story, you may find yourself frowning at the attitudes in Strawberry Panic.
There are clearly some big, gaping holes in the quality of Strawberry Panic. (Oh, I forgot to mention that all of the main and supporting cast just happen to be lesbian or bisexual. That’s believable.) Anyway, despite all these rather dumb elements, I really do love Strawberry Panic even to this day. Why? I mean, from the perspective of a pansexual woman who loves 2000s anime, there’s a lot to enjoy. The anime is, obviously, incredibly gay. I like seeing LGBT+ representation even if it’s a little tropey. The colors in the anime and the designs of the uniforms and dresses are nice. I can be quite sappy, so I get invested in the drama and I want the characters to be happy. There are a few voice-actresses I know, and some of the characters like Nagisa and Hikari are super cute.
I’m going to briefly mention another element that I like, hopefully without getting too weird or personal. Yaya Nanto is a supporting character, a member of the choir as well as best friend and roommate to Hikari. She is my favorite character besides the two leads (Nagisa and Shizuma). I like Yaya’s spunky and outspoken personality. For me, when I was in a bad place psychologically, seeing Yaya’s story and character development was meaningful and helpful. To a certain extent, I think anyone who has fallen in love with a close friend can empathize with Yaya. Let’s move on.
By now, we’ve pretty much covered my random thoughts about Strawberry Panic. I definitely have a positive view of it, even if I must be critical of many elements for the sake of a fair review. Speaking of reviews, we’ll now do a quick mini-review of Strawberry Panic, scoring the categories of visuals, audio, story, characters, and personal enjoyment.
Strawberry Panic Mini-Review
Visuals: 5/10 Mediocre
Unfortunately, the visuals in Strawberry Panic are really nothing special. Personally, I kind of like the old early 2000s style, but it’s not widely considered one of the most aesthetically pleasing anime styles. Also, it clearly looks low-budget. Things are lacking in detail, the backgrounds are bland, and the animation isn’t smooth. I do kind of like the colors used, and the designs for the outfits, but that’s about it.
Characters: 7/10 Good
This category is pretty solidly good. The cast is large enough that you will probably find a character you resonate with, but it’s not so large that it’s confusing. Character development isn’t excellent, but is more than satisfactory. If I tried making notes about even half of the characters, we’d be here all day. Watch Strawberry Panic yourself to see the development and emotional maturing of these endearing characters.
Audio: 8/10 Excellent
I did say there were some voice actresses I liked, but I forgot to mention anything else about the audio in Strawberry Panic. It’s pretty great, actually. The OST is simple but nice, with some beautiful and emotional melodies. The songs for opening and endings are generally good, and the first opening (“Shoujo Meiro de Tsukamaete” by Aki Misato) is excellent. I love that old style and it vaguely reminds me of Revolutionary Girl Utena. And to restate, I like most of the voice-acting. Mai Nakahara, a long time favorite of mine, plays the main character, Nagisa.
Story: 6/10 Average
The story category includes not just setting and plot, but also other content like story themes, quality of writing, effectiveness of emotional elements, and style of comedic elements. Basically it’s kind of a hodgepodge category. Anyway, Strawberry Panic’s only plot is romantic drama, and it frequently fails to be well-written or believable. There are also some cringeworthy tropes. I would normally give this category a 5/10 except that, for me at least, it delivers pretty well in terms of emotional appeal and getting viewers invested in the characters.
Personal Enjoyment: 9/10 Magnificent
Needless to say, I enjoyed Strawberry Panic immensely. I think I’ve already said enough about that, though, in the earlier sections of this post. As shoujo ai anime goes, Strawberry Panic is one of the best. It’s so gay and so sappy and you can’t tell me I shouldn’t love that.
Overall Score: 7/10 “Good”
The overall series score is calculated by taking the average of the scores from the five categories I covered. 7/10 for a shoujo ai drama/romance is pretty impressive. I normally don’t end up with good scores for this kind of anime. Here’s my scale for reference, and that will wrap things up.
1 = So bad it should not exist
2 = Atrocious
3 = Very Bad
4 = Poor
5 = Mediocre
6 = Average/Fine
7 = Good
8 = Excellent
9 = Magnificent
10 = Perfect/ Masterpiece
And that’s it for today! Thanks for reading and take care till next time!