Yuri Light Novel: Strawberry Panic, Volume 1 (Japanese)

March 21st, 2007

One of the many reasons I began teaching myself Japanese was because I resented having to rely on translators’ interpretations. I know that in translation one is always balancing “feel” and “sense” and I wanted to be able to read things in the original in order to be able to grasp both, without someone making my decisions for me.

So, since Seven Seas will be coming out with a translation of the Strawberry Panic light novels, I wanted to read them first in Japanese, so I could better appreciate how they were reproduced in English.

Let me give you this piece of background info, that should help you appreciate my feelings about this novel:

On average, it takes me three months to translate a 200 page Maria-sama ga Miteru light novel. If I am reading for myself, without translating, it takes me about a month to read, with the assistance of at least two dictionaries and a translation tool.

…It took me *4 days* to read this 300+ page novel.

With one dictionary.

If you can’t appreciate the significance of that, let me add this piece of information: the amount of furigana in this novel was astounding. There was so much furigana that I’m tempted to think that their target audience is 12 year olds. Tops. Comparatively, there is very little furigana on any given page of a Maria-sama ga Miteru novel. As Tsutako explains to Yumi in an interesting metaconversation in Ibara no Mori (translated here by Erin Subramanian,) the audience for the book is really adults, although it is ostensibly a book for teens.

Strawberry Panic, Volume 1 (and I am still linking to the Japanese edition here, as that is what I am reviewing. When I review the English edition, I’ll link to that) is about the happenings at Astoria, an old, tradition-laden campus that is composed of three distinct schools: St. Miator, St. Spica and St. LuLim.

Miator is the oldest and, in many ways, the most powerful. Spica is the second oldest, and sort of “mod” to Miator’s “traditional.” LuLim is the youngest of the three, and “eclectic” in comparison with both the other schools.

The events and characterizations in the novel follow the manga closely – this one novel pretty much covers the events in the two manga volumes (Here are the reviews for Volume 1 and Volume 2.) Much of the clunkiest, most derivative junk that mucked up the anime has been shed, which is good. So, no memory loss, no global warming, no angsty avoidance. And much less open rip-offs of memes from other Yuri series. (Just one, other than the whole “Catholic schoolgirls misbehaving” thing.)

The opening of anime, manga and novel are almost identical, as we meet playgirl extraordinaire Hanazono Shizuma as she breaks up with her most recent paramour, and proceeds from there to meet – and be enchanted by – incoming transfer student Aoi Nagisa.

Early on, Shizuma determines that she will run for the school’s star positon, the Etoile, with Nagisa. This is unheard of, since she is in her final year at school, and cannot possibly hold the position for more than a few months…and her chosen partner is a transfer student who barely knows anything at all.

Her only real competition for the position is the junior year Prince of Spica, Ootori Amane. Their battle for the position is just about identical to that in the manga.

In Spica, the way Amane and meets her partner for Etoile, Konohana Hikari, differs strongly from manga and anime – and it makes a lot mores sense. So does the fact that they fall in love just about instantly without much fuss.

The first third of the novel is almost identical to the manga, with the creepy, servicey almost-kisses between Shizuma and Nagisa. But from there, the author seems to shed a lot of the less good stuff the story had piled on it, and manages to do a halfway decent job with what is left.

Which is not to say that this is a good story, but more on that later.

Here are some of the main differences between the versions.

We learn a LOT more about the individual schools and how they work. St. Spica, particularly, has some weird rules – all new transfer students live by themselves for two weeks. When you enter the Spica side of the dorms (and there is no free movement allowed between the three sides, so sneaking around for those midnight tea parties is really awkward) you have to ring a bell and announce your name. Even if, especially if, you’re a Spica student.

Hikari and Nagisa are both transfer students. So the first usual test for the younger partner in the Etoile, which is an exam on Astoria history, is canceled completely, as neither has had time to be able to compete fairly.

Nagisa is, as long as she isn’t speaking out loud, pretty much okay. Once, she’s so distressed that she forgets to refer to herself as “Nagisa” and instantly jumps up a notch in my estimation. She’s not nearly as stupid or whiny as the anime Nagisa was.

The vow-taking ceremony for Etoile couples is not held in the church, but in front of a replica of the Roman “Mouth of Truth”.  They get points on style, as they did in the manga. Spica council President Shion still tries to sabotage Shizuma, and fails.

Tamao is in love with Nagisa, but all her pervastic behavior is disappeared, leaving a very intense girl with a crush on her roommate. It was such a relief, let me tell you.

Shizuma tells Nagisa early on about the Etoile position and how it works. After she tries to seduce Nagisa in the library and fails, Shizuma backs off until, on the way back from the grand tour, they meet Chiyo and Tamao. When Tamao claims Nagisa as her “vitamin Nagisa,” Shizuma goes cold and serious and vows to run for Etoile with Nagisa. From that point on, the playboy seduction ends, and she really opens up to Nagisa, and tries to be a reasonable partner. Her expressions of interest in and like for Nagisa certainly seem much more trustworthy.

Miyuki is much, much snarkier in the novel. I liked that.  ^_^

Amane is less hesitant, and completely able to fight off Kaname’s desire to run for Etoile with her. Kaname is the boyish, dark-skinned Kaname of the manga, not the Evil Psycho Lesbian of the anime, so she and Momomi do not appear to be a couple at all. Kaname is interested only in Amane, and Momomi just likes drama. ^_^ We get a fair amount of time in Amane’s head, too, and we really learn just how much she hates being the school star and being idolized by all these girls. It’s not that she hates herself, or that she hates them, she really just doesn’t understand why they think she’s attractive, since she’s so boyish, and feels burdened by their idolization of her and the resulting celebrity she has to deal with all the time.

Hikari isn’t a stuttering ass, Amane isn’t a non-verbal freak. They are so much more likeable here where they are just *together*. Hikari is very lonely in the beginning, mostly because of the isolation rule. She’s contemplating leaving the school when she meets and falls for Amane. She is not nearly as much of a pushover as she is in either manga or anime.

Here’s some things that were the same:

The horseback race/rescue from the tower is still one of the Etoile tests for the elder partner – Amane and Hikari win, and Amane is really pretty showy and fun about it. (Not the acutely embarrassed Amane of the anime, for sure. And phew for that!)

Nagisa still refers to herself in third person.

Chiyo is still an annoying crybaby.

The midnight tea party in the center grounds of the Ichigosha dorms at the end of the manga is the same as well. With a slight difference. The midnight tea party in Nagisa and Tamao’s room is the same – but because we follow Yaya and Hikari there, through the really strict halls of the Spica side of Ichigosha, we get to see what kind of risk they take getting there.

And here are some things that are significant, and help make the novel better than the manga and a whole different class than the anime:

Nagisa does, yes, receive a note that leads her to the library, and to information about Shizuma’s late Etoile partner, Kaori. In the novel we get Nagisa’s thoughts on all this, which are (quite sensibly) that she feels as if Shizuma is using her, Nagisa, as a replacement for her dead lover. This was completely left out of the anime, so that long, (quite tedious,) arc after Nagisa learns about Kaori, in which she and Shizuma avoid one another, is never explained. This reaction was simple, realistic, logical and not overly prolonged. Nagisa ends the book by asking straight out about Kaori, and Shizuma responds straight out by telling her.

Through Shizuma’s thoughts we learn about Kaori very early in the novel, so we *know* that there’s more to Shizuma than just being a playgirl. We also know why she feels that she can never commit to someone like that again…and we see that blown away early on when she meets Nagisa.

The two girls who follow Shizuma around in the anime? Remember them? They are always behind her in the greenhouse. The *appear* to be the other Miator Student Council members…well, they’re actually Shizuma’s closest childhood friends, Hitomi and Mizuho. I very much liked the fact that Shizuma had some close friends.

And lastly, here are some of the things that are either relics of the anime/manga and had to be done, or just didn’t work.

At Miator, the wind is blowing. Fuu— Fuuu—, and the flowers swirl around. Swirl…dance….. If they took out *half* the references to the wind (Fuu–) and the flowers (swirling, swirling!) the book would be 20 pages shorter.

At Spica, they wear miniskirts. Did you know they wear miniskirts at Spica? Yes, miniskirts. Really. By the fifth or sixth mention I was fairly well-informed on the miniskirt situation and really, really didn’t need to be told again. But that didn’t stop the point from being made a few more times.

The utterly pointless scene in the library, where Yaya (who otherwise in the book is perfectly normal and kind of funny/nasty as she refers to Amane’s fanclub as “Amane wannabees”) sexually harrasses Hikari seems incredibly out of place. Shizuma trying to get a kiss from Nagisa feels slightly less absurd, but the whole scene had a sense of “the editor thinks this is sexy, so keep it in or else”. The same was true for the bath scene with Shizuma and Miyuki. The conversation could have been anywhere…and the service felt very forced and incongruous as Shizuma had already abandoned her playgirl persona by then.

All of these things had the distinct feeling of things that the author was *told* to include. None of them make the least little difference to the story, and most of them are very tiresome. They are all in the first third of the book. Starting at about halfway, the book seriously decreases in service, increases in character development and gets a fair power up in the not sucking utterly department.

The last scene, at that “secret” midnight tea party in the central garden of Ichigosha, (to which the entire school comes, but it’s still, somehow, “secret”) where Nagisa confronts Shizuma about Kaori (and Shizuma admits that she wasn’t going to tell Nagisa, and hoped that she wouldn’t find out) was handled as well as one could expect in this series. Amane and Hikari are given the Petite Crown for winning the horseback race contest…and the Etoile-sen continues in the next volume.

I really feel bad for the person working on the novel translation because, although this novel is miles better than the anime, and yards better than the manga, it is whole continents away from being as good as even the worst of the Maria-sama ga Miteru novels. In short, it pretty much bites. The author did a brave job with the material, but you can only do so much with…well, crap.


Art – 7 (light novel, it has pictures, remember?)
Story – starts at 3 and manages to claw its way to a 6 by the end
Characters – 3, except for Amane, who comes in at a surprising 5
Yuri – 9
Service – 9

Overall – 5, but only because the author really, REALLY worked at it.

I’m just dying to see how the English language version does! Because really, anyone who get past that wind, and those flowers deserves an award. ^_^; I really don’t envy that translator and adapter… That all having been said, this is light years better than the Drama CDs, which were service for the sake of service and not much more.

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6 Responses

  1. vee says:

    Hmmm … question: is it even possible to “rip-off” a meme? I always thought that the whole point of a meme was that it was transmitted to other sources, so an idea/concept isn’t a meme unless it *is* taken up by something else. Perhaps the issue isn’t that Strawberry Panic takes memes from other places–which, arguably, everything does since nothing exists in isolation–but that it does so little to adapt them for its own usage before … um … using them? :)

    I, for one, am actually quite entertained by it … in this instance.

    Hmmm … I wonder why? I read an SKU fanfic once that had a scene that was stolen almost word for word from a novel, except with Utena and Saionji instead of the original characters. It irritated the hell out of me. For some reason the Strawberry Panic anime didn’t bug me that way … perhaps because it’s mostly visuals and situations … and music–I can forgive nearly anything if the music gets me–whereas I’m very keyed to text. Imo, you can tell the same story if you want to, but you should use your own words!

    Anyway, no problem if you don’t feel like replying :). I just like pondering the semantics of words and their usage.

    Thanks for your time :).

  2. Hi there!

    Yes, I think it is entirely possible to rip-off a meme, even if they are a “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.”

    The anime stole symbols and symbolism, situations and character types without making the least attempt to integrate them in to the storyline. Like, say, the shell pendant that inexplicably appeared in the Hikari x Yaya arc that was blatantly ripped from Kannazuki no Miko. The shell pendant was identical to Himeko’s, so there was no doubt where it was from, but it simply had no point or context. It appeard, was noted and disappeared again without comment.

    An “homage” would be Juri’s (from Utena) character design being reminiscent of Miya-sama’s (from Oniisama E, or the opening title frame and the violin riff of Marimite being reminscent of the one’s used for Utena.

    What SP did was not nod to its predecessors – it blatantly ripped ides and symbols and yes, memes off.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, for what it was – and especially in the second half of the series – SP was fun. But it was also not *good*.

    Good writing usually requires a bit of originality, and it helps when things actually make sense in the context of the story. It is in this last thing that SP fails utterly. :-)

  3. vee says:

    Hey there. Thank you for the reply :).

    Hmmm … when I was in high-school my English class did–as I’m sure nearly every English class in the world does at some time–Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. I couldn’t help wondering, at the time, whether all the symbolism present was actually intended by the author, or was something read into it by all the scholars down the ages :).

    Now, perhaps the shell really was a nod to KnM, and if so, that’s fine with me. For SP’s purpose, it wasn’t meant to be a representation of soul-mates–Hikari certainly doesn’t have that depth of feeling for Yaya–and it certainly wasn’t an important symbol of Hikari’s past, so really, what more context did it need?

    On the other hand, I wonder if maybe it was just a souvenir Hikari brought back from the beach to thank Yaya for her efforts in getting Hikari to her date, and if it was small and fan-shaped and also pink, well, maybe that’s just the Japanese stereotype of a shell ;).

    In any case, if the viewer recognises it, that’s all well and good, but if they don’t, they certainly don’t need to know where it comes from to understand the scene. Yaya, in a moment of desperation, is willing to jeopardise her friendship with Hikari in the hope that Hikari might discover some hidden feeling for her–that’s how I interpreted it, at least :).

    Now, I’m certainly not trying to argue that SP is representative of great scripting. Large portions of it are laugh-out-loud funny simply for the overwrought melodrama of it :). But if, in the middle of its drama and angst and numerous ride-to-the-rescue sequences–and in an aside, does Amane’s training consist of anything other than galloping?! I want to know exactly what sort of equestrian competition she participates in!–they want to throw in symbols that will evoke the image of other Yuri series for those in a position to recognise them, I’m not particularly bothered by it :).

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