Extra long review today because I’m heading out for Otakon (Yuri Panel Sunday at 1pm! All ages!) later this week and will probably only post in teeny, non-review chunks for the next few days. Before I start today’s review, I wanted to share this with you. It is a *real* honest-to-god email I received. I have altered it in no way, except to cut out the “Hello Erica” part:
i just wnated to tell you i love youre book strawberry panic so much well i didnt read the book i watched the show and i want more episodes that series made me depressed for a weak and im still not over kaori :'[ make mroe episodes :[
Moving right along.
In a surprise move, the Light Novel Strawberry Panic!, Volume 2 was actually pretty entertaining. LOL
As you know, Seven Seas has licensed the LNs. I am reading the series in Japanese first, because I wanted to see what the original sounded like before I read the translation. And, because I enjoy it.
Quick Overview of the Series and Story So Far
(If you know all this, skip to the New Bits):
Strawberry Panic! was a parody series in which many recognizable characters, concepts and whole episodes/scenes from other Yuri anime and manga series were taken and put into a blender, creating the anime version of a Long Island Ice Tea – tasty, intoxicating and not very good for your brain.
The story is as follows: Aoi Nagisa transfers into the elite Astoria, an academy that consists of three different schools – St. Miator, St. Spica and St. Lu Lim. Miator’s strength is academics – it is the oldest and most traditional of the three schools. Spica excels at sports and Lu Lim stresses club life and creativity.
Immediately, Nagisa is singled out by the “star” of the three schools, Hanazono Shizuma, who is known to be a playgirl. Shizuma is the “Etoile” (star) of the schools and is going to graduate this year, but decides to run for Etoile again with Nagisa as her partner.
Competing with Shizuma and Nagisa for the position is the “Prince” of Spica, Ohtori Amane, and another transfer student, the angelic Kotohana Hikari.
Amane and Hikari win the first contest of the competition, a very silly horseback race to “save” the younger partner from a tower.
Just before the second contest – a showy vow of love and fealty by the elder partner (Ane) to the younger (Cadet) – Nagisa learns that Shizuma’s former partner, and her first love, Sakuragi Kaori, died a short time after they were made Etoile.
At the end of the book Amane and Hikari are given the “petite crown” for winning the first contest, and Shizuma admits her history with Kaori, but swears that her vow to love only Nagisa for all eternity was completely the truth.
The first novel basically followed the continuity of the Strawberry Panic! manga, which I have previously reviewed. (Volume 1 and Volume 2) Volume 1 included most of most service-filled scenes from the first half of the anime, as well…I’m convinced that the author was required to include those by the editor.
Volume 2 completely digresses from both manga and anime storylines. It begins with a letter being delivered to Russia (HAH! Bet you didn’t expect that!) to one Kusanagi Makoto, a former Spica student. Upon learning that her beloved Prince Amane is running for Etoile with a no-name transfer student, Makoto leaves her training as a violinist and runs back to Spica to “save” it from the horror.
Meanwhile in Miator, Student Council President Rokujyou Miyuki comes up with a plan so clever that if you stuck a tail on it you could call it a weasel. Amane, it turns out, was dead against this whole women-loving-women thing that went on at Astoria. She had previously proclaimed that she was not interested in such lesbian goings on……then she met Hikari and fell head over heels. As a result, she’s basically overwhelmed and on fire for her newfound love. Miyuki changes the second contest from a tennis doubles match to “The Devil Without a Face” in which the Ane and Cadet are not allowed to see one another for two solid weeks. Many a potential couple had broken under the pressure – either they couldn’t stand the strain and had cheated, or one partner had decided that they *could* do without the other. Two weeks is long enough for doubt and distrust to creep in….
Before the contest begins on St. Meriadoc’s Day (June 8, if you care) the schools are gathering together for large meals each night at one of the school dining halls. Into one of these comes Makoto, who showily commands the attention of everyone by declaring her love for another student – without saying who it is. Neither Amane nor Hikari are in the hall at the moment, conveniently.
Also that night, Lu Lim Student Council President Minamoto Chikaru shows up and plants in Nagisa a seed of unhappiness about how wonderful the late Kaori was and how much Shizuma still misses her.
Before the contest begins, Shizuma meets Nagisa in secret. Before they part for two weeks, Shizuma gives Nagisa a hickey to remember her by. On the same night, Amane and Hikari sneak out together. Hikari kisses Amane before they part.
Chikaru meets up with Makoto, who is so focused on Amane that she does not kiss Chikaru when the opportunity presents itself. Chikaru asks Makoto for a favor…
Hikari’s roommate Yaya is her number one fan. Yaya is absolutely in love with Hikari, but isn’t going to stand in her way – in fact, she’s her biggest friend and supporter against the other students who have been bullying Hikari quite a bit. But on night 10, Yaya takes Hikari out to look at the stars and her heart breaks at the way Hikari is trying to be strong in her loneliness. She embraces Hikari, and they fall into the pool. Overcome by Hikari’s beauty, Yaya strips her roommate and strokes her skin under the moonlight.
While they are apart from their beloved Ane, both Nagisa and Hikari are practicing for the dance competition. Kenjou Kaname, who resents Hikari deeply for taking “her” place at Amane’s side, finds that she is starting to understand what Amane sees in this girl, who looks so much like an angel. Nagisa, in the meantime, is filled with a dark desire to know more about Kaori.
Shizuma has a dream, in which Kaori comes to her as an angel and tells her to be happy.
On the next to last night of the contest, Makoto holds a concert. The whole school attends. Amane and Hikari meet up in secret and later that night, they sneak off to be together. They are immediately discovered by, who else, Makoto, who brings one of the nuns and the three Student Council Presidents as witnesses. Amane and Hikari are disqualified.
One the last day of the contest, Nagisa can’t take another second – she finds Shizuma and demands to know more about Kaori. As Shizuma tells her what she wants to know, she is filled with the certainty that Shizuma is still in love with Kaori – and that their relationship is a sham.
The Spica Student Council is determining who will be their replacement for the dance contest when Lu Lim President Chikaru shows up and admits to being the one who sabotaged both sides. Spica President Toumori Shion asks why, since Lu Lim didn’t want the title. Chikaru explains that Lu Lim *did* want the title. In fact, the “Henshin Club” (the cosplay club run by Chikaru) was a front for her real plan – to turn her harem of underclassmen into school idols and future Etoile. The cosplay was all part of teaching them different roles and responsibilities and to promote them around the school.
As the third and final competition, the dance contest, begins, Amane and Hikari quietly leave the school together, and Nagisa officially pulls herself from the Etoile contest.
The dance contest starts, with Makoto and Student Council Secretary Tsubomi representing Spica and Chikaru’s protégés Remon and Kizuna representing Lu Lim.
End of Book.
I thought that the author did a pretty decent job of adding depth to most of the characters, changing several for the better. Amane and Hikari particularly, were given actual personalities; Yaya’s pain was given some depth; Miyuki continues to be far snarkier and funnier than her anime incarnation; and Nagisa’s behavior makes actual sense. Chikaru, while gaining depth, is also really creepy throughout the novel. I really liked how her cosplay obsession was made into part of the plot (her’s and the book’s.) Extra points to the author for that. :-)
Shizuma remains undeveloped if, perhaps, a bit sweeter and less manipulative than the anime version. Shion took the biggest hit in this novel – she sort of loses all personality and just spends the book being stunned and shocked. Kaname becomes a nasty temper on the hoof – I quite liked her, but I wish she’d stop obsessing about Amane. It’s getting tired.
Lastly, Tamao. I am not in alignment with most of Yuri fandumb in revering her anime incarnation. But I do not find sexual harassment appealing – whether it’s done by a woman or not. In the novels, she’s just annoying to me. Nagisa’s clueless – despite having been at school for several months now – and Tamao steadfastly provides no useful information. Their conversations look like this:
N: “Meowmeow? What’s that?”
T: “Oh, that’s right, you wouldn’t know about it. Oh well, you’ll find out. Tee hee!”
Every time the two of them had a conversation, the book ground to a halt in my opinion.
Overall, while less servicey than anime, manga or the first novel, I think that this book is really quite entertaining. There’s a genuine attempt by the author to imbue these characters with some real dimension and the plot with some real oomph.
Art – 6 (one point off for so often illustrating things we don’t want to see and not illustrating the ones we do)
Characters – 7
Story – 7
Yuri – 8
Service – 5
Overall – 7
Last comment: EVERYTIME Hikari appears, she cries. Every time. No exceptions. It would make a good drinking game – drink when Hikari cries. You’d be blotto by page 50. It’s a 300+ page book.