If Strawberry Panic didn’t exist we’d have to invent it. More importantly, now that it does, Ichijinsha had to re-invent it. And so they do in Shiritsu Katorea Gakuen: Otome ha Hana ni Koi wo Suru ( 私立カトレア学園 乙女は花に恋をする) in which cute, energetic outsider Hina meets, falls in love with and ultimately gets together with the Prince of the school.
In the typical FanBoy version of “Story A,” the cute, clueless, clumsy, energetic outsider comes into a old, tradition-steeped private school for girls and bumbles around like a moron. For some reason this behavior is considered cute, and the star of the school is captivated by this. In a series of service-y almost-kisses, the characters torture themselves by not actually getting together and in the end share a chaste kiss – if we’re lucky.
In this version Hina, the cute, energetic outsider, makes it into the elite St. Cattelya school. (Catellya is a kind of orchid.) Hina does run around the school lost in the first scene, but after that, she ceases to be (un-)charmingly clueless. Luckily for Hina, two absolutely gorgeous upperclassmen find and rescue her.
Hina, feeling a little alone as all the girls around her are chitchatting, is befriended by the class rep and all-around best friend material, Ayaka. Unlike so many best friends in Yuri, in this “fixed” rendition, Ayaka harbors no designs upon Hina’s body and actually explains things to Hina when she asks about them. For her part, Hina is no doofus – she’s asking questions about the kind of things that they wouldn’t cover in the school handbook.
Of these things, the most important is the specific tradition of this school – the roles of Prince and Miss Cattelya who dance the first, very public, waltz at the school’s Cattleya festival.
This year’s Prince is none other than one of the two upperclassman who helped Hina when she was lost, The Ice Prince, Tsubasa. The other upperclassman is Tsubasa’s childhood friend and former Miss Cattleya, Suzune.
Ayaka and Hina, after a nighttime visit to Suzune and Tsubasa’s room to get a cup of chamomile tea to calm a lonely and slightly homesick Hina’s nerves, become friendly with the older girls. The four eat lunch together and often enjoy tea and cake together in the upperclassmen’s room. Tsubasa quickly falls for Hina, so it is no surprise to us that, when the time comes, she asks Hina to be her Miss Cattelya.
And this is where this version of the story really starts to work. In other versions, the tests that the prospective Miss Cattleya would endure are, to say the least, stupid. Instead of horseback chases and other nonsense, Hina’s challenge comes in the form of a scavenger hunt to find the brooch that Tsubasa had given her as a token of her candidacy for the position. While she was in phys. ed. class, the Student Council stole the brooch and left in its place a clue. It’s sort of silly, really – nothing horribly dangerous and it takes all four principals to figure out the clues. It wasn’t the greatest story ever told, but compared to other versions of the same story, it was genius.
When Hina and Ayaka first meet, and find that they are roommates, Ayaka offers one more piece of advice that would not be covered in the school handbook. It is not uncommon, she tells Hina, for students here to become involved with each other in romantic relationships – even to the point of becoming lovers. Hina is not repulsed, and reflects upon her own traumatic experience with a boy she was seeing. Hina comes to the conclusion that while she herself sees no appeal in falling for another girl, it would be a kind of relief. And then she starts to get to know Tsubasa. Suddenly, the appeal of falling for another girl becomes moot in the wake of her falling for another girl.
Tsubasa is both physically and emotionally affectionate to Hina. Her teasing is gentle, good-natured and normal. Hina finds herself wanting, very much, to become closer to Tsubasa-sempai. After the climactic race to reclaim the amethyst brooch, just as the clock counts down, Tsubasa – in full view of the school – gathers Hina into her arms and kisses her.
Hina accepts the position of Miss Cattleya and runs off to cry. She fears that her feelings, which have quite overtaken her, are not truly returned. But it is a momentary fear, as Tsubasa and she make clear their feelings for each other and kiss – more than once – in the moonlight.
Two months pass and, we are assured by the narrator, that Hina and Tsubasa have indeed moved past kissing into full-fledged snogging and petting. They are together every day practicing for the big dance but, after each lesson for the last few days, Tsubasa runs off without a word. Ayaka and Suzune seem to know where she is going, but won’t tell Hina. A few incidental loose ends are tied up in this section as we learn that Hina has met, likes and is liked by Tsubasa’s family.
The big day comes and it turns out that the big secret was that Tsubasa was running off to make a ring for Hina, which she puts on Hina’s left ring finger in front of a happily approving Suzune and Ayaka. The wedding motif continues as Hina, dressed like a princess and Tsubasa, dressed like Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles dance that waltz. Just before the end of the dance, Tsubasa whips out the sword she wears, swears her love for Hina in front of the school, the guests, and all their female relatives. Hina responds beautifully and this is greeted with raucous applause and approval from all parties.
After the dance, Hina’s mother meets and is wowed by Tsubasa. Mom would like to be wooed a little by her too, but Hina insists that she won’t let her mother have the chance – unless she agrees that Hina can marry Tsubasa if she wants to in the future. Mom agrees. Ultimately Mom is introduced to Tsubasa’s mother and they get along famously.
One of the silliest touches in the book is that Tsubasa, who is *repeatedly* stated to have a big chest, explains to Hina that she strapped it down with traditional bandages and the tight jacket. :-)
The story ends with them looking at “happily ever after” like it might actually be possible.
The story was not perfect. There was an inexplicable obsession on the current two most popular tedious fetishes, underwear and that absurd and infantile fascination with girls needing to go to the bathroom very badly. These so could have been taken out of the story and nothing would have been lost by it. But it seems that a story without mentioning one or both of these fetishes is simply not possible in Japan these days.
Other than this, the biggest element of fantasy was the total lack of homophobia and self-loathing in any of the characters. But, as I said to the wife – it’s all right, we’re allowed to just have a nice story with “happily ever after” sometimes.
Art – 3 Weakest part of the book are the pictures
Story – Starts off at 6, but ends at 8
Characters – Same as above
Yuri – 8
Service – 5
Overall – 8
Otome broke no new ground, really, but what it did was retill and replant the soil for a slightly less seedy variety of flower to grow. It has two girls who fall in love, who kiss – make out even – and in the end, everyone thinks it’s just fine and dandy that the dashing Girl Prince gets her cute Girl Princess. And you know – that was just fine by me, too.
And, oh! oh! oh! I can’t forget to tell you – the drinking game for this novel is to drink every time Hina blushes. Guaranteed drunk by chapter three.