It’s been practically an eon since I first encountered Strawberry Panic! in the pages of Dengeki G’s magazine as stand-alone scenarios of Yuri couples. Since then, both I and the series itself have changed a few times. The series underwent an adaptation to manga, in which the initial pairs were expanded to an entire cast, and adapted into an anime, which reached deep into Yuri memes and roots and pulled out a love story with a satisfactory ending. The Light Novels, with their melodramatic stylings, served to complete the unfinished manga in an over-the-top way.
For my part, I began with pretty much nothing but loathing for the series which wallowed and pandered in a way that completely turned me off. There was nothing in the original stories that was created with me in mind and the manga was decidedly shaped for the lowest common denominator. As the anime shifted from “stolen meme of the week, which we present with a straight face and no real desire to tell a story” to “stolen meme of the week, which we present with a wink and a nod and – we can’t help ourselves – a bit of character development and plot, too” my opinion began to change. (I consider this a positive quality in myself, even if fans have a somewhat difficult time accepting that. I still get angry letters about reviews I wrote 7 years ago.) And then I read the novels.
I have to say, very frankly, anyone who cannot “hear” the overt campiness of the novels, the hyper-melodramatic tone in which they were written, is really, honestly missing the point. In my review of the first LN in English, I tried to illustrate this with a few of the quoted passages. My comments were not me being snarky, but me commenting on the snark embedded within the lines of the novel. Of these, this passage really stood out as a tell:
Of course, most of the young ladies used their judgment when they heard those legends. But there were some who really believed them. …And yet those same young ladies grew into fine women.
Really read that, please, and note the subtext which (for those of you who cannot see the flashing lights,) says, “DO NOT TAKE THIS STORY SERIOUSLY.”
At the moment I read that line in the Japanese edition of the Light Novel, I ceased to take any of Strawberry Panic seriously and was, at last, able to find affection for it in my heart.
This week I found myself re-reading the manga as the Strawberry Panic Omnibus, put out recently by Seven Seas (who are now more active on Twitter. Go say hello.). My primary emotion upon completing it was that I was a little sad that it ended so soon. There were so many good bits yet to come and at least one helicopter would surely have been included! But no, this story was terminated at the equivalent of the end of the first novel.
Technically, the omnibus looks good. The translation is as it was; the translation notes are short, but enough. I like the size of the book, which is A5 – this gives it the feel of a typical seinen manga. It feels good in my hand and isn’t going to break a foot if I drop it, as Cardcaptor Sakura might. The one thing I will continue to say about Seven Seas is that they really do a great job of giving us, the readers, an authentic manga reading experience.
The story is very Yuri. There is nothing else to be said about that – there are multiple pairings in this manga but, of them, there are two entirely romantic romances (which almost no fans cared about, instead focusing on the hopeless losers in the rivalries…which has got to be some kind of commentary on something, don’t you think?)
This we can say about Strawberry Panic in all its iterations: Shizuma is queen-like, a veritable goddess on earth who is inexplicably (even to herself) attracted to a humble, down-to-earth energetic, cheerful girl, Nagisa. And Amane is a Prince-like being who is inexplicably (especially to herself) attracted to humble, angelic, cry-baby Hikari. And those two romances fill the pages of this collection with melodrama, tears and kisses.
Love it or hate it, Strawberry Panic was a gateway Yuri series for a generation of fans last decade. If you have not already picked up a copy of this omnibus, please do. And get an extra for your library, to spread the love of Yuri love to the next generation.
Art – 6
Story – 7
Characters – 8
Yuri – 9
Service – 10
Overall – 8
Foreshadowing: I have had the opportunity to see the Strawberry Panic Light Novel Omnibus and it is also quite good. More than it being good, though, you need to read it to get the end of the story! If you liked/loved/tolerated the manga and 1) want to know what happened or 2) really, really want to read about the helicopters, get it! I have to say, I laughed through the novels all over again as I read them. The language is breathtakingly campy in places.
Postscript: Today we have the genuine pleasure of thanking our own candidate for Etoile, Okazu Superhero Eric P., for his sponsorship of today’s review! As always, Eric, thank you kindly for your generosity. If you’d like to become an Okazu Hero, just click on the Yuri Wish List links on Amazon and Amazon JP on the right-hand sidebar and purchase something for review and you’ll be a Hero to Okazu readers world-wide!