Coming up just short in our Which Anime Should We Review Next? poll was Strawberry Panic, but when it comes to yuri anime, they don’t get much more legendary than this one, so it had to be what we reviewed next. More than a decade after its premiere, this is still one of the titans of yuri media, so it’s about time we gave it its due~
Synopsis: Aoi Nagisa transfers to one of the three affiliated all-girl Catholic schools on Astraea Hill, St. Miator’s Girls’ Academy. There, she discovers a community of fellow students entwined in an intricate hierarchy, in which two Etoiles represent the three schools. In order to fit in, Nagisa must go to class, join clubs, and make new friends. Meanwhile, Shizuma Hanazono, the sole Etoile of Astraea Hill, finds herself drawn to this new, exciting transfer student. As Shizuma and Nagisa get to know each other, Shizuma finally decides it is time to face her troubled past.
Right off the bat, I love that this show was twenty-six episodes. You go down a list of yuri anime, and you rarely see shows that have more than the standard twelve episodes. More often than not, that results in a story that’s somewhat compromised, and just lacking, at least compared to its two-cour counterparts (like the excellent Simoun). Thankfully, Strawberry Panic avoided this cruel fate, and over the course of its twenty-six episodes, it methodically weaves a compelling tale of life (and love) at Strawberry Hall, the shared dorm for all three schools on Astraea Hill.
The main focus of the story centers around Nagisa, the new transfer student that immediately catches the eye of Shizuma, the current Etoile. The cat-and-mouse game involving these two was easily the most interesting relationship in the show for me, and once Shizuma’s traumatic past came to light, there was just an extra layer of depth there that the other relationships were lacking, in my opinion. I think Shizuma seems to be the most popular character in this show, but earlier on, I wasn’t exactly heading up the Shizuma fan club, as she came across as a seductive womanizer who was quite forceful with Nagisa. That was kind of off-putting for me, and compared to how sweet and caring Tamao always was with Nagisa, I was firmly on the Nagisa x Tamao bandwagon.
Even later on, Shizuma kisses Rokujou, so for me at least, she made it pretty hard to see her as the person that Nagisa should ultimately wind up with. Things changed a little bit when we see her tragic past with Kaori, yet I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have still preferred Tamao as the object of Nagisa’s affection instead. Nevertheless, once Shizuma finally comes to terms with what happened, it’s much easier to accept and embrace her and Nagisa being together. The ups and downs of their relationship only served to make their storybook ending all the more sweet, so at the end of the day, I guess it’s all good, and I shouldn’t complain too much~
And now that we have that out of the way, I have a bit of a confession to make. I know I’m in the minority here, but my favorite couple in the show was Hikari and Amane. As a more typical prince/princess-type relationship, neither of them carry the emotional baggage that Shizuma has to bear, so their romance lacks the extreme turbulence of Nagisa x Shizuma, and we get a cuter, more straightforward kind of love. That’s not to say that there isn’t any drama, since Hikari’s best friend, Yaya, is secretly in love with her, and Hikari becomes the target of another couple of girls who hate Amane. The courtship between Hikari and Amane is super sweet, and it’s the type of relationship where you just want the two people to immediately get together. What made things even better for me was Yaya’s role in all of this.
Despite that one (major) mistake from Yaya, I actually liked her quite a bit, and her situation with Hikari somewhat paralleled Tamao’s with Nagisa, so I guess it’s no surprise that I liked them both so much. It probably could’ve been pretty easy for her to go to the dark side once her feelings for Hikari weren’t returned, yet she saw the error of her ways, and Hikari forgave her, and she went right back to being Hikari’s rock. You feel bad for Yaya and her unrequited love, but her endless support of Hikari was amazing and probably the best way that things could have played out. And since Hikari and Amane had sex, that’s another way in which they usurp Nagisa x Shizuma for the title of Best Couple in Strawberry Panic. 😛
However, it’s not all about Tamao x Nagisa x Shizuma and Yaya x Hikari x Amane, as there are other characters that play specific roles in the series. The three student council presidents (Rokujou, Chikaru, and Shion) also play somewhat important roles, and Chikaru’s
ambiguously gay duo of Kizuna and Remon were pretty entertaining, as was the adorable Kagome. I hated the even gayer duo of Kaname and Momomi, since they were just major bitches that had it out for Amane and Hikari. At least they contributed to the yuri quotient in this show, so that’s one less reason to hate them.
And where were all the adults in this show?! The head sister and Nagisa’s homeroom teacher make brief appearances, but it’s like the inmates are running the asylum. Lastly, one thing that I could’ve done without was some of the melodrama that creeped in from time to time. The time right before Amane could confess her feelings to Hikari, but her stirrup irons broke and she went flying off her horse and landed on her head? That was ridiculous, and I’ll admit that I laughed (I know, I’m a terrible person). I’m sorry, but I just think the show overdid it a few times. I don’t think it’s a very big deal, yet those moments in the show were a bit much.
So the story is a bit sappy and melodramatic, but I think it’s still pretty enjoyable, and with all the girls (there are literally ZERO male characters), this is a pure yuri anime that I think a lot of yuri fans can’t help but enjoy~
This is an older show (2006), so it’s especially hard to judge it on the visuals. The setting is kind of drab, and you’d be hard-pressed to find something within the visuals that’s particularly eye-catching, but does anyone who watches this anime care about any of that? I don’t think so. Even though it doesn’t look great, I certainly wouldn’t say that it looks bad, so more or less, the visuals of Strawberry Panic fall in line with what you’d expect from a yuri anime that’s solely focused on romance and drama.
Given the setting, it’s only natural that the music be opulent, with woodwinds, brass, and, of course, piano, up front and center. I don’t think there’s a piece of music that’s overly memorable, nevertheless, the music is perfectly suited for this show. And being two cours, that means there’s two OPs and two EDs. For me, I greatly preffered the OPs, as I thought they were simply far more catchy, and the anime scenes themselves were more interesting than the live-action footage during the EDs. That’s pretty interesting in and of itself. The only other anime that I’ve seen which had any sort of live-action theme was Nyanpire, so it was pretty surprising that this would have two of them, both featuring Nagisa and Tamao’s seiyuus, no less. Still, I think it’s all about the background music here, and whether it was something dramatic, sweet, or light-hearted, the music remained nice and high-quality.
I don’t know what more you could want in a yuri anime. With romance, drama, strong characters, an engaging story, and more, Strawberry Panic is one of the best and brightest that yuri anime has to offer. I know I’m not alone in saying that it was my first yuri anime, and several years later, I’d say it’s still in the conversation for being the best one that I’ve seen. Whether you’re new to the genre or not, this is one of the few yuri anime that you literally have to watch~