Miator is an old all girls school steeped in tradition. They share a rivalry with nearby school Spica, a school known for it's strength in sports. A third nearby school Lulim's Girls School has a more laid back approach, so students aren't wrapped up with school rivalry. All Three schools share a common dormitory: Strawberry Hall.
Nagisa is a new transfer to the all girls school Miator Academy. On her first day, she has a chance encounter with the stunning Shizuma who instantly takes an interest in the new girl. Nagisa makes new friends, and due to Shizuma's scandalous interest in her, becomes well known quickly. Love is sure to bloom at the all girls school, but heartbreak is just as likely to take root. Which is Nagisa fated for?
With cute character designs and wall to wall anime girls, I figured some good things were in store. Hopefulness this would get good stayed with me until the very end when I was still waiting. This is one of those shows I expected could take a great turn at any moment, then never did. When all was said and done I wasn't sure what to make of Strawberry Panic.
Strawberry Panic is the result of a reader participation project in a magazine. The story would follow whatever fan polls dictated. I thought that was a cool idea until I remembered any poll from a Japanese anime fan base has horrifying results. Understanding this reveals the core problem with Strawberry Panic: characters are typical types for people to choose from; with no relevance to one another. They're unoriginal, and created with no consideration in how well they would interact. With such a weak base, even good story writing (which this unfortunately doesn't have) would only have fair results. Watching the anime you'd never suspect the root of the problems go back that far, but the results are pretty clear.
The first romance is between bubbly Nagisa and the aloof and somewhat predatory Shizuma. This romance unfolds at a slow pace, yet awkwardly as the relationship feels very forced. For these two, each chapter of drama starts fine, but somehow manages to flop on it's face by the middle. Repeatedly. While I didn't like her predatory behavior, I still found Shizuma unusual and intriguing. She's popular, elegant, yet oddly moody and rebellious. Her back story has some good points too. Still, when latched on to dull Nagisa, the relationship feels wrong. Nagisa's roommate is intended to form a "love triangle", except she's so unremarkable I'd often forget she's supposed to be a factor in the story.
The second school, Spica; has the other big romance between Hikari and Amane. Individually as exciting as watching paint peel, and together as exciting as watching paint peel in two equally bland colors. In fact I didn't like anyone at this school, but this relationship became particularly agonizing to watch unfold. Then it pushed my buttons with annoying plot convenience drama. Amane trains daily for equestrian, then at one key point simply falls off her horse. No reason, she just falls off. I'm like, holy crap did that just happen? Please tell me she doesn't have amnesia. Then... yes, amnesia...
Coming from the third school is the thoughtful upbeat Chikaru. She often takes the lead in filler pieces in the middle of the series. I started to notice that every episode I liked involved her. Even if the fluff isn't great, it's occasionally cute.
Taken all together... not so good. The characters make a poor showing, and they don't interact well with each other. The romance isn't compelling. One drama is dull, the other has spastic fits between progress and failure. The comedy isn't even worth mentioning. If you want to stare at a TV with nothing but cute anime girls, supported by typical high school girl squealing, Strawberry Panic is okay. As a yuri title it's pretty deficient. Despite my mostly negative review, I don't have the heart to say it's bad. Maybe because Chikaru is so adorable.
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