What They Say:
Nobue Itou may be attending college, but her real lessons come from dealing with her 12-year-old sister Chika and her equally adorable friends. There’s Miu Matsuoka, the troublemaking girl next door who’s never found a diabolical plan that she wasn’t willing to hatch. Then there’s the perplexing Ana Coppola, who was born in England but has lived in Japan for so long that she’s forgotten most of her English and is unsuccessfully attempting to re-learn her British heritage based on some rather erroneous assumptions. After those two handfuls, shy, sensitive Matsuri Sakuragi should be a welcome dose of normality, but unfortunately Matsuri is also incredibly gullible. And then there’s Chika herself, who’s actually the most mature and sensible person in the Itou household… which comes in handy when her older sister attempts to raid Chika’s savings in order to buy cigarettes! Get ready for a cute overload so intense that it can be used as a deadly weapon when slices of everyday life get whipped to frothy perfection in STRAWBERRY MARSHMALLOW!
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the previously created English language adaptation, both of which are in stereo and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The show is one that is pretty much all dialogue driven with a couple of minor flights of fancy and light “action” pieces along the way so it’s not something that’s going to stretch or strain the mix design here. The dialogue is well placed when we get a few of the kids on screen at the same time engaging in discussion while a lot of the standalone material is more center channel based. With a good if subtle score outside of the opening and closing sequences, the show overall has a solid and warm feeling about it that comes across cleanly and clearly with no problems with either language track during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this TV series is presented in 1080p in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The twelve episode series is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Production Reed, the transfer here is able to work beautifully with the soft colors and basic animation so that it looks like a great piece. The series has a few common settings to it, be it one of the girls bedrooms or some school classroom, and they use plenty of the standard light palette of colors that has a real world feel to it. There are plenty of vibrant colors throughout though, such as eyes or certain outfits, but they blend well into the overall setting. There are a lot of areas of single bold colors and they maintain a great looking solid feel while black levels in general come across very well. Having seen this previously on DVD, the look of it feels clearer, a touch brighter, and a lot more solid and with a kind of subtle pop that lets it look fresh and new even a decade later. You could easily see this being produced today and looking good amid other shows of the same nature.
The packaging design for this release is definitely solid and cute as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover has the simple image of the five girls together, which with their height differences alone makes it a cute looking piece. It’s all wrapped up with the strawberry theme around it with the red that gives it a lot of pop and vibrancy that lets it stand out really well. The back cover goes for more of a white design with the red border to tie it all together with a dash of green so that it has the whole strawberry feeling as well. The premise is covered pretty deeply and we get some fun shots from the show as well as some adorable character artwork. THe extras are listed cleanly, with a note that not all of them are in HD, which is a good selling point with as much as it’s included here. The remainder is given over to the usual standard production credits and a clean and accurate technical grid.
The menu design for this release is pretty nice as we get two good static images for the two discs. They’re illustration style pieces done in the animation style that brings the group together in different settings. They’re appealing because of the realistic costume designs, the variety to it all, and the lightness in color and tone that lets it pop without being too vibrant. It’s not always easy to bring a cast together for images like this but it feels natural and right for both of them. The navigation is kept along the left with a vertical piece that has the episodes by number and title with a cute font used for it and a good mix of red and white with the green tartan style background. Bringing in a strawberry for the navigation cursor is a no brainer and I was glad to see they didn’t miss out on that easy opportunity. The layout overall is nice and the combination of the elements comes together well, making for a cute and proper design that sets the mood right.
The extras for this release look like they’ve ported over everything from the Geneon release as the extras are on the second disc. It’s here that we get the familiar in the clean opening and closing as well as the TV spots and promos. We also get the “episode zero” that was put out before the series originally premiered, the two digest videos, and a small but fun collection of music videos.
Based on the manga series Strawberry Marshmallow from Barasui, this series is one of those epitome of cute girls doing (cute) things. It’s the kind of show that’s very cute but doesn’t have much to say or a lot to accomplish. The original manga began in 2002 and it had this twelve episode adaptation produced in 2005 that was done by Production Reed. Interestingly, the manga appears to still be ongoing with seven volumes out, though that last volume arrived in 2013. Some series are very irregular or slow with what they do, making it a delightful little treat when more arrives. This series was originally released by Geneon Entertainment USA after it aired in Japan and they produced the dub for it, which is included with this set.
The show revolves around five girls primarily; we’re introduced to the twenty-year-old chain smoking Nobue, a college student who is pretty laid back and makes jokes about how she looks like a sixteen-year-old high school student, especially if she turns up the pitch of her voice and smiles. She’s very mellow and her smoking and almost snarky style set her apart from many female characters. She takes advantage, mildly, of her younger sister Chika. Chika’s twelve years old and in the sixth grade who is similarly laid back but manages to keep her money without spending it on things. Unfortunately, a lot of her savings tends to go towards Nobue’s smoking habit. The two live at home but we don’t see much in regards to their parents and most of their time is spent either in Chika’s room or doing things at school.
The lives of the two sisters is continually accented by their next door neighbor, another twelve -year-old named Miu. Miu is able to leap across the roofs between the houses and enter Chika’s room where her bold and outgoing nature tends to set her apart from the more laid back sisters and their friends. Miu tends to be the really aggressive one in doing things and pushing the others into things but she’s a manipulator through and through. Without her, odds are the show wouldn’t actually do anything but have the characters sit around. The group is filled out with a pair of interesting but also mellow characters, from the very shy and easily emotional Matsuri who comes complete with glasses to accent her cuteness to Ana Coppola, a transfer student from England.
The opening episodes of the series do a good job of introducing the characters and setting while bringing in new ones like Ana to the mix. While a lot of the time is spent just hanging out and talking, they do these little fantastical trips into the imagination where they basically are playing. One instance, for example, has the characters playing out roles of a doctor’s office and they all switch along the way. Miu starts as the doctor at first and diagnoses Chika with having a fat tummy which leads to Miu being outed for awhile. Nobue spends a lot of time with them in the room, often to try and shake them down for money, but she gets into the playing around as well. I remember fondly doing many of the same things with a friend of mine who was the same age as me back in my late teens with their younger siblings, so this has a real ring of familiarity and realism to it along with the slightly off-kilter humor.
Where the show really started to click and get into a groove was with the fourth episode where Nobue finds herself forced into getting a job that will pay her a lot of money on a daily basis so she can buy some cartons of cigarettes. After some very amusing imaginations into the kind of work that the girls would want to do and Miu showing Chika how hard it is to give out tissues, Nobue ends up doing a waitressing gig. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but when Miu finds out, she brings the others with her so that they can take advantage of many free desserts. The tug of war between Nobue and Miu is very comical here and very well played out as the characters all now really feel like they’ve bonded together.
In general, the series follows the kids along their school year, though school isn’t the main focus of it. It’s through their time at school though that we’re able to tell where they are and what’s going on in their lives, such as this volume where they’re finishing out their exams before going on summer vacation. Some of the school material is interesting but it’s kept relatively minimal. While there’s some fun about the way Miu deals with the end of school as it showcases her heavy procrastination, there’s more fun in watching how Ana deals with not being able to speak English and hiding her very strong Japanese skills. Her reasons for doing all of this has left her in a place where it’s hard to make friends since she can’t really communicate with them because of the choices she made but also because it causes some amount of favoritism with some teachers. And that causes trouble with some of the students, but like most of the show, it’s a very small part of things.
A lot of what happens in the show takes place in the Itou household, such as the sleepover that fills the one episode during the hot day. This has some similar undertones to the episode later on that takes place during one of the hottest days of the summer in that the kids, along with Nobue, just hang out and try to keep cool and relax, but Miu and her shenanigans cause all kinds of trouble. Everyone coming together to the house is fun as they have small hurdles to overcome and the trip to the supermarket to get some snacks and other food has its moments.
One area where I was wondering if the show would go too far down the wrong path came with the beach trip episode. With the way some shows with kids of this age have been sensationalized lately and make the kids look far more adult or sexual than they should, there was a huge chance that it could happen here. But similar to the earlier episodes in the series, even when they do gloss up the kids slightly it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to really abuse it. It doesn’t get glamorized and is actually fairly tame; my three-year-old did more glamor posing than the kids in this show have done. The beach episode is pretty cute overall though as it has the girls dealing with Miu by burying her, spending time swimming and in general just having a mildly fun day that doesn’t have any real stress to it. Even the “highlight” of having Nobue’s swim top removed didn’t have a really exciting edge to it but just more of the playfulness that Miu thinks she brings to things.
Much of the show does play along fairly standard lines though. Even though the beach episode may not have been titillating, it does have a lot of the usual gags and elements to it within the context of these five young women. The festival episode, which rounds out the volume, moves in the same kind of slow fashion as all the girls slowly converge on Chika’s house and they go through the motions of having their kimono’s put on and some of the method explained by Nobue, which helps to flesh her out a bit more. The actual festival itself is fun since it’s one of the few times we actually see more adults around and seeing how Miui interacts with them only strengthens the idea that she’s really just an extremely outgoing and opinionated child. Again, this is something where experience will color your perception and seeing much of Miu in my own child already, it makes the character and what she does all the more believable.
At the time I originally watched this show, just under a decade ago, my experiences with it were are certainly being colored by where I was in my life – which is odds are not the same for the majority of other fans. While my own kids weren’t at the ages of these in the show, I can see plenty of similarities already and get to see the universal nature of much of what kids are all about. What has made the earlier episodes and some of these especially enjoyable is seeing the relationship between Nobue and Chika. Relationships between siblings can be varied enough and those between sisters even more so. What’s nice is that they get along so well here and Nobue even gets along with all of her friends, though I think she just tolerates Miu sometimes. Nobue looks out for her sister quite a lot though Chika doesn’t always notice or appreciate it.
Sometimes all it takes is just a word or two or a small dose of reality that experience can provide. One of the later episodes is a prime example where Miu, in an effort to score more treats for herself, teases Chika about gaining weight and prodding Chika’s belly. Miu takes it so much further when they play paper sumo’s by naming her sumo Chubby Chika and making it absolutely huge compared to others. From then on Chika finds herself really sensitive about her weight but she internalizes all of it while trying to figure out if she’s really gaining or not. Of course, Miu is constantly there and causing problems so it becomes a bit more known. Nobue’s involvement is just right though and she has the bit of experience to put it in perspective for Chika. It’s a short moment but it’s a very endearing one. You can imagine that when these two sisters were much younger that they were very loving and cuddly towards each other.
Nobue’s definitely taken on the older sister role for most of these girls, particularly for Mitsuri but also rather nicely for Ana. The episode when the first snows hit and things are getting cold has the group going to a public bath after their heat is turned off due to Nobue missing a payment. While there is the insanity of taking Miu there, as she wants to bring floaties and goggles or as she farts in the bath, it’s a very laid back experience that doesn’t push much in the way of fanservice or extra skin shots in order to titillate. Nobue very much takes these younger girls under her wing in explaining the basics of it and getting them a bit more in touch with their own culture, parts that they may not have experienced much due to the way home life has changed in the last couple of decades. Nobue is far more patient and understanding than a lot of sisters and it really shows through here.
Strawberry Marshmallow was an interesting series when it first came out and I was fairly amused by the way its rescue caused a lot of people to ask why such a show was rescued since it seemed like nobody asked for it. The series is one that I previously enjoyed a lot and it was fun to get back into it since it does play its concept well while avoiding some of the potential pitfalls of creepiness. The group dynamic is fun to watch and even though they are your basic archetypes it does run along what most groups eventually pan out to be. The quirks within it were cute, such as Ana’s hiding of her language skills to her close friends and her classmates, Miu’s over the top style in making sure she’s the center of attention as well as the way Nobue is so attached to her cigarettes. As I said years ago, it’s not a show that will attract a legion of fans but I found it to be vastly appealing. Slice of life fans and those wanting a bit more of Japanese culture without the over the top antics and fanservice will likely adore this show. I know I did.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 10th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.