What They Say:
There’s rarely a dull moment when Chika Ito and her friends get together: whether they’re telling ghost stories, playing games, or taking trips to the beach and park, every day brings a new adventure. Of course, not everyone appreciates the constant presence of a pack of 12 year olds, and Chika’s big sister Nobue might sometimes wish that Chika’s friends weren’t always underfoot. Especially troublemaking Miu, whose “help” with Nobue’s job hunt is definitely not appreciated!
Then again, Miu can cause problems just about anywhere, even when she hits her head and thinks she’s in Heaven! And when the girls make a trip to the public baths, does anyone think they’ll make a clean escape and scrub away every single piece of evidence? Either way, the fun’s sure to continue as the whole gang reunites in the complete OVA collection of 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 released in 2007 and 2009, the transfer for these two OVA series are presented in 1080p in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The the five episodes are kept to one disc with a solid bit rate that gives it plenty of room to work with. Animated by Daume, 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. The second OVA series almost looks like a different animation studio at first with a few different angles used and slightly different character designs, but mostly it’s just some subtle nudges by largely the same team.
The packaging design for this release is definitely solid and cute as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the single which in the end complements the TV series design well. The front cover has the simple image of the five girls together with lots of multicolored marshmallows floating around. While the TV series worked with strawberries, this makes the perfect balancing act for it. 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 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 a good looking static piece to enjoy with it. The illustration style piece done in the animation style that brings the group together as they walk along the road all wide-eyed and curious. 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 bring us the clean opening and closing sequences related to the episodes here.
Having enjoyed revisiting the TV series a couple of months prior to this, getting some new material was definitely appealing. A lot of shows that were licensed ages ago and released when there was only DVD ended up having follow-up works that were never licensed so there’s a lot of appeal in finally getting to see those while getting the original work with a new high definition release. It’s small things like that which can help the perception of a company because you can’t imagine that a title like Strawberry Marshmallow is going to be a high seller. But it’s one that will make a good number of fans happy who in turn check out more of what the company may be offering. This property is even more problematic in a sense because it’s the epitome of a slice of life show where little truly happens.
Which does make it a difficult show to talk about to some degree. The OVAs here, done as a three part and two part release in 2007 and 2009, aren’t focused on any big events or stories. It really is more of the same, which is exactly what the fans wanted and what the original work is like. But there’s a lot of appeal in just hanging out with these girls because they do have a pretty good dynamic about them and their personalities make for some cute, if minor, conflicts. Frankly, I keep expecting there to be a single OVA where the girls go all When They Cry on Miu and just bring her to a close because the way she deals with so many of them and torments them in her own playful way. Everyone has had a friend like Miu and while a lot of them do ease out of that as they get older, often we end up disconnecting ourselves from those personalities. And you can see that happening someday with this group.
The episodes that we get essentially carry us forward with more of the usual that involves the girls just hanging out together. Heck, the last episode of the first OVA series has them actually going away for a bit for a trip for their holiday and while they do have some fun at the public bath and do the whole stories thing, they essentially end up in a stripped down room like the one of Chika’s that they’re always hanging out in. It’s a clear reminder of what the show is about and how it functions. We may get new spaces and groupings for them to interact in, but at its core this is what it’s about. The cuteness is in watching how they decide what to do and some of the reasons why some of them don’t do much, such as Ana needing to build her strength up for other trips coming up since she’s so weak in general.
Another good subplot that plays out for one episode involves the girls trying to do their best to help Matsuri toughen up in some ways for the world that awaits her. She’s certainly presented as someone a little more innocent and simple compared to the rest, but it’s more that she’s just a genuinely happy person who doesn’t worry about much. That she ends up in lots of little mini disasters is problematic to be sure, as a stubbed toe can take her down hard, but that she gets so wrapped up in a simple children’s book is not a bad thing – no matter how much some of the others want to believe it’s so. This is represented best by Nobue and her slightly more mature take on things as she just marvels at Matsuri during these moments as there’s a simple ease and comfort that Matsuri presents while reading the book. It’s infectious to someone like Nobue as these kinds of moments are harder and harder to come by, as she struggles with finding a job herself or trying to break free from cigarettes and other vices. Giving us the view from both sides and seeing the others slowly sort of coming around to it is nicely played.
We also get some surreal material in this set that’s just priceless, especially in the second OVA series. The first episode alone sells the set in my mind as it focuses on Miu, having hit her head and dying, ends up being sent to hell. Everyone she meets is represented by her friends and they all give her a hard time to varying degrees. But watching her navigate hell with how she thought it would be but turns out differently is great as is the way she has to deal with heaven since it’s not as much fun as she had hoped either. Miu’s definitely the harder personality to work with for me and some of her antics and outbursts really make it hard to engage with the show at times because she’s so off-putting, but this was a storyline that was made perfect by her and definitely clicks in a great way.
With the reconnect with the TV series recently I knew exactly what I was getting into with this additional bit of fun for it. A lot of OVA series are just mild side stories and continuations but the Strawberry Marshmallow series is essentially side stories in total. So five more of them from two separate OVA runs is like getting half a season as a bonus. You could watch these easily after the TV show and not miss a beat as you get more light silliness, bonds of friendship, and a little surreal material once in a while as well. And you get to see just how close Nobue gets to ending Miu after she performs some edits on Nobue’s resume as she goes job hunting. There’s a lot to like here if you’re a fan of the TV show and that makes this a very easy pickup with its solid quality and presentation.
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: July 12th, 2016
Running Time: 130 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.