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!
Both the English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio tracks are encoded at 48 kHz at 224 Kbps. Most of the series is highly dependent on spoken dialog for both effect and movement through the scenes. Both tracks offer good balance in the vocal scenes. When effects become important, the separation and clarity maintains the appropriate atmosphere for the action.
As originally released in 1.78:1, the video is encoded for anamorphic playback in variable bitrate. Even though the animation seems limited, the encoding rate can jump rather high. I never noticed any significant problems with artifacts or with aliasing. Colors maintain a good saturation, and most video offers fluid motion.
The set is packaged in a standard keepcase size shell with a hinged leaf with hubs on each side and a third hub in the rear. Hubs hold the discs firmly and still release with no stress on the disc or packaging. The front cover shows the entire cast with a strawberry motif. That continues on the spine where the title takes up the top third and a full-bodied Miu stands over “TV” and the Sentai logo.The back cover is text heavy with six small scenes from the show and a larger image of Miu on Chika’s back. The special features have their own list, and below that the credits and technical grid offer clear information. Each disc has a unique image. Disc 1 offers Matsuri and Ana in pink maid uniforms. Disc 2 has Nobue and Miu sitting back to back on the edge of a bed, and 3 has the entire group hugging in winter clothes.
All menus have a vertical stack of selectable titles on the left side and an image of the characters on the right. All are original art, and they take their themes from seasonal activities and costumes.
Disc 1: Episode “0”, Episode 1 & 2 Digest, Sentai trailers
Disc 2: Promo Video, TV Spots, Clean Opening and Closing
Disc 3: Five Character Music Videos
Based on the trailer for Strawberry Marshmallow, it is easy to misjudge the series. I got the feeling I was going to be watching one of those slice of life shows where nothing ever happens and the characters all have a pleasant experience being bored. Quickly, I learned not only was I wrong, I had stumbled on the kind of show I will rewatch because the gentle surface masks the subtle humor that isn’t focused on a single demographic or tied to the time it was produced.
The show is a slice of life. On a scale of Peanuts to Rugrats, it fits in somewhere in the middle. The pacing of the show tends to be slow, and it lets the characters develop in ways that make their childish behaviors interesting. Unlike much modern childhood animations, if a character imagines something, the show has no compulsion to enter a fantasy segment that includes all of the characters. Instead, we watch as the girl caught in her imagination is stared down by the others. In many ways, I occasionally felt the familiarity of an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer crashes through the door, and everyone just stares at him.
Most episodes fit a standard theme. There is the episode going to the beach, another to the public bath, a festival, and a required first day at a new school. What I remember the most, though, is the characters sitting in a room trying to pass the time. Their interactions offer both sufficient character development and a sense of personality that gets carried into the traditional narratives. Every episode depends on conveying the characters’ interactions over any action or narrative arc.
Characters tend to be well balanced for this type of humor. Nobue might be in her early 20s, but she seems to be more free than the fifth and sixth graders she leads. She almost comes across as a slacker. She rides a scooter, and she takes part-time jobs to earn cigarette money. Her younger sister Chika tends to be the stable personality, and it is through Chika’s reactions that we experience the dynamic of the other characters’ actions. Most of the scenes take place at the sisters’ house.
Miu often provokes the other girls through pranks and annoying behavior. Sometimes it might be as simple as handing Nobue a used tissue instead of a new one, or it can be a much more prolonged attack on Chika’s weight and self image. While her behavior may seem reprehensible, the show finds ways to create a sympathetic tone between her and Nobue. Without Miu, there would be very little justification for the humor.
Matsuri and Ana meet in their fifth grade classroom. Matsuri has the earnest, docile, and slightly apprehensive quality. She becomes central to many scenes that show a character as “cute.” Her inexperience and naivety allow her to be used as a pawn in Miu’s practical jokes, but the show does not demean her character and allows her to grow up slightly over the course of the series. Ana has some real issues. Having grown up in Japan with English parents, she looks foreign, but she can’t speak English. In an effort to impress her new classmates, she decides to pretend to be English, creating an odd sense of national guilt. While racially different, her knowledge of Japanese culture establishes her as a true insider with the girls.
Strawberry Marshmallow offers fun slice of life stories without stooping to fanservice. Even scenes with sexual innuendo tend to be more about showing the characters’ discomfort than pandering to the audience. For example, Miu removes Nobue’s top on the beach, and there is no detailed nudity. We see the prurient joy on the faces of male beachgoers as Nobue turns red with embarrassment. Another scene takes place in a public bath, and instead of sexualizing the girls and Nobue, viewers are treated to an unexpected and highly developed bathroom humor joke. Scenes like this remind me of Seinfeld jokes where slow motion creates a hyperbolic moment that bursts as the action returns to real time.
Even the art style seems subdued with pastels and dusty saturated colors. The traditional limited animation slows down the pace of the action. At times, the direction slowed down to the point I thought my screen had frozen. Newer graphics, including realistic water, have been used sparingly and maximize the scene without drawing attention to the effect.
Strawberry Marshmallow gives its audience simple stories with complex characters driving the humor. While a traditional slice of life, the writing allows the dialog to stand slightly higher than similar shows that depend on character types over characteristics. I think this will be a series that can be rewatched as one’s life changes because the intricate humor is not forced. The writing and direction allows viewers to interpret the character interactions through their own sensibilities.
English 2.0 language, Japanese 2.0 language with forced English subtitles, Clean Opening and Ending, Sentai Trailers.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 10th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung KU6300 50” 4K UHD TV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.