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Strawberry Panic Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

17 min read
When Nagisa arrives at her new school, one of three academies in close proximity, she finds herself caught up in some intriguing new relationships.

When Nagisa arrives at her new school, one of three academies in close proximity, she finds herself caught up in some intriguing new relationships.

What They Say:
Nagisa is a young woman who transfers to a prestigious all-girls school that happens to share a campus with two other elite female academies. The new surroundings are overwhelming at first but Nagisa quickly adapts to life in Strawberry Hall with the help of her new friends. Things intensify when Nagisa catches the eye of the mysterious Shizuma, the respected representative of all three schools. Both their lives are forever changed as their bond develops beyond mere friendship amidst a school semester of heated conflicts, petty jealousies and crossed boundaries.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded using the PCM format, giving us an uncompressed audio track. The stereo mix for the show isn’t all that active which isn’t a surprise considering that it’s a dialogue piece outside of the opening and closing sequences. Those sections are pretty good when it comes to a full sound but beyond that, it’s a very full sounding mix without much in the way of directionality or depth. Nothing really stands out here as above average but there aren’t any issues with it either. Dialogue was clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 480p. While the case says its a Blu-ray release, it’s really an SDBD release just with space savings, better codec, and more to watch at a time with it spread across two discs. It’s also utilizing the materials we’d seen before as these are hard subtitled and now player-generated subtitles. Being the kind of show without much in the way of really active animation to it, I was expecting a bit more out of the transfer but was relatively disappointed much as I was with the standard definition releases a decade or so ago. The show has a fair amount of gradients showing up in some of the outdoor late afternoon scenes while the interior scenes usually have a good amount of noticeable noise in the backgrounds. This is somewhat common with school-based shows of this genre as the soft colors used for the walls and such tend to not maintain a very solid feel. There’s also what feels like a hint of cross coloration within the character designs as there is a good deal of waviness along the edges of their hair. It doesn’t devolve into outright rainbows but it has that wavy feel to it that reminds you of it. The show doesn’t look bad but it has a number of small problems to it that keeps it from looking good.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the two discs against the interior walls. The front cover uses the familiar key visual piece of our two leads in an embrace with the black of their dresses blending, which in turn blends around the black leaves that frame them. Mixing in the brighter hair and the blue in the background works well as there’s a busy sense to everything but it also has a really close and intimate aspect that clicks. The back cover uses the same kind of visual as the front but without the characters, instead opting to put the summary in there to read – which is a little rough depending on the lighting. We get some nice colorful shots along the right to check out while the bottom has the technical grid in pink on black – and doesn’t list that the materials are in standard definition nor is that mentioned anywhere on the set to my frustration. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release is definitely appealing as it takes the cover elements but they end up becoming so much brighter and more colorful here, especially on the big screen. The wider look has the navigation along the right, which allows for choosing blocks of episodes or just a play-all feature, and it has the logo above it that looks great against the blues. The left has the character artwork which differs from the front cover and has a more detailed and bolder look with the shades of black visible and not blending together quite so much. It’s a minimal menu here overall but it’s also a problematic one. When you go into the show itself, the only chapter marks are for the start of each episode. So you can’t hop to specific places easily, just going to the start of each episode forward or backward. And if you’re marathoning a five-hour disc of twelve or thirteen episodes, you’ll want to skip the openings and closings eventually.

The only extras included in this release are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novels and manga by Sakurako Kimino, Strawberry Panic is a twenty-six episode series which revolves around a range of teenage girls spread across three private academies. The show is part of Media Blasters’ Yuri Fan line-up and while the opening episodes are very light on it outside of the older sister crushes, the implied elements certainly make up for any deficiencies. The original work began in 2003 from Sakurako Kimino and they burned through eighteen installments in the magazine serialization, and eventually, three formal novels were done by the time the anime itself wrapped up in 2006.

Strawberry Panic starts off as many school-based series do as we’re introduced to Nagisa, a new transfer student who has come to Astraea Hill where there are three private schools that mingle fairly well with each other. The eldest school is St. Miator which has a lot of traditions to it and the girls all wear very elegant black uniforms that flow. The second eldest school is that of St. Spica which is a very competitive school that excels in academics and athletics. They mirror St. Miator in a fashion with their uniforms except that they’re white and a bit shorter. The third and final academy on Astraea Hill is that of St. Le Rim which is a bit more fancy-free and creative as it gives off a much lighter feel and something of a feel-good atmosphere.

Nagisa has come to St. Miator as a new fourth-year student and ends up running through a number of standard situations that one would expect in such a setting. Nagisa is a fairly simple character at this point who is providing the view of this world for the audience and through her eyes, we see the various academies and their quirks. The most interesting quirk to it is that there is someone called the Etoile, a student chosen from among all the other students as the epitome of what they all want to be. The current Etoile is a very serious and beautiful young woman named Shizuma. Shizuma has the love and adoration of all the students and Nagisa finds that it’s not always a good thing. Shizuma tends to “go through” her fellow students in a quick manner as she becomes attracted to them and uses them before tossing them away. That has Nagisa fairly unsure of her, but her first couple of encounters with her are startling. Enough so that she ends up fainting from what she sees within Shizuma.

Within any kind of setting like this, there are a number of situations that play out which aren’t a surprise. The student council is made up of the presidents of each of the student bodies and there are plenty of shared resources among the academies. The politics of it all is somewhat amusing at times, particularly since Shizuma comes from Miator and that gives the academy a bit more influence in things since she sets the tone for things like the student council meetings. That’s usually just when she shows up though which can cause problems in and of itself. Nagisa runs through the issue of finding an after-school club activity that she could fit in with and that shows off the range of what Miator has for activities. There are also some interesting traditions that crop up, generally within Miator, such as the first year students that serve as Room Housekeepers for the elder sisters who in turn help and guide them in their academic pursuits.

Because of the nature of the show where it’s just about the character interactions, the things that carry it along tend to be pretty lightweight. The core of the series still seems to revolve around the potential relationship and feelings that are growing between Shizuma and Nagisa, but that gets the short end of the stick for the bulk of this release when it comes to actual interaction. The only episode that has them close together is the fourth one where Shizuma offers to help Nagisa with her French studies so she can pass the exam and make it to “Summer School,” which just means time studying at the beach with friends and having fun. Nagisa is unsure about working with her, but the Etoile informs her that it’s part of her duty to take care of those under her charge and that she’s arguably the best in French at the school. The two spend a lot of quality time together and there are some small nods towards their relationship actually moving forward some.

Where it becomes interesting is in the episode where the summer break material happens but Shizuma has to stay at the school. Her duties as the Etoile keeps her working during the summer and she can’t be with everyone else. It’s not that she’s an outgoing party girl, but the sudden separation from Nagisa actually affects her and puts her into some sort of longing mode when it comes to thinking about her. Nagisa for her part does think about Shizuma at times, and her longing for her actually hits home the more she’s away, but she also has to deal with all the serious summer break material as well and that can be quite draining. It’s more amusing to watch how Tamao views Nagisa during all of this.

One of the more interesting stories in the first half dealt with the actual yuri elements of the show is the one that involves Kaname going after her latest game. With the help of her little honeybee, Momomi, she decides that it’s time to steal Hikari away from Amane since Amane doesn’t actually seem like she’s going to do anything. Or rather, she intends to steal her away to tweak Amane about it. The setup for the little adventure is fairly pedestrian and high schoolish in nature, but it was interesting to see how overt they’re starting to get about some of the sexual relationships between the girls. Momomi and Kaname are certainly fun to watch as they’re both very predatory in a way about sex and wanting what they want and going after it. Unfortunately, Kaname comes off as a bit “manly” with her design, but that just makes Momomi all the more interesting to watch.

The summer break portion of the series puts the school in a different light since so few people are still left. Nagisa’s parents being overseas keeps her at the school so she has a mildly emotional sending off piece with Tamao. Tamao is still very much interested in Nagisa, though it’s hard to tell in exactly what way, so she does all she can to show her interest by giving Nagisa a ribbon to wear and asking her elders to watch over her. While one of them works with Nagisa on her French lessons, the real learning comes when Shizuma and Nagisa spend more and more time together, enough so that Shizuma becomes more of her aggressive self and practically forces herself on Nagisa. That’s certainly jarring for Nagisa, but familiar enough from how Shizuma appears to have acted with others earlier in the series.

The scene does force a few events into play as Nagisa has to cope with it and because she loses the ribbon that Tamao gave her. That reunion is rather unsettling for Tamao, especially since Nagisa isn’t quite herself and Shizuma is rather aloof at the time. Awkward meetings are really the name of the game in these episodes in general though, such as the growing bit of time that Hikari and Amane are spending together as Hikari does her best to get closer to her. She’s not able to do it quite as easily as she’d like though as Kaname and Momomi continue to find ways to meddle. Kaname’s domineering personality and her desire to win over what she wants has her seeking out Hikari rather regularly and that causes plenty of problems for Hikari.

What’s really surprising is that the more that Hikari gets taken advantage of by Kaname, the more Yaya becomes protective of her. The two have a short history overall which does get explored a bit more in this volume, but it’s explored because Yaya finally can’t restrain herself anymore and becomes aggressive about her interest in Hikari. The timing of it is incredibly poor of course and Hikari is thrown for a loop because of it, but also because it wasn’t just a simple admission or even just a kiss, but rather a full on groping experience. Yaya’s intensity is fascinating to watch as is the way she reacts to Hikari’s reaction and the realization of exactly what she’s done. Seeing whether the two of them can get back on a friendship level alone is interesting enough and could span a few episodes.

As with most things of note in this series, during the second half of it we’re introduced to new revelations through Nagisa asking the right questions. With word that the Etoile elections are coming up, she’s at first simply surprised as she thought Shizuma was always Etoile and would always be Etoile. She’s got a very simple view but one that truly isn’t surprising based on what we know of the character so far. What’s surprising to her and the audience is that there are always two people that are made Etoile during the elections. Two people of strong bond and trust go through the selection process and face the trials that will lead the best choice to take on the responsibilities of the role.

That leads Nagisa to asking the question of why Shizuma is all alone in the role. Unfortunately, nobody is really willing to say anything on it because there’s some deep seated issues involved with it. With Nagisa asking the question however, it puts Shizuma in the position of having to face the past and to reveal it all to Nagisa. Or, at least, try to explain it as it’s something that strikes very deeply within her. Shizuma is hopeful that Nagisa will be the one that will help her move on from the past and even Rokujyo is desperately placing a lot of hope upon Nagisa in this regard.

While Shizuma can’t spell out what happened and revisiting it has her even more out of sorts than most students there, Nagisa is able to get the goods at long last through Rokujyo. The actual story isn’t all that much of a surprise in general as it turns out that Shizuma had fallen in love with a new transfer student a few years ago named Kaori who had come to the school. Kaori was the kind of student that always had health issues and rarely went to schools, That the two bond so closely isn’t a surprise nor is it that the pair end up in the running for Etoile, a position that Kaori will be hard pressed to handle, never mind the trials that they must face before it.

Where Strawberry Panic is able to take it in a slightly different direction is that it’s not just a sisterly love that the two share, but a true romantic and sexual love. The closer bond between them gives this a very different feeling as they’re not doing everything out of just the sisterly love we usually see. The physical and emotional connection is much stronger and the loss that eventually happens is all the more of an issue for Shizuma. When you love wholly and completely, especially at that age, losing someone is brutal. Even more so when the two go through something of a wedding of sorts with the actual Etoile ceremony.

The story that runs through here with all of its little side plots and issues all started off with the idea of the Etoile elections. Surprisingly, the elections really don’t come into play much yet during these episodes as all the time is spent either on the past or the ramifications thereof. There is a lot of ground to cover and it’s all given the right amount of time to be dealt with and for all the secondary characters that need to be involved to be so. Nagisa’s relationship with Shizuma continues to cause problems with Tamoe and we get a better understanding of Tamoe’s past in this storyline as well as her need to be with Nagisa is given more clarity. The fact that everything is dealt with in the way that it really helps the flow overall and allows the story to breathe in a more natural way. They could easily have gone right into the rush of the elections and tied Shizuma and Nagisa together in a very predictable way.

Unfortunately, the conclusion to Strawberry Panic is one that actually left me feeling like the wind was taken out of its sails. The shift to the Etoile elections changed the flow of the show and moved the attention away from Nagisa and Shizuma to a direction that was fairly lifeless and flat. The direction tended to cover more of the other characters and their relationships, which isn’t a bad thing, but after the build-up of things between Shizuma and Nagisa, this shift is almost like pulling the rug out from under our feet. In the end, much of this volume felt like I was treading water and passing time until the good stuff happened.

The lead-up to the elections are complicated as the various pairings that are going to compete are going through their own issues. Le Rim has pulled out of it entirely, which isn’t a surprise, so that’s left the elections with just a pair of couples that will go for it. The initial issues between Momoi and Kaname are rather interesting to see as Kaname is working hard to get Amane to work with her on it. In a way, I felt the most for those two as Momoi simply wanted to be closer to Kaname and had a real difficulty in seeing Kaname going off and doing what she did. And with Amane having her own issues in general and simply not being interested in the entire process, it only makes things more difficult.

It wasn’t a surprise, however, to see that Nagisa and Tamoe working hard together to make a proper pairing. Tamoe’s revelations previously about how she felt about Nagisa were heart wrenching in a way and that she put herself out there like that, to come alive again for someone, really says a lot about her. The two certainly do work hard together to try and achieve the right kind of balance and chemistry in order to bring some magic to the dance floor for that part of the competition. But with the lateness of everything, and the way they’re keeping it secret until the last minute, it’s hard to see them really coming together in the way needed. What makes all of this more difficult though is that there are lingering issues between Shizuma and Nagisa that keeps Tamoe feeling a little like she’s still very much on the outside. Nagisa continues to be distracted because of this.

So when Shizuma is brought in to actually help the two of them make some progress towards the end, it’s all manner of conflicting for the two girls. Shizuma’s simply an older and accomplished person at this point, even with her issues, and she’s able to take control of the situation effortlessly. This only enraptures Nagisa even more and puts Tamoe in a more awkward position. When the actual ceremony begins, you can see the uncertainty about it all in Tamoe’s eyes as she watches the way Shizuma watches Nagisa, or the way she avoids her eyes and focuses on Tamoe.

It’s only towards the end when the elections actually get underway that the show started getting to the things I wanted to see. The change in relationship between Amane and Hikari was rather surprising since they decided to become the couple for Spica. I’ve always rooted for Hikari to get what she wanted and for Amane to realize just who was wanting to be with her, so seeing the two of them working together was really nice. The only downside was that I really didn’t care for Amane really taking on the male role with the outfit for the election, especially since there was something far more elegant in how Nagisa and Tamoe looked. I would have far preferred to see Amane really dressing up and taking on the role in a dress and dazzling Hikari.

In Summary:
In the end, I’m rather glad with how the finale turned out since it got back to some of the core things I wanted to see. The sexual side of Strawberry Panic makes a nice appearance here – bare bottoms and all – as one couple finally connect properly. All in all, Strawberry Panic left me fairly underwhelmed with what it wanted to tell. The characters I liked the most, Nagisa and Tamoe, didn’t really get to connect properly throughout the show, though they come close. The times that I liked Shizuma, they ended up cutting her out of the story to be all angst filled for awhile. There are things that I liked, but overall Strawberry Panic was fairly light and when it tried to be more serious, it didn’t come across in a way that made you take it seriously. This release was a lot of fun to be able to marathon through it compared to the prior release schedule that I had for it originally but it suffers from not being a real high definition encode that I want to see. That really does make an impact here when combined with some of the other smaller issues mixed into it.

Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

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Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: June 26th, 2018
MSRP: $49.98
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
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.

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