Saturday, October 16, 2010
English-speaking Strawberry Panic fans have really lucked out. We have the anime on DVD, the light novel omnibus coming up, and the manga, with the two extra chapters that didn't come with the original two manga volumes included in this omnibus.
Strawberry Panic's premise is already familiar to yuri fans. Naïve, cheerful Aoi Nagisa transfers to St. Miator Girls' Academy, where she catches the eye of the coolest, most popular (and most fickle) Onee-sama (I giggled while typing that, just so you know) Hanazono Shizuma.
Nagisa's roommate Tamao and underclassman Chiyo also carry a torch for Nagisa. Shizuma wants Nagisa to compete with her in the Ètoile competition, which is essentially a contest among Miator, St. Spica Girls' Institute, and St. Lulim Girls' School, all located on Astraea Hill, for the best couple. (With one girl in each couple called the "aȋnée" and the other the "cadette.")
Their stiffest competition comes from Spica's "Prince" Otori Amane and her cadette, shy transfer student Konohana Hikari- whose hyper-aggressive roommate Yaya is in love with her.
The manga follows the light novel, as far as I've read, more closely than the anime adaptation. The competing couples get through the first round of the competition, which involves placing the cadettes in a tower where they wait to be rescued by their aȋnée/Onee-sama/tachi/seme riding on horseback, and the first couple that reaches the finish line wins. Of course, since you have a large crowd of girls squeezed onto a high platform with no railing, one of them (Nagisa) falls off and is left clinging to the side hoping that her Onee-sama will save her on time.
Nagisa also finds out that Kaori, the girl Shizuma originally competed with for Ètoile the previous year, died from a terminal illness after Shizuma fell in love with her, so she isn't sure how sincere Shizuma's feelings for her now are. (At least that issue's resolved before this series wraps up.) In the two bonus chapters, a new student, Kusanagi Makoto, arrives back at Spica after studying abroad in Russia, after being summoned by Lulim's Student Council President Chikaru to upset the competition.
The two bonus chapters don't provide any resolution to the competition, but they were still pleasant to read as extra material. I would probably complain more about the unfinished ending if the story weren't resolved in the anime and light novels. As it is, it's an amusing, light-as-air little series with loads of yuri and some nice wink-wink-nudge-nudge references to other yuri titles for hardcore yuri fans. It moves more quickly than the anime, and it has some cute SD humor. It's really pretty stupid, but it's so cheerfully soap-y and over-the-top (and the characters so familiar) that it made me smile several times while reading it. As someone who first encountered SP via the anime, the manga is a nice way to re-visit the same setting with the characters and events tweaked up a bit. (Tweaked a lot, in the case of Kaname and Spica's student council.)
Extras include an "Astraea Directory" with profiles on all of the characters, a cute "Astraea Hill Tri-School Relationship Chart", a map of Astraea Hill, and a guide to the honorifics (which are all left intact- yay!!) and series terminology. And finally in the back, there's a preview for the first Hayate x Blade omnibus.
Story: "Onee-sama!! *blush*"
Overall: B for me.