Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Light novel review: Strawberry Panic, The Complete Novel Collection, volume 1

At long last, I am reviewing the Strawberry Panic light novels.

Even though I have been an avid reader of manga since I was a kid, it took me some getting used to the idea of novels that read like manga (complete with full-page illustrations and onomatopoetic sound effects like "Flutter flutter" for sakura petals, "Swish!" for a skirt, and "Drip" for tears falling) when I tried the SP light novel, my first light novel read, as a college freshman. That said, I've never had any problem settling into fanfiction- go figure.

Like its anime and manga iterations, the Strawberry Panic light novel is about the love polygons at three lesboriffic girls' schools that are adjacent to and affiliated with each other on Astraea Hill- Miator, the oldest and most traditional school, Spica, the second oldest one that focuses on creating the leaders of tomorrow, and Lulim, where students focus on club activities instead of studies. Despite the description given for Spica, Miator's students can't bear coming in second place in anything next to Spica or Lulim, so it seems like the place to send a girl who wants to learn good leadership and competition skills, no?

Our protagonist, Aoi Nagisa, is a cheerful, bumbling, utterly unremarkable Miator transfer student who instantly attracts Miator's most popular student, Hanazono Shizuma. Nagisa's roommate Tamao also has the hots for Nagisa, as does Nagisa's kouhai Chiyo.

Over in Spica, we meet another transfer student- shy, unassuming Konohana Hikari. Hikari and Spica's butchy "Prince" Ootori Amane fall in love, but Amane's unwanted legion of ravenous fangirls would rather shoot themselves in the leg than see their beloved Amane-sama fall for one person. Hikari's roommate Yaya is also in love with her.

At the beginning of each school year, Miator, Spica and Lulim hold the Etoile competition. They don't describe it as a contest for the three schools' best lesbian couple, but that's what it is. Each couple is composed of an aînée (a.k.a. the Oneesama in the relationship) and her cadette.

When Tamao hits on Nagisa in front of Shizuma and rubs it in Shizuma's face, Shizuma overrides her by asking Nagisa to be her cadette in the Etoile competition. The other students at Miator aren't happy about it because, why should someone who just transferred in get to compete for the Etoile crown with their exalted Shizuma-sama? Shizuma also competed last year and won with her friend Mizuho, dedicating her victory and all of her love to her dead girlfriend Kaori. For that reason, I can see why some students would be bothered by Shizuma competing again with Nagisa. (Even though they weren't bothered by her dating and sleeping with half the campus prior to that?)

A lot of SP fans like Tamao x Nagisa more than Shizuma x Nagisa, but I'm on team Shizuma x Nagisa. Even though Shizuma isn't very likeable early in the story, she does improve (the turning point for her characterization being the pre-Etoile competition party) and shows that she genuinely cares about Nagisa, for some reason. I do feel bad for Tamao, since she makes her feelings clear repeatedly, but Nagisa doesn't get it since she's as dense as a brick.

Amane, of course, chooses Hikari as the cadette to her aînée. I like Amane x Hikari more in the SP light novels than in the SP anime because Amane has more of a personality and her relationship with Hikari feels sweeter here.

Despite the Miator and Spica students' qualms about Shizuma and Amane's Etoile partners, they rally around them because they want their school to win.

Nagisa finds out about Shizuma pledging all of her love to Kaori the year before, making her doubt the veracity of Shizuma's feelings for her, but they win the first competition (in which the aînées answer questions about how devoted they are) anyway.

The high point of this volume is the second competition, in which the aînées and cadettes dress in costumes, the cadettes are all squeezed onto a high platform with no railing, and the aînées race to pick them up on horseback from below. Nagisa winds up dangling off the edge of the platform hoping that her Oneesama will reach her in time.

Yes, this is trash. But as trash, it is first-rate. I always have a bit of a hard time starting it because I need to get used to the overripe, affected language. It doesn't help that 90% of the early portion of this volume feels like it's composed of descriptions of how amazing Shizuma is. She's pretty, smart, has glossy, shampoo commercial-worthy hair and an amazing smile, birds sing when she passes by them and the very sun and moon pale in comparison to her...thankfully, SP's author realizes that we get it already, and eases up on the flowery Shizuma descriptions as the book goes on. All of the descriptions are very flowery, in the way that a parody of the yuri genre (particularly old school or old school-influenced titles like Shiroi Heya no Futari, Oniisama E, Himitsu no Kaidan, and Marimite) would need to be. But I don't really mind as long as the intentionally cheesy descriptions aren't relegated too much to one character. lol

If you're already an SP fan, you'll like this. If not, don't bother.

No ratings until I review the third and final volume.


Scarlett Bell said...

Hi! Great news *_____*
please, join my blog if you like it ;)

Katherine Hanson said...

@Scarlett Bell- Thanks for pointing it out! :)