Saturday, June 23, 2012

Light novel review: Strawberry Panic, The Complete Novel Collection, volume 2

Volume 2 is, overall, noticeably better than volume 1. Volume 1's early problems involving Shizuma are long past, and the rules of the lesbian Wonderland that is Astraea Hill have been explained. Now for round 2 of the Etoile competition.

Volume 1 established the rivalry between Miator's Student Council President Miyuki and Spica's Student Council President Shion. The spotlight in volume 2 falls on Lulim's Student Council President Chikaru. Chikaru is a fan favorite because, rather than angst over love like the other major characters, she is whimsical and laid-back while still being very gay. In the anime, she collects girls like candy and has them dress up in cosplay and do random crap like solve mysteries or bake sweets for shits and giggles. Here, Chikaru does the same thing, but she and her harem just cosplay.

Amusingly, light novel Chikaru has a Grand Master Plan beyond macking on girls. As the only student with any ambition at Lulim, she wants to build Lulim up to a school whose glory rivals Miator and Spica's. She might seem like she's just having her kouhai Kizuna, Remon and Kagome cosplay as bunny girls and police officers so she can ogle Kizuna and Remon and go moe over Kagome, but she's really training them to be strong Etoile candidates.

But alas, if Lulim were to claim its glory when Kizuna, Remon and Kagome were popular enough to win the Etoile crown purely on their own merits, Chikaru would graduate before realizing her dream. And if she graduated before Lulim became more popular, she wouldn't have fulfilled her ultimate goal of having more cute Lulim girls to add to her harem. It's all very nuanced and complicated, you see.

Unlike the anime version of Strawberry Panic, the students from the different schools mostly don't socialize with each other in the novels. The thing I miss most about that here is Tamao and Yaya commiserating with each other about being in love with thickheaded idiots who don't love them back. It also raises the question of what would happen if two students from different schools wanted to enter the Etoile competition as a couple. That question is answered here.

We also meet Kusanagi Makoto, a former Spica student who returns from studying music in Russia to challenge Amane's place as the Top Star in Spica. Makoto proclaims that she wants to replace the lesbianism at Astraea Hill with "pure sisterly love" but, interestingly, wins her peers over by giving them jewelry and promising them kisses. To her credit, Amane is mature enough to know that Astraea Hill is not the center of the universe and doesn't care about being replaced as the Spica student with the most stalkers.

While novel Amane is more likeable than anime Amane, as discussed in my previous SP novel review, novel Yaya has gotten less face time than anime Yaya. Which is too bad, because I like her better than Amane. (Yes, I am that rare SP fan who likes Shizuma x Nagisa and Yaya x Hikari.) The novels throw Yaya x Hikari fans a bone when Yaya confesses her feelings to Hikari in a less graceless way than she did in the anime. But while her confession had repercussions on her and Hikari's friendship in the anime and they talked through it, here, the scene fades out and the entire thing is forgotten. Or so it seems. Just wait until volume 3.

This volume ends with neither of our lead couples looking good in the Etoile competition. Amane and Hikari run away from school. Nagisa decides to drop out of the competition after learning more about Shizuma's past relationship with Kaori and concluding that she can't compete with a dead girl. As idiotic as Nagisa is, I can actually understand her not telling Shizuma that she wants to hear her say that she loves her now, more than Kaori, because she wants to know Shizuma is saying it sincerely instead of because she knows it'll calm Nagisa down. It might be passive-aggressive, but it's understandable.

More things about this volume I liked- Kaname, to her chagrin, starting to have feelings for Hikari after having treated Hikari badly because Kaname likes Amane, and Shizuma's best friend Hitomi speculating that Shizuma's deep grief over Kaori was fueled by guilt as much as love. This plants the seed of a plot point that gives Shizuma's storyline more nuance than I expected. And I like that this volume fleshes out Shizuma's background and gives her friends Mizuho and Hitomi more of an active role than the anime does. (Although she isn't close friends with Miyuki here, an aspect of the anime that I liked.) It gives her a life outside her romances, making her a better-developed character than it initially seemed she would be.

So yeah, more of what was fun about volume 1 with much less of what was "meh." How will it all resolve!? Dun dun dun.

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