“Girls school in full bloom.”
With a subtitle like that, what’s not to like?
I have long given up on getting any more Strawberry Panic anime (not even an OVA was ever made!), long decided I wasn’t interested in bothering to give the truncated manga a go, and had long been leery of the light novels. But when the light novel omnibus was still sitting on the shelves of a local bookstore roughly two months after I first saw it, I figured it was a sign – “Try it,” the heavens said, “Look, we even made sure that the cover wasn’t ultra-creepy and off-putting. The cashier probably won’t even judge you!” Of course, the opinions of cashiers be damned was something I worked out a while back, as I boldly made my way to the registers with a plastic-wrapped volume of Fake years back, apparently exuding enough confidence that they didn’t demand an ID when I placed it down for purchase (I was probably fifteen or so at the time). However, judgement be damned is one thing when you actually are really dying to read whatever you’re bringing forth… when its something you’re unsure about, well, one tends to notice opinions more.
(An aside: for a while, I thought that these book store employees probably barely even noticed what I was buying, and, thus, weren’t going to judge me. Then, I worked in retail, and I hardcore judged the men who came in and bought things from brands like Diesel and Tommy Bahama. So, I’m pretty sure that those bookstore workers actually are judging a lot of the customers. I don’t have a problem with that, though, because the act of unkindly judging a person for purchasing something also made it a lot easier for me to deal with customers who were unpleasant, and my guess is the same goes for those working in bookstores.)
…alright, I digressed a bit.
So! I bought the Strawberry Panic Light Novel Omnibus, but I’ll be reviewing the individual volumes, as the entire thing, hysterically enough, clocks in at 666 pages in length. Given that amount of material, it is easier to tackle this in smaller bits. I’ll cover things such as the pricepoint and format in my final post (there are three volumes).
First off, I want to address the differences between the light novel(s) and the anime so far, as I suspect those of you familiar with the franchise are so via the anime:
- the Etoile competition becomes an issue almost immediately, and starts much, much sooner than in the anime
- Shizuma and Nagisa enter together, not Tamao and Nagisa
- the couples are basically set by the end of the first novel; they are officially paired off and totally in love in a way that they weren’t until toward the end of the anime
- Chikaru’s machinations are a lot more apparent
- the Catholic trappings are much more obvious; this isn’t to say that the Catholicism matters at all, just that it goes past a lone Virgin Mary statue and singing in a Catholic cathedral like in the anime
There are also other differences, but these are the largest… well, and the most easily explained of the major differences. The other one I haven’t mentioned is that in the light novels, we have at least one actual lesbian, whereas in the show it is all either gay ’til graduation or characters whom we suspect are legitimately gay (not just situationally), but who are never confirmed as such. Unfortunately, she’s on the predatory end of the spectrum, which is too bad.
In addition to a confirmed lesbian, we also have a few other young ladies whom I suspect are actually gay, primarily Tamao and Chikaru, even if Tamao is likely fated to be married off by her family to a socially prominent and well-connected man, given that whole ‘School of Brides’ thing and her coming from an elite family. Part of my suspicion for these two has to do with the fact that we get more insight to many of the characters from their inner thoughts, which is a nice touch and helps flesh out a lot of folks who are less well-characterized in the show.
Of course, while fleshing out some of the characters helps, it also makes a few of the characters distinctly less attractive as people than their anime counterparts. I really liked seeing into Tamao’s head, but she also comes off as a lot creepier than in the anime and a lot more petty as well. Yaya’s creepiness is likewise much more significant – in the anime, while not all of her actions are acceptable, she is a fairly sympathetic character. In the first light novel, she isn’t likeable at all.
On the flip-side, Amane isn’t hideously boring any more, which is pretty awesome, even if Hikari is still pretty bland. Chiyo’s as moe-tastic as ever, blushing profusely and bumbling around, but her characterization goes a touch beyond that, as we see in her interactions with others, and it made me like her a lot more.
Despite my criticisms, I did find the first volume of the light novel stupidly entertaining. Its cheesey as hell, making for a good summertime read, and comes off as well-aware of how dumb its plot and setting are. I was pretty nervous when I flipped to the final page and saw that the author is the creator of Sister Princess, but she handles the story here decently enough; its hardly Shakespeare, but neither is it unreadable and snore-inducing.
One of things I’ve always loved about Strawberry Panic actually is the setting, by the way, in all its absurd glory. “So,” sayeth Strawberry Panic, “you like schoolgirl uniforms? Well, then, how about schoolgirl uniforms for THREE schools? In the same story?” Its this sort of approach that was taken here, with the standard tropes of yuri taken to ludicrous ends, like three Catholic girls’ schools where no men are allowed at all (not family members, nor school teachers, nor school administrators, nor groundskeepers, nor during festivals), many of the girls only leave campus at holidays, and there is a school-sanctioned contest for a couple to be crowned queen and princess, essentially, of the school. It is completely and aggressively unrealistic, and it doesn’t care; man, all those other yuri series out there? Please! They just don’t know how to live it up!
This is why a lot of us love this story. It is ridiculous, and it knows it is, relishing its over-the-top status. It is the sort of work where one feels as if the writer is having a really fun time writing it, which in turn serves to make the reader find the experience all the more enjoyable. It may also be why, even as it titillates legion male fans, it has garnered the love of many gay and bisexual woman as well (if the opinions of fellow gay and bisexual female bloggers, as well as the unfortunately defunct Fuck Yeah Strawberry Panic tumblr, are at all indicative).
Now, I will note that the art is a bit less than stellar here, although as a light novel it mercifully doesn’t feature as much as it obviously does in the manga. The artist isn’t particularly adept at drawing feet or hands, and there is a seeming hastiness to many of the illustrated pages, some of them seeming almost rushed in their end form. It isn’t hideous, and is certainly tolerable, but anyone hoping for some nice art is going to be sorely disappointed.
For Strawberry Panic fans, the first light novel is something I can wholeheartedly recommend, although some may be disappointed in the differences from the anime. However, even those who haven’t watched the anime, or are even not fans of the anime, may find enjoyment in reading this. Its a fairly quick read, and will likely satisfy yuri fans.
Please note: image above is the cover of the individual release of the first light novel; omnibus has different cover art.