Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 14th 2008
Sub.DVD 2 - Second Star
Though Amane has little interest in becoming the next Étoile, she is considered such a viable candidate that other girls still scheme to discredit her, and they decide to strike at her budding relationship with Hikari. Later, musings over the romantic implications of sharing an umbrella, and a quest to locate the owner of an umbrella lent to the childlike Kagome, cause many characters to contemplate their use during a series of rainy days. A later investigation into the “seven wonders” of Strawberry Hall leads Nagisa and Tamao on a pursuit of the truth behind one particular supposed ghost. Following that up are summer exams, which Nagisa must feverishly work to pass in order to be eligible for the “summer school” program at the beach, an endeavor where Étoile is happy to offer her tutelage and which causes her to contemplate the nature of her relationship with Nagisa.
Episodes 7-11 of Strawberry Panic! are unlikely to change whatever initial impression a viewer might have gotten about the series from its first six episodes. It offers more cute costumes, oodles of cute/pretty girls doing cute/pretty things, various hints of romance, and the occasional laugh, although calling this series a romantic comedy overestimates the amount of intended humor involved. It also fails to materialize much real plot, does little to additionally develop established characters, and only incrementally advances relationships that started to bud in the first volume. Really, this content exists only to appeal to otaku who can get excited about moe content and romantic situations involving girls swooning over other girls, as at this point the series offers little else.
An appreciation that girl-girl relationships have inherent entertainment value is absolutely required for this part of the series to be entertaining. Astrea Hill could justifiably be called a steadfast bastion of lesbianism, as the environment established not only totally lacks male characters, but also totally lacks any mention of male characters or sense that they even exist. Events and relationships progress as if a girl falling romantically in love with other girls is the most natural and ordinary of occurrences; indeed, Nagisa is the only girl who seems even mildly perturbed by being attracted to, or attracting the attention of, another girl. (This makes an interesting contrast to the decidedly Christian religious overtones of the setting, since devout Christianity generally takes a very dim view of homosexuality.) One episode even has a scene which borders on attempted rape by one girl against another, and girl-girl sex scenes are strongly implied (but not shown) more than once through this span. This exclusivity of focus gives Strawberry Panic! a much more extreme approach to yuri content than any other prominent yuri title released in the States to date, as Kashimashi dealt with characters trying to figure out if gender mattered with love and Simoun mixes eventual gender changes into the context of its relationships.
Not a whole lot progresses in the story content, either. Episode 7 returns to focus on the princely Amane and her damsel Hikari and at least tries to build some tension by throwing in intrigue surrounding the election of the next Étoile, but that ultimately just sets up an excuse for a classic romantic rescue. The advancement of Amane and Hikari's relationship does resonate through the episodes that follow, however. Episode 8 splits its time between musings over umbrellas and their romantic implications and the introduction of the very childlike Kagome and episode 9 is the requisite ghost story. With episodes 10 and 11 the focus finally shifts back to the key relationship of Nagisa and Étoile, although it also manages to work in a beach episode for good measure. As Nagisa gets more comfortable around her senpai, Étoile realizes that she may be starting to regard Nagisa as something more than just a toy, but that's as far as they get by the end of the volume. These episodes do offer a few other highlight moments, such as the truth behind the ghost story and a neat umbrella/hydrangea juxtaposition, but the series has yet to get consistently involving or compelling.
As the series runs out of new girls to introduce, it turns to the other classic trick for visual variation in anime: new outfits! Yes, the changing of the season gives the series an excuse to shift to dramatically different summer uniforms for the Miator and Spica girls, though whether or not they actually look any better is highly debatable. Fan service comes in the form of plenty of cute girls in swimsuits, but beyond that and the costume change these episodes offer little to get excited about visually. The artwork is pleasant and gentle without being especially sharp, and the animation issues, while not as glaring as those in the first volume, remain; the series continues to overuse still shots and keep any type of sustained movement to a minimum, and does not look terribly impressive when it does show movement.
The musical score, contrarily, maintains the gentle, steady, ear-pleasing piano and sting melodies which worked so well in the first volume. Even in the few tense moments the series never hypes up too much, instead preferring a more relaxed and even sound that complements the equivalent tone of the writing. The strong opening and closing themes remain. Japanese-only voice work turns in an acceptable effort.
Reducing down to five episodes apparently did not inspire Anime Works to include any extras beyond trailers this time.
The girl-on-girl lovefest continues with a generally unexciting set of episodes that manages some good moments but mostly sustains itself on its cute factor and the appeal of its yuri relationships. While not exactly fluff, the content isn't far removed from it.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Solid musical score, delivers a lot for fans of yuri content to like.
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