StrongNerd is now Akito_Kinomoto but still likes yuri. Newcomers to the genre be warned: his experience with Shoujo-Ai series has made him critical as to what works and what does not. Take that as you will.
Review 1: Strawberry Panic!Edit
Strawberry Panic! is one of those anime that can be adequately enjoyable during the first round, but has very little life on a second watch. And despite the fact that it steadily becomes apparent that this show isn’t going to be anything good, it even falls short as a guilty pleasure from its odd distribution of effort in areas that end up completely at odds with each other. Fortunately, the sheer extravagance of the entire piece will do well to create entertainment via refuge in audacity, but that still doesn’t mitigate how ridiculous this entire show is.
First things first, though, and for a work whose main draw is going to be that of aesthetics, the polish on the artwork is either disappointing or non-existent. The backgrounds and character models are designed with a lot of flash, but the color palettes themselves are washed out to the point where it might have been better for the piece to be in black and white. The animation itself isn’t anything special, but it’s really not the fault of the studio as shows like these typically lends itself to corner cutting. However, seeing as how this series was produced by the esteemed Madhouse, it does leave a feeling of knowing that more could actually be done with the visuals, and so on this front the show is just passable.
The audio isn’t anything special either, as the BGM consists mainly of uninspired Victorian tunes. Their rhythm and such will change to match the mood of the scene, but it’s unremarkable to the point of being forgetful. But it doesn’t stop there, because what should have been a rather unnoticeable soundtrack ends up amplified by what it does for perhaps the biggest problems with the show that, ultimately, create the contradictions alluded to earlier.
The story itself ultimately serves as little more than a vehicle to start pairing one girl with another, as the Etoile Competition is nothing but a “yuri couple of the year” award. Of course, there have been more outlandish ways to get a narrative going, and here the mechanism that instigates this can be largely ignored since it’s the characters themselves that make the plot. The thing is, the entire cast is about as shallow as a puddle; every single bit of development someone gets is dedicated to either how they can support the other in their relationship, or what they’ll say about others in a relationship. It’s almost as if nobody has a life of their own and they live and breathe lesbian sex.
But fine. Clearly this anime never intended to make the girls themselves interesting so much as it was the pairings they would be in, and it’s actually quite easy to change expectations all things considered. Unfortunately, they still don’t deliver on this part, as there’s virtually no reason to want to route for anyone, winning the competition or otherwise, and the couples that -are- established suffer from such a severe lack of chemistry in regards to the appeals of the type of relationship they’re playing. The only silver lining is the sheer volume of lasses available, thus, in theory, creating a very large pool of shipping potential or girl-on-girl fanservice. However, even in terms of sexual titillation, the yuri content solidifies itself only after the first 13 episodes. No, that isn’t a mistyping: this series doesn’t even use fanservice to hide its general lack of effort for roughly half of its run, and worse still the technical traits end up bringing down this series much more than it should.
To elaborate, not only does the story treat itself very seriously, but the music does too. What should have otherwise been a rather forgettable track becomes noticeable for all of the wrong reasons because it gives the show a very dramatic feel, which can’t be taken seriously because the cast sole redeeming quality is fanservice. The other problem is that said fanservice doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, the unimpressive visuals damper what would have otherwise been the only saving grace of this anime. It’s one thing for a series to be weak all around; it’s another for those lackluster characteristics to actually work against one another in such a fantastic manner that it fails to please any kind of audience.
Overall, Strawberry Panic! is one of those series that you should probably avoid watching at all costs. Keep in mind that if you do decide to watch it that everything it has is essentially done better by almost every single other Girls’ Love work out there, anime or otherwise, to the point where one must question why this show was made in the first place. If you’re looking for a good romance story, stay away. If you’re looking for heartfelt characters and couples, stay away. If you’re even looking for fanservice, I repeat: stay. Away. It has -some- potential to be enjoyable simply from how ludicrous the entire thing is, but it’s a one-hit wonder at best that’s better left alone after it’s done. On a slightly related note, the strawberry is something of a motif among yuri artists; they must have been in a panic after what this show did to its entire genre’s reputation.