Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Strawberry Panic Review

Strawberry Panic Review
or girls maccin' on girls maccin' on girls

Let me start by saying this: “If you are a fan of series about girls maccin' on girls because there are girls maccin' on girls in them, you will almost undoubtedly love Strawberry Panic.” However, if the presence of girls making doe eyes at each other and blushing constantly does not sound like the primary component of a good series, or the only necessary ones, then you might want to think twice about viewing this particular shoujo ai series. Strawberry Panic does have its share of positive traits, albeit a very small share, but it's main draw is simply that it features pretty anime girls making googly eyes—and other significantly less tame things—at each other for 26 episodes.

Strawberry Panic is full of beautiful stills in smooth, pastel colors. The backdrops are wonderfully rendered and the character art is equally impressive. The trouble begins when those characters begin to move and interact with each other. As a series of loosely animated still images Strawberry Panic fares pretty well, and it usually manages to stick to its guns. However, the series does make a number of ill-advised decisions to break from its formula, when it should have simply polished up what it did have, instead of allowing some of the most important aspects of the series to atrophy in a disappointing display of what happens when good animators—or at the very least good artists—decide to get lazy. In a show so focused around drama and interaction between characters, the lack of expressive facial animations and the extensive shortcuts taken with reactions is mysterious, and, frankly, inexcusable. The tennis match late in the series also was a foolish animation decision, along with being a ridiculous and nearly worthless event on all sides, likely costing significant amount of money and not delivering even a remotely positive effect. In fact, it stands as one of the worst animated sports sequences I have seen in my entire time watching anime.

Also questionable is Strawberry Panic's reliance on an interesting all-or-nothing sort of fanservice, which features very few low angle shots or panty shots in general, instead inundating the viewer with essentially still images of two girls—usually in advanced stages of undress—entwined, accompanied by either slow camera zooms and pans or the constant gasping and cooing of the two girls anime fans are likely to know only too well. A lot of people are into that sort of thing, but it serves no purpose in the series. It does not enhance the romantic elements in any way, and because the fact that the entire school is comprised mostly of lesbians is taken for granted, it has no bearing on themes of sexuality it might otherwise have. If you're into that sort of thing:great, but if that does nothing or even little for you then you aren't very likely to enjoy most of the Strawberry Panic experience, as the entire series hinges on these exchanges to some degree.

As far as audio is concerned, Strawberry Panic is an unimpressive, but ultimately positive, experience. Though the classical score speaks nothing of any ingenuity of any sort, it does nothing to take away from the series and is tolerable at establishing the mood. During the googly-eyed make-out sequences, though, the absence of much noise aside from the dull soundtrack is supremely noticeable, especially when they don't even bother to throw in some sighs and gasps. Variety would have served the soundtrack very well as well, as the same tracks are repeated time and time again. This is fairly common in anime, but it is more noticeable in Strawberry Panic because of the frequency of periods where the music is the only noise.

The voice-acting is similarly vanilla. Most of the cast performs passably, but there aren't any real standouts, and the overall product is mediocre, at best, when it comes to the voice-acting. It isn't likely to stand out as especially bad, but neither will it remain in your mind as a paragon of any kind. I will say, though, that the actors perform admirably in many of the spots towards the end of the show, somehow lessening the idiotic melodrama of the latter events of the series. Much of the mediocrity of the voice-acting is also likely, in part, due to poor writing, which is most certainly present in full force.

This brings me to the plot, which begins normally and pleasantly enough, but which quickly transforms into a monster of a melodramatic mess. Splitting across multiple storylines like a soap opera on crack—with delightfully fewer pregnancies and deaths—Strawberry Panic tries to cram as much drama into as few episodes as possible at every turn, only to suddenly retreat back into a feel good slice of life vibe that carries it to the next dramatic event. These events are sometimes tame events blown horribly out of proportion and sometimes massively ridiculous affairs that actually come off as humorous. By the end of the series it feels as if they were simply proving to the world that they weren't done throwing drama into this sucker. I am still amazed how a series with such a languid pace overall can feel so rushed at the end. Final episodes in anime tend to be jam-packed, but the entirety of the last six or seven episodes is like a triathlon of bullshit. I kept waiting for it to pull back into safe territory, but Strawberry Panic was content to plunge headfirst into mediocrity and keep digging for the very bottom. It didn't quite reach, but it was one hell of an effort.

All in all, Strawberry Panic is a series targeted at a very specific audience, to the detriment of any who watch who does not count themselves as a strong proponent of moe, not as a device but simply for the sake of itself. The series was built around moe, all aspects pointing centrally to accentuate it. The problem is, unlike some moe series which have other things to offer those less interested, Strawberry Panic has very little beyond the moe. The character design and art are good enough, so if moe is something you're really into, Strawberry Panic might very well be a good pick. All others, though, should stay away, as this series was not designed with the general viewer in mind.

Final Score: 3/10


Mr. Blithe said...

One of my students tried to explain the concept of moe to me as part of a larger conversation about why she was dressed up in a maid costume and wearing cat ears at the school festival. Her English was not really up to the task, so eventually she just said "Let's arm wrestle."

I wasn't sure if I was supposed to win or to lose in this instance. Eventually I opted to lose, although it might not have mattered either way; this chick is tough. I think it would be interesting to have you do an article on moe, because I am still sort of confused by it.

Omoikevin said...

Will do. I'll have it up within a week.