~A guest review by Frog-kun~
This is a review for the Strawberry Panic! light novel series, written by Sakurako Kimino. The series consists of three volumes, which were first published by Dengeki Bunko in 2006. Seven Seas released an English translation of the series in omnibus format in 2011. The first volume was translated by Michelle Kobayashi, while the latter two volumes were translated by Anastasia Moreno. The series is currently complete in both English and Japanese.
It may be hard to imagine given its relative obscurity these days, but Strawberry Panic! was the anime series that introduced the yuri genre to the West. It was one of the debut yuri titles for Seven Seas, and evidently the genre has proved popular enough for the company to continue publishing yuri manga to this day. Unfortunately, Strawberry Panic! remains the only yuri light novel series to receive an official English translation. It’s also far from the best of what this genre has to offer, although it may still be worth your time if you’re a fan of cute romances and high school melodrama.
The story of Strawberry Panic! is, to put it bluntly, a storm of genre clichés. Set in a Catholic all-girls school? Check—there’s even three of them! Girl pines over her best friend who will never love her back? There are at least four girls who do this. Girl hopes senpai notices her? That applies to pretty much every pairing in the story.
Most of it is harmless and entertaining fluff, but do be warned that the novels feature some of the more problematic lesbian stereotypes. It’s made explicit in the narrative that this is yuri of the “Class S” variety—many of the girls engage in lesbian relationships as performance and will “outgrow” it when they leave school. One character, who is referred to as the school’s “only true lesbian”, hates men because of a trauma she suffered in her youth.
Perhaps the most damning thing one could say about the lesbian romances in these novels, however, is that they simply aren’t very interesting. Strawberry Panic! is an ensemble story, so it covers a lot of different pairings, but sadly none of the couples are well-developed. The characters spend each volume retreading the same emotional ground, often repeating identical-sounding lines. Readers looking for a satisfying lesbian romance would be best served elsewhere.
Strawberry Panic! does work as an entertaining soap opera, though. The plot revolves around a competition between three ultra-prestigious all-girls schools to decide the best couple, and the novels work best when all these ridiculously wealthy girls use their cunning and resources to outdo each other, all the while maintaining a friendly spirit of competition. The story starts off slow at first, but over the course of its three-volume narrative, there are a number of twists and turns that will keep readers on their toes.
The translation is straightforward and readable, although there a few things worth pointing out for those who aren’t familiar with the original Japanese. Firstly, the translators make the unusual decision (for light novels) to retain the Japanese honorific suffixes and include translation notes. This is all for the sake of ensuring “maximum authenticity”, as the foreword puts it. This does make the “older sister/younger sister” dynamics more explicit for English readers, but it may be awkward to read things like “Shizuma-oneesama” in an English novel, even for those who are used to honorifics in their manga and light novels.
I’d also like to note that the translation’s handling of the prose and dialogue ends up feeling somewhat disappointing, despite the claim for authenticity. The original Japanese is a lot more flowery and prone to purple prose, and while I appreciate how the translation simplifies the writing for the sake of readability, it does end up feeling a little plain. I was also disappointed that the overly affected “rich girl” speech patterns are abandoned in translation, except for a few occasions where a characters says “Golly!” In English, these supposedly well-bred girls are prone to saying things like “hell” and “nice pair” (in reference to breasts), and it simply doesn’t match up with how they’re described in the prose.
All in all, however, I thought that Seven Seas put out a great release with this series. The omnibus edition, which you can still buy cheaply from Amazon and other online retailers, contains all three volumes of the series. It’s a great buy for English light novel collectors, especially considering how so few light novel series have been completely translated into English at this point. My only complaint is that the original color pages from the novels are printed in black-and-white, but c’est la vie.
Strawberry Panic! may struggle with some mishaps along the way, but it’s still an interesting and quirky little series that is worth checking out if you’re into yuri and melodrama. It might not have been my cup of tea, but I’m glad this series was translated into English. Let’s hope that more yuri light novels find their way into the English book market!
Frog-kun’s rating: Maybe Recommended