~written by Sakurako Kimino
~illustrated by Namuchi Takumi
~translated by Michelle Kobayashi and Anastasia Moreno
Strawberry Panic: The Complete Novel Collection, written by Sakurako Kimino with illustrations by Namuchi Takumi, is one of the many incarnations of the Strawberry Panic yuri universe. Strawberry Panic began as a series of illustrated short stories before being expanded into manga, light novels, anime, visual novels, and more. My introduction to the franchise was through the manga adaptation which, even though it began serialization in Japan before the light novels, was never completed. The light novel omnibus released by Seven Seas in 2011 is the first time that all three Strawberry Panic novels were made available in English. Previously Seven Seas had published the first two novels as individual volumes in 2008, but until the omnibus was released the third volume hadn't been translated. Michelle Kobayashi served as the translator for the first Strawberry Panic light novel while Anastasia Moreno translated both the second and third volumes. In Japan, all three volumes of the Strawberry Panic light novel series were initially published in 2006.
Aoi Nagisa recently transferred into the fourth year class of St. Miator Girls' Academy, a prestigious all-girls school known for its high academic standards and refined students from distinguished families. Soon after Nagisa arrives at St. Miator, she is swept off her feet by the idol of the campus, Hanazono Shizuma, and into the Étoile competition, the premiere event held between the sister schools on Astraea Hill: St. Miator, St. Spica, and St. Lulim. The couple who wins the Étoile competition becomes a symbol for the three schools--the living embodiment of sisterly love and a model to be followed by the other students. But Shizuma has already competed in and won the Étoile. Competing two years in a row, especially with a different partner, is unheard of. The event is thrown into even more turmoil when St. Spica's "Prince" Otori Amane, who was expected to win, disregards the other Spica students' wishes and declares that Konohana Hikari, another transfer student, will enter the Étoile with her instead of the candidate who had already been selected for her.
Make no mistake about it, Strawberry Panic is complete and utter fantasy. In fact, a large part of the series' charm is that it is so incredibly unbelievable. If you are looking for realism, you are looking in the wrong place with Strawberry Panic. Nobody really talks the way the young women on Astraea Hill speak, expressing themselves and their feelings through overwrought dialogue and intense earnestness. Even the narrative is filled with images of bright, angelic light and showers of flower blossoms. Strawberry Panic is marvelously melodramatic and over the top. There is a huge emphasis placed on the purity of the girls in Strawberry Panic while at the same time large portions of the plot rely on them becoming intimate and falling in love with one another. Despite appearances, only one character in the entire series is ever declared to be a "genuine lesbian." (And yes, the quotation marks are also included in the novel.) There is no question at all that Strawberry Panic panders to its audience. A few of the sexualized encounters even come across as a little creepy.
Although two translators were involved with the English edition of the Strawberry Panic light novels, their styles are similar enough that the change isn't too jarring. One thing that I wish the omnibus had included but didn't is a full table of contents. Instead of listing the individual chapters, the contents page only notes the start page of each of the three books. If the prose in Strawberry Panic is stunningly absurd (and it most definitely is) the chapter titles are even more so. They may not always make a whole lot of sense, but they're fantastically ludicrous; I would have liked to have seen them all together in one place. As unrealistic as Strawberry Panic is, parts of the story are supposedly based on the author's own experiences attending an all-girls school. (Exactly which parts are never revealed, though.) Strawberry Panic is utterly ridiculous and yet highly entertaining. I'll have to admit, I enjoyed reading through the series a great deal.