Why am I taken with it?
Strawberry Panic deliberately engages emotion. By inviting the viewer’s investment in the narrative, but delaying the romantic resolution until the conclusion, the series intensifies the viewer’s experience of romantic longing. Sometimes this effect seems contrived, eg. Amane’s memory loss. But since the anime ends when the romances are resolved, this simultaneous advance and delay is the essence of the comic narrative.
Strawberry Panic recreates the world on a model of social connection and feeling. By displacing men, economics, adults, even academics from its circuit, the anime allows the characters’ relationships to become the substance of the world the characters inhabit.
This displacement does not amount to an idealization of actuality. The excluded elements return in other forms: there are no men, but Amane is a Prince; there is immense competition in love and of course for the Etoile election; the children take on the role of adults; and the social reality and values are taken from Japanese elementary and high school life, familiar from many other anime shows. Also the characters are conscious of the external world, and of the transistory nature of their lives at school.
Strawberry Panic’s sophistication within its social sphere is profound and complex. Hikari’s explanation to Yaya as to why she should still sing even though she will not find her love reciprocated and Tamao’s reproof to Nagisa for thinking she should never have come to Miator approximate an adult understanding of tragic life. While the anime is a comedy, moving toward the resolutions of marriage and social unity, the anime is also perfectly aware of the tragic element of romance, that love is also thwarted, and that life must be lived in the aftermath of disappointment. Also there is social evil: some of the characters are selfish and cruel and sexually predatory. Even Shizuma at times is predatory and plays with others’ emotions. In its own declared arena, the anime is hardly idealized.
In Strawberry Panic, the social world is mediated by aesthetics. Nagisa and Shizuma conduct their relationship through art, whether by playing the piano together or gardening in the greenhouse together, or by dancing together during the preparations for the Etoile election. Song is decisive in restoring Amane’s memory and with it her relationship with Hikari. Beyond these individual instances, the school as a whole is expressed through art, as in the house costumes, an aestheticized Catholicism of prayer, song, stained glass and pietistic statuary, and the pastoral world which is the school’s physical setting. These aesthetic elements add to the intensification of feeling, and beautify the relationships, and make them more appealing, objects of a refined longing.
The characters’ passion for each other rises to a wonderful selflessness, to a purity of feeling which is an expression of their intrinsic selves, and so amounts to a desire which transcends desire. Thus Hikari is devoted to the nobility she perceives in Amane, and Amane responds to the perfect devotion she perceives in Hikaru. In Strawberry Panic, love enobles the lovers. In the case of Shizuma and Nagisa, the two love each other as an expression of wildness of being and freedom of self, such that both are most themselves with each other. Where they are not free, their relationship falters, as when Shizuma is overcome by memories of her former lover or accepts Miyuki’s advice to set aside her feelings for Nagisa, or when Nagisa feels rejected and separated from Shizuma, and enters into a severe depression.
Lastly, Strawberry Panic displays remarkable sophistication in literary, formal and visual technique. The anime creates its own vocabulary of symbols–the flowers, Tamao’s red ribbon, Amane’s scarf, the moonlight–which recur across the narrative to create connections between events and complex shadings of meanings. Characters and plot elements parallel each other: Shizuma and Nagisa against Amane and Hikari as Etoile pairs; Nagisa and Kaori as Shizuma’s lovers; Tamao, Miyuki, and Yaya as the girls left out in lovers’ triangles. The use of music to intensify mood, passion, or memory; the appeal to the iconography of the seasons as a correlative of the plot developments; and the complexity and the intense beauty of the visual imagery and animation, all speak to to a technical mastery on the animators’ part that makes possible, and is the proof of, Strawberry Panic’s achievement as a fully realized work of art.
In summary, ss regards to what the anime brings to the viewer, I find compelling the combination of formal comedy, sophistication of social understanding, the aesthetic atmosphere, the selflessness of the romantic feeling, and technical craft.