It's not my intention to pick up two shitty titles in a row, because no, I don't enjoy reading them just to provide a scathing write-up. Now, I enjoy reading scathing write-ups, but who doesn't? That's like half the reason I read reviews at all. Excuse: I saw the name being thrown around on AnineNewsNetwork, okay, and they hardly mention yuri at all. Jason Thompson and yaoi on the other hand...
Author: Sakurano Kimino
Artist: Namuchi Takami
Strawberry Panic! comes with an elephant-sized warning sign, because hey, strawberry and exclamation mark in the same vicinity. Manga reading tip #1: unless you are that way inclined, by which I mean of the porn persuasion, never pick up anything thing with strawberry in the title.
Manga reading tip #2: novel adaptations should by and large be avoided. Did I wiki Strawberry Panic! before diving into the manga, no, because I was still naive then, all of three hours ago. Which is to say, by the way, I am "pirating" this manga online even though Seven Seas has made it available to English speaking audience. Now, I put the quotes around pirating because I consider the practice an extended preview, and sure, if I like the manga I go out of my way to buy it, if I don't it's just like putting the volume back in the bookshelf without, you know, the trip to the bookstore or the loosening of the book bind.
Anyway, I should mention, Strawberry Panic! was adapted from a successful short story series, with its own complex cliche-ridden insular universe, and in true adaptation style, we're dropped right into it. This highlights the fact that most adaptation materials from Japan are made with only their built in audience in mind, thus they suffer from readers' lack of familiarity with the canon, i.e., the WTF factor is very very high. Strawberry Panic! is no exception, though the fact that it makes sense while setting a very fast, albeit exposition heavy, pace, should be applauded.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: free-spirited Nagisa transfers to St. Miator's Girls' Academy, an all-girl private boarding school. She meets enigmatic, popular upperclassman Shizuma who takes a sudden interest in the new student, which action causes jealousy from both her admirers and others, who too, vie for Nagisa's affection within five minutes of meeting her. Shizuma plans to compete in the Etoile tournament, in which four schools are participants, with Nagisa, because the premise really can't be completed without borrowing tropes from shounen manga too.
Thus a mishmash of tropes which is quite ingenious in the original marketing scheme for the game spin-off and surprisingly effortless to navigate through, but nonetheless hopelessly uninspired. I realize this may put me on a watch list, okay, but merely putting pubescent girls in the all-girl school context doesn't automatically make the story tantalizing, you have to put in the effort to establish the bubble-wrap perfect separation from the outside world, the disquieting hierarchy, and so on. Instead the manga ruthlessly, perfunctorily zips through cliches one by one, and I'm certain that yawning wasn't the response that the forcibly kissing scene was supposed to elicit. Which, try harder, it's doing nothing for me.
Characters are similarly one-note. I'm no psychiatrist, but I could read their history from the moment they appear on the page. The confident and attractive mature one, the yandere, the tsundere, the stern glasses-wearing one, and so on. They say personality types, I say dumb lead with whom I'm suppose to identify and objectified women in uniforms. This is ecchi in disguise, guys.
To be honest, did I expect masterpiece, no, but I expected compelling storytelling with a side of girl-on-girl action (I said it). This is the trouble with fanservice titles, because there is such a thing as being discerning. Hell, from its inception yaoi has had such titles as The Heart of Thomas (pick it up guys!), and yuri such as Revolutionary Girl Utena, so no, that's not an excuse.
Adding insult to injury, Strawberry Panic! is unfinished. The manga adaptation has been suspended for ungooglable reasons and is unlikely to ever be completed in its original language, much less our English version. By the way, the artwork is middle-of-the-road lazy, as in plenty of tones and background that after visiting a Japanese stationary I know for a fact is tone too. Characters have varying boob sizes and stiff hair, but otherwise thankfully remain somewhat proportionate. Which is by no means a compliment.
In a nutshell? Do not read it, do not read it , do not read it, I don't care how your curiosity begs.