Strawberry Panic – 26 (END)
The night before the Étoile selection, Nagisa is thinking about what would happen if morning never came and no one won or lost at becoming Étoile. At the same time, Miyuki is thinking about what expression will be on her face when someone becomes Étoile tomorrow and remembering long ago when Shizuma won. Early the next day, Chikaru, Kizuna, Remon, and Kagome are waiting in the snow outside the auditorium, first in line for their seats. Chikaru doesn’t actually need one since she’s a student council president, so she offers it to Kagome’s Percival. The girls are meanwhile all getting ready for the big day. As Yaya is tying Hikari’s hair up with a blue ribbon that represents Spica, she claims that Hikari is like an angel and urges her to do her best. Hikari goes when Amane comes to pick her up, leaving Yaya alone in their room. Over at Nagisa’s room, Tamao has tied the red ribbon into Nagisa’s hair. After Tsubomi and Chiyo see off the girls, Chiyo goes to prepare for tonight. Tsubomi is surprised that they would have a tea party after the Étoile selection, but Chiyo says that they should relax after a hard day just like always and she believes that they’ll all still be friends after this. Tsubomi ends up staying with Yaya instead of going to the auditorium.
When the Étoile selection begins, Amane and Hikari are the first on-stage. As the crowd cheers for the Spica pair, Tamao asks Nagisa backstage if she’s ok. Nagisa claims to be fine, but Tamao takes her hand anyway and asks Nagisa to look at her. The crowd cheers equally loud for the Miator pair as they did for Amane and Hikari, and then Shizuma goes up to hand a bouquet to both sides. Shizuma gets caught up in Nagisa’s stare, but Tamao interrupts her and gives her a determined look. Clenching Nagisa’s hand tighter, Tamao says that they’ll do their best for Miator’s sake. After another look at Nagisa, Shizuma leaves the stage and the auditorium. Still on stage, Amane lifts Hikari up and vows to protect her, an act which drives the crowd wild. Shizuma meanwhile heads to the greenhouse where she becomes flooded with memories she’s shared there with Nagisa. After the opening ceremony, the girls head to the dance hall where the two couples perform for everyone else. As she’s dancing, Nagisa remembers the one practice run she had with Shizuma, something which Miyuki is also reminded of.
By the time the dance is over, the votes have been cast, and all the girls head are in cathedral to hear the results, Shizuma has gone all around the school to places where she shares memories with Nagisa, including the piano and the tree in the forest. She starts running towards the cathedral and bursts in just as the results are about to be announced. Everyone is surprised to see Shizuma, who immediately calls out to Nagisa. She walks up the aisle and announces up front that she loves Nagisa. Nagisa is unsure of what to do until Tamao pulls her back for one last hug, saying that it can’t be helped. Tamao tells Nagisa itterasshai, and then pulls the ribbon out of Nagisa’s hair while pushing her away. With Tamao’s blessing, Nagisa runs into Shizuma’s arms and the two leave the cathedral after Shizuma briefly looks and smiles at Miyuki. Chikaru and Shion are surprised by Shizuma’s behavior, but Miyuki explains that that is Shizuma. Left alone, Tamao quietly says “Congratulations, Nagisa-chan, congratulations.”
Shizuma and Nagisa run until they get to the lake and Nagisa is out of breath. She wonders what they’re going to do from now on, but Shizuma blushes because she hadn’t thought ahead. But for the time being, Shizuma suggests that they run a little more. Back in the cathedral, Amane and Hikari are announced to be the winners of the Étoile selection. The two are presented with the Étoile necklaces, and Shion puts the red one on Hikari. Singing with Tsubomi and the rest of the choir, Yaya winks at Hikari, causing her to smile. Shizuma and Nagisa meanwhile make necklaces for each other out of flowers and give them to each other. With their arms around each other, the two girls kiss and fall onto the grass. In the aftermath, Amane and Hikari take care of the greenhouse, Yaya teases Tsubomi in the choir, Chiyo slips and falls while cleaning, Tamao keeps Nagisa back when they’re near Shizuma, and Chikaru and the other Lulim girls in the tea drinking club have a costume party. But back on that night after the Étoile selection, Nagisa and Tamao had been leaning on opposite sides of the door to their room until Tamao had said, “Welcome home, Nagisa-chan.”
Well, as previously predicted (even though I had a few doubts coming into this episode), Shizuma ended up with Nagisa while Amane and Hikari became the Étoiles. There really weren’t any huge surprises unless you count Shizuma bursting into the cathedral like she’s breaking up a wedding. Actually, I really enjoyed watching that sequence, partially because it finally concluded all of the relationships and partially because I thought they executed it rather well, especially with the music and the slow version of the first OP. Heck, by now I’ve watched the final seven minutes about ten straight times now.
The only problem is that it makes me feel REALLY bad for Tamao, who was almost literally left at the altar once Shizuma took her love. What ended up being one of my favorite parts of the episode was how Tamao sent Nagisa off with the itterasshai and then welcomed her back with the okaerinasai at the end. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but I thought it was a nice way to show how much Tamao really cares about Nagisa. I would say that it’s a shame that there wasn’t a Canvas2-style surprise with Tamao, but I think it’s probably better this way. After building up to this for so long, Nagisa and Shizuma finally get their happy ending, however short or long-lived it may be.
Final Thoughts: Remembering back half a year, I seem to recall this past spring season having quite a bit of yuri, anchored by this show and Simoun. At first, I blogged this series because it was one of those niche shows that was easy to write about. I didn’t think that the story got good until around halfway through the series, and it was a little after that (the vacation home episode) that the popularity for this show just exploded. Ultimately, Strawberry Panic isn’t the best show in the world nor is it the most unique (some of you may recall a similar series called Maria-sama ga Miteru), but it certainly pushed the envelope as far as yuri goes without an R-15 rating, and it managed to be quite entertaining once the story got going. As my friend Mentar would tell me, this is another example of a show that didn’t start off the best, but matured quite well. And as much as I hate to admit it, this finale did leave me wanting to see more.
Incidentally, the next anime airing on tvk in roughly this time slot (not quite the same) is going to be Pumpkin Scissors. See my Fall 2006 Anime Preview for more information.