Strawberry Panic, story by Sakurako Kimino, Art by Takuminamuchi, translated by Anastasia Moreno, Yayoi Ihne, and Jason DeAngelis
You might think that nothing deep and intriguing could be learned from the pages of a manga novel. You would be wrong to think that, however. Strawberry Panic (I like the title because I was raised in the winter strawberry capital of the world ) is a manga novel that has a lot to say about the way in which Japanese and Westerners both think about Catholic schoolgirls, and about the attractiveness of innocent young women to older and considerably more corrupt “men.” (I use that term loosely, but not entirely unjustly.)
One of the more interesting aspects of Japanese manga is that it is read right-to-left, like Hebrew and Arabic, rather than left-to-write as English and other Into-European languages are generally written in. More interesting (aside from the fact that this volume seems far from “complete,” given that it stops in the middle of the second competition of three in a series that could go along more or less indefinitely, is the fact that this novel is Japanese but shows an understanding of Catholic schoolgirls that most Westerners would probably understand and agree with. Lest we criticize the picture of girls at an all-girls school in a former convent (!) as unreasonable, it is not far at all from the portrayal of Catholic schoolgirls in Britney Spears videos (Hit Me Baby One More Time) or movies (like Election).
Indeed, despite the fairly superficial approach of the story, there are a lot of moving parts here–some serious issues with homosocial education systems, the drama and egotism and sense of privilege of boarding school kids (a common staple of literature and movies well beloved, such as Dead Poet’s Society, A Separate Peace, and The Emperor’s Club), the experience of being the new kid who doesn’t fit in way outside of one’s own social class, infatuation at first sight, the struggle to regain lost innocence and love, and the sort of insular perspective one gets when one is cloistered off from the world and only has one’s own internal politics to pay attention to. There are a lot of ironic comments a book like this makes on many issues that people might be wise to pay attention to, despite the fact that the work is quite frankly repellent in certain aspects.
At the very least, the book does provide a look into the Japanese worldview and culture, a subject of considerable interest to me  . It does so in a way that is very attractive to a large population of readers, despite the near total absence of men (absent from a few leering men in a train car) from this novel (which focuses nearly entirely on the private school life of privileged, pampered, and not terribly moralistic young women who look far more European than Japanese). This novel, in fact, appears to be about how Western ways and Western young women are viewed in Japanese eyes, and whether the corruption the West (especially Catholicism) is supposed to bring is celebrated or criticized, I can’t say I like the picture it paints. Nonetheless, one ought to know how one’s culture is seen in other parts of the world, even if one does not like it.