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"Strawberry Marshmallow Vol. 1": Put it in the Fire

by on July 12, 2006
 

I really restrained myself. I was going to title this review: “Strawberry Marshmallow: A Cure For Insomnia.” It’s been done to death, but it’s another way (albeit very clichéd) to describe something that is just plain boring.

Where did our plot go?Strawberry Marshmallow is about four middle school girls: Miu, the crazy one, Matsuri, the shy glasses wearer, Chika, the normal one, and Ana, the foreigner. That’s it. In a way, the total lack of a real “plot” is paralleled in a far better show, Azumanga Daioh. Now imagine Azumanga Daioh, but without the quirky character traits, the loopy background music, or the refreshing way that episodes are split up into separate vignettes, and you have Strawberry Marshmallow. It’s a show bold in its ultra laid-back pace and almost complete lack of BGM. It’s almost like it was trying to win an award for “Slowest Anime” (and it would win—at least in the comedy category).

This initial volume contains four episodes. The first deals with the trio of Miu, Matsuri, and Chika making an ashtray for one of the girls’ older sister, Nobue. Because the girls start this during the evening, they start to drift asleep, but make a vow to knock anyone who falls asleep on the head with a fan. In episode two, we meet Ana, the English exchange student, who knows Japanese (but doesn’t want anyone to know that). In episode three, the trio and Nobue go to Ana’s house and look at her stuff. Finally, episode four deals with the gang surprising Nobue at her new waitress job.

Of those, the fourth is probably the strongest, since Miu keeps scoring the rest free sundaes by causing Nobue to have outbursts from her unreasonable customer demands. A runner up would be episode two because the concept of a foreigner who fakes that they don’t know Japanese is an interesting one that makes for some close-calls where Ana almost starts speaking the native language and then catches herself. I did like the scene at lunch where she purposefully uses chopsticks like an amateur, complete with dropping a meatball on the floor.

I'm even cute when being chased by a dog!Otherwise, I was thoroughly uninvolved in the humor of the show. Every joke is delivered in such a listless fashion that any comic timing from the punch lines is lost every time. The repeated sight gag of Miu laying face-down on the floor (assumedly a result of either being slapped by her friends for saying or doing something stupid) falls, appropriately enough, flat on its face because it’s delivered so slowly and without any punch. Like I said earlier, the characters lack anything to make them interesting, which is the exact opposite of the Azumanga Daioh cast. Miu is too normal to be wacky, Matsuri’s shyness only kicks in on specific occasions, and Chika is just… there. Mostly, they look cute and that’s about it.

Animation is disappointingly simple. You’d think with such rounded designs, as opposed to the more common, jagged designs of anime, combined with the major lack of detail in the character designs, that the show would lend itself to more inbetweens and zaniness. Sadly, this is not the case. Aside from some tiny patches of higher quality animation, it’s the same quality you’d see on your average TV anime.

The dub is serviceable, as all the middle school characters sound their age, and not like someone in their 20s or 30s. Two problems though: the second episode, which revolves around Ana, suffers in the dub because, obviously, everyone is speaking English. This isn’t fair to blame on the dub studio, but it’s an unavoidable awkwardness nonetheless. The other main problem is that pretty much every sentence is spoken so slowly. After a few minutes, you’d wish they’d just pick up the pace. Not the salsa either.

The extras for Volume 1 are a mixed bag. On the one hand, the DVD comes with the bare minimum of extras that permeates most every Geneon release. We get a clean opening animation, a three minute “Episode 0”, and some trailers. On the other hand, Volume 1 comes with a pencil board and reversible cover, which are always nice.

A good gauge for a show’s quality is whether or not you would change the channel if you were watching it on television and it failed to entertain you. In the case of Strawberry Marshmallow, I probably would’ve channel surfed by about ten minutes into the first episode. It’s lethargic, the “no plot” structure of the show actually works against it (since you wonder if the show is going anywhere), and it just isn’t funny. Yes, it’s nice that it’s one of the few recent anime comedies that doesn’t succumb to recycled sex jokes, but it’s a shame it had to be so bland that it’s difficult to remember any specific humor at all. I watched the whole 100 minutes, for the most part, with an expressionless face. At least my insomnia is cured.

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