I My Me! Strawberry Eggs – Brilliance Surrounded By BS
(This is my review for Reverse Thieves‘ Secret Santa event.)
Hibiki Amawa dreams of becoming a teacher; to pay the rent, he applies for a job at a local junior high school, Seito Sannomiya Private School. However, his application is rebuffed because the school’s principal refuses to hire any men, believing them to all be base, lecherous creatures. To help Hibiki pay the rent, his landlord, Lulu Sanjo, concocts a way for Hibiki to dress and sound just like a woman so that he will be accepted. Hibiki begins teaching and combats the streak of misandry running through the school.
There is an identity crisis that defines Strawberry Eggs, and it isn’t between Hibiki’s identity as a man and a woman.
Strawberry Eggs is a frustrating series because streaks of brilliance often race through each episode. There are many great moments of gender identity satire: Take, for instance, when the school’s few boys are forced by the principal to clean the school pool. Hibiki helps out because he sympathizes with the boys; when some of the girls pass by, Hibiki asks them to help, but they respond, “What?! Why should we do a man’s work?!” The men are the ones being forced into a specific role (even if physical labor is “traditionally” the domain of men), while the women are free to do whatever the hell they want. Just a small taste, but the boys get a feel for how unfair socially-enforced roles are.
A staple of genderbending comedy is when the crossdressing man notices guys checking him out and leering at him all day and grows uncomfortable with how he is being objectified; it’s neither an original point nor an original joke, but somehow it is always fun to see, just because it involves a character’s expectations being shaken up. And perhaps the best episode of the series involves the boys rising up in protest of one of their own being taken in for questioning due to what they perceive as an unfair anti-male bias. What makes this episode particularly interesting is that their pseudo-coup is not entirely just, nor is the stance Hibiki takes in reaction to it entirely good; but it’s understandable as a reaction to authoritarianism.
But the problem with all these interesting bits is that Strawberry Eggs lacks the — for lack of a better term — balls to go all the way with its satire.
The show never really decides whether it wants to be a cutting social satire or a light, breezy comedy. Every storyline that could potentially something really interesting or clever is resolved in typically melodramatic, glossy fashion. It wouldn’t irk me so much if the show itself didn’t take the time and care to raise viewer expectations and then shit all over them with nonsense. That’s the really frustrating part of the series: It really COULD be something special if just a bit more effort were put into the writing; instead, every episode is content to go partway with interesting satire and fill out the rest of the time with boring romance and anime bullshit.
I don’t think I would have had as big a problem with that indecision if the comedy weren’t so bad, too. Genderbending comedy can often be hilarious because misunderstandings = comic gold. (Just look at Some Like it Hot, one of the funniest movies ever made.) There are definitely moments like that peppered throughout Strawberry Eggs; however, there’s also plenty of dumb, tired anime comedy to go around. Like, hey, this one character is really clumsy and trips a lot! These two creepy old guys like to stalk junior high school students and take naughty photos of them! And just for fun, we’ll throw in a few chaste panty shots! It’s doubly insulting because, again, the show displays wit and genuinely intelligent satire often enough to make the only acceptable reaction to the anime comedy, “. . . Really, show? Really?” At least something like Asu no Yoichi! keeps expectations low from the start. It’s just unfair to raise expectations and pull the rug out from under the viewer.
It was probably bound to happen eventually, however, because it’s not as if the initial premise is amazing. The school principal can never really be taken seriously because she is such an extreme, man-hating harpy. That is literally her only trait. She even runs the school as if she is some sort of cult leader, exhorting the students with catch phrases like, “Love is all!” as she degrades all men. It’s difficult to muster the energy to even dislike her or indulge in the moments when she receives her comeuppance, because she’s such a goofy villain, kind of like Inari in Kuragehime. The assistant principal is basically a power-hungry woman who is threatened by Hibiki’s presence and is equally inconsequential.
I can’t totally fault the ending, though . . . it does make a decent attempt at showing how suffocating it can be for people who are outside the mainstream to live within a box set by other people’s expectations. (Fuko falling for Hibiki and then fretting about whether this means she is a lesbian, etc.) It’s not as good as the earlier satire because the drama is kind of clumsy, but it gets the job done. But while the ending thankfully goes in a slightly different direction than expected, it’s still kind of lame. People give speeches, people realize how oh so wrong they are and so on. It’s at least more bittersweet than a full blown, sappy happy ending, so the show has that going for it.
So, yeah, Strawberry Eggs is a total mixed bag, unfortunately. The good stuff makes it more fun and interesting to watch than a good deal of other series, but it’s difficult to not spend the entire time wishing the creators had just a bit more ambition with what they are doing. Also, I hate Akira. That guy is a fuckhead.
(For the curious, my other Secret Santa choices were True Tears and Romeo x Juliet. I chose Strawberry Eggs because I thought it was the one I would have been least likely to watch had I not been a part of Secret Santa.)