The setting for Strawberry Panic! is Astraea Hill a very large hilltop where the three affiliated schools of Miator, Spica and Lulim, are located. Each school has its own student council, which governs the matters of each respective school. Periodically the three student councils, along with the Etoiles, meet in the Astraea Joint Student Council. The Astraea Hill school system employs the Scottish system of grade numbering. Students are ranged from grades one through six, the equivalent of the three years of junior-high and high school in Japan, and seventh through twelfth grade in North America.
The hill is known as a sacred area which no men are allowed to enter. A prominent feature is a very large Catholic church in the center of the hill near a small lake; the church can be seen from a long distance away. There is a horse ranch at Spica. The students may go and study for their classes at a library on the lake's shore. Although only implied in the anime, the manga explains that the library building has another name, "The Secret Garden". It is well-known on campus as a rendezvous for secret lovers.
Students living on campus occupy a dormitory referred to as the "Strawberry Dorms", , although its correct name is Astraea Dormitory, named after Astraea Hill. The building is a triangular shape, allowing for the segregation of students from the three schools; each section is about the same size. It was built about 100 years before the story begins, around the same time that Miator was established, for students whose homes are far away. Each student is assigned a roommate in their year until graduation. If there is an odd number of students enrolled in a given year, one of the new students must live alone until a student in their year transfers into their school. The building's name is based on its similarity to the cross-section of a strawberry viewed from above. When Strawberry Panic! was initially created, the three schools were arranged in a triangle, with the Strawberry Dorms in the center, and the dormitory was not a single building but three separate dormitories also arranged in a triangle around a central courtyard
The plot of Strawberry Panic! revolves around the lives of the adolescents who attend one of three affiliated all-girl schools which share a campus and dormitories. The schools are: St. Miator's Girls' Academy, St. Spica's Girls' Institute, and St. Lulim's Girls' School. The story's main character is Nagisa Aoi, a young girl entering her fourth year at St. Miator after being transferred from another school. On first entering the campus grounds she is overcome with joy by the overall appearance of the surrounding area, but her joy is soon turned to sorrow as she accidentally stumbles down a hill, causing her to be lost and disoriented. While walking around the grounds trying to work out where she is, Nagisa comes across an older student named Shizuma Hanazono, who happens to be Astraea Hill's Etoile, a very important person who acts as a representative between the different schools and has specific duties that she must fulfill. Nagisa is instantly overcome by Shizuma's beauty and finds that she cannot move. After Shizuma kisses her on the forehead, Nagisa loses consciousness and awakens in the school's infirmary. In an adjacent chair is another girl of the same age, Tamao Suzumi, who informs her that they are to be roommates in the dormitory.
In the ensuing story Nagisa is introduced to other students from each of the three schools; some she admires, some she is intimidated by, and some are merely friends encountered while attending St. Miator. The series encompasses the relationships the characters build with each other, climaxing whenever two of the characters start dating. The central focus of Strawberry Panic! is the lesbian aspect to the relationships between the girls from the three schools. Depending on the media type, the depiction of the relationships between the girls is variously presented, with more explicit fan service – appealing visuals of the girls in provocative situations – in the anime adaptation than in the manga or light novels. A hint of astronomical star imagery is seen throughout the series, as well as minor Catholic religious undertones including a St. Mary statue on campus and a large Catholic church in the center of Astraea Hill.
The Three Dorms:
St. Miator's Girl's academy:
St. Miator's Girls' Academy is the oldest of the three schools; Miator is known for upholding old traditions. It was founded on a monastery and is seen as the school for "brides", reinforced by the existence of extracurricular classes including tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and Japanese dancing. It is not unusual for students to be engaged before graduation. The school uniform is a long black dress, designed in the Gothic Lolita fashion. At Miator, the class names are associated with objects from nature, such as moon, flower and snow. In the Strawberry Dorms, there is a concept called the room temp system for students from Miator. Every underclassman entering the dormitories, if they are chosen to serve the upperclassman as room temps, perform maid duties, which include cleaning the room of the students they are assigned to serve.
Nagisa Aoi is the main character of the story and the main love interest for the other three main characters attending Miator, each of whom is attracted to her. She is a cheerful girl who finds pleasure in making new friends, which she finds easy to do because of her open personality and sociable attitude. The first person she meets at Miator is Shizuma Hanazono, a mysterious upperclassman and one of the Etoile as the story begins, which gives Miator significant influence. Nagisa at first finds that she is strangely affected when in the presence of Shizuma. The next girl she meets is Tamao Suzumi, who becomes her close friend and roommate. Tamao is well-regarded among her fellow Miator students; among the first-years, she is seen as a viable Etoile candidate. The last main character from Miator is Chiyo Tsukidate, a timid first year student who is employed as the room temp for Nagisa and Tamao.
St. Spica's Girls' Institute:
St. Spica's Girls' Institute has the white colored buildings and uniforms, and was built after Miator. The school prizes itself in advancing the independence of women who play a role in improving society. It is well known for its culture and the accomplishments of its sports program compared to the other two schools. Spica has what is known as the St. Spica Choir, or the "Saintly Chorus", which consists of students from Spica who perform at special events and even concerts for students at Astraea Hill. At Spica, the class names are numbers in French, such as un (one), deux (two), and trois (three). Spica and Miator compete with each other quite aggressively, which often ends in dispute when students from these two schools get together.
Hikari Konohana, a shy and quiet girl, is the main focus among the main characters who attend Spica. Much like Nagisa at Miator, she too has three girls wanting to get close to her. The first is Yaya Nanto, a rebellious girl who is Hikari's best friend and roommate in the dormitory. Both she and Hikari are members of the St. Spica Choir. Hikari meets an older girl named Amane Ohtori early on in the story who is seen much like a prince from a fairy tale by other Spica students due to often riding a white horse named Star Bright. Amane is admired by many of the students from Spica as well as students from the other two schools, although she does not enjoy the attention. The final girl from Spica is Tsubomi Okuwaka, a young first year student who acts maturely for her age and gets on Yaya's nerves. She too is in the St. Spica Choir although Hikari was her main motivation for joining. Tsubomi once remarked that Yaya was more skilled than Hikari at singing in the choir.
St. Lulim's Girls' School:
St. Lulim's Girls' School is the newest of the three schools, and has pink colored buildings and uniforms. Its uniform is modeled after a traditional Japanese school uniform style. At Lulim, the class names are the letters from the Latin alphabet: A, B, C, etc. Students at St. Lulim's are traditionally free and relaxed, and are rarely seen fighting. The students enjoy a lot of freedom in terms of activities, or the clubs they are allowed to form. In effect, there are a wide range of clubs at St. Lulim's ranging from dancing, to cooking, to anything else a group of at least three people can think up.
Of the three schools, St. Lulim has the least emphasis on romance between characters, although the Lulim characters are typically found together. The leader of their friendly group is Chikaru Minamoto, the student council president of Lulim, and a born leader. She has a friendly and supportive personality which she often uses to offer advice or simply a shoulder to cry on. The other three girls include Kizuna Hyūga, a very outgoing and excitable girl who enjoys following Chikaru's decisions, finding fun in doing so. She is very expressive in her actions and words, not wasting a chance to introduce herself to anyone new. Her close friend is Remon Natsume, who is much like Kizuna in personality, but is not as accident-prone as her. Of the pair, Kizuna is the more talkative; Remon often agrees with her companion and will offer up an opinion when need be. Lastly, there is Kagome Byakudan, the youngest of the group, who is typically accompanied by her stuffed bear Percival which she often talks to as if it were alive. Although she does not talk or express her emotions much, she has a heightened perception of others' emotions and can tell when those around her are distraught or in emotional pain
Etoile is a French word meaning star. The Etoile system of Astraea Hill is employed as the internal politics between the schools and governs school operations. Little is shown as to the influence the teachers an sisters have on the inter-school politics. The system is designed for two Etoiles to be instated at the same time in order to work as a team. In the anime, Shizuma Hanazono is the sole Etoile, which is explained in the latter part of the story. The two Etoiles are seen as figureheads for Astraea Hill. Although Astraea has three schools, both Etoiles must come from the same school. They have certain specific duties, such as greeting new students arriving at Astraea Hill, participating in important school events, and serving as mediator between disputes in student council meetings of the three schools, among others. They are given a private greenhouse in which to grow flowers for use during school events.
The Etoiles are elected after going through what is known as The Etoile Election, which consists of three competitions in the light novels and the manga versions. The higher scoring pairs from the first two competitions carry on to the third competition, and the pair that wins the third competition becomes the Etoile Couple. Once the winners have been named, a special ceremony marks the end of the election, at which the president of the student council from the school that won the election presents two necklaces for the winners to wear during their tenure as Etoiles. They are both identical except for the colors of the pendants: one is red, the other is blue. The older student receives the blue pendant and the younger of the two is given the red pendant.