Have you ever known someone who was better than you at everything you did? Hikari does. She's known Kei since they were both six years old and he's surpassed her at everything. Now they are the top two students in an extremely prestigious high school, with Kei holding firmly to that number one position, and Hikari is still determined to beat him, no matter what it takes.
Volume 1: Mikansei Chorus
Volume 11: Shoku no Miyako (Food Paradise)
Special A was published in English by VIZ Media under the Shojo Beat imprint from November 6, 2007 to November 2, 2010. The manga also received two drama CD adaptations on February 23, 2007 and June 18, 2008.
Special A is for me, the definition of an average shoujo series.
We have Hikari, an initially refreshing female lead with a certain wide-eyed innocence and a strong desire to defeat her eternal rival Takishima Kei. Hikari’s got fighting spirit, something that is so often lacking in shoujo heroines of late. On the other hand she’s incredibly dense, a trait which becomes all the more prevalent as the manga progresses much to my chagrin. An important plot device is that the students in the SA class are the crème de la crème of an already prominent school for the wealthy. We are not so much
as shown, but rather told that these characters are of high intelligence. Of course they all get high marks on exams but when it comes to basic comprehension skills in real life situations our characters often come up shorthanded. What was once endearing in Hikari becomes stale after one has read through several volumes of Special A. Other than Hikari, the rest of the cast is fairly stock. Kei is appealing in that smirking bishounen sort of sense but his character falls ultimately flat. Maki uses her other characters as means to extend the series, adding multiple couples to the point where almost no one goes single in the end. Even the conniving Yahiro who acted as antagonist in earlier volumes is reduced to a rather underdeveloped love interest for Megumi. When all’s said and done the characters don’t feel fleshed out enough despite the manga’s length.
Again, this is the definition of an average shoujo. Pure hearted girl attends wealthy school, oblivious to her long time rival’s affection for her. Misunderstandings and shenanigans commence as the two try to work out their feelings for one another. Expect lots of competitions between the two and the repeated use of the running gag of Hikari being ranked number 2 to Kei’s 1. Special A, aside from being a tad on the melodramatic side also relies heavily on comedy. There are many absurd situations for which one would have to put aside their sense of disbelief to enjoy. I myself got a few chuckles from the slapstick comedic elements featured during many of the competitions. In later volumes however, there are a lot of plot twists featuring conflicts that feel quite forced. The issue with Finn for instance, in which Hikari discovers that the “Prince” is actually a girl and is more or less imprisoned for discovering the secret borderlines on silly and needless. In this instance an absurd situation is used for the sake of drama and plot device rather than for light-hearted comedy and it fails to hold any kind of believability. Ultimately there are several arcs which could have been cut out entirely without much of value being lost. Perhaps if Minami Maki had skimmed the series down by removing clunky side plots with no real impact on the story, this manga would have been a little more enjoyable for me. As it is however, Special A dragged on and on, repeating similar jokes, similar conflicts and similar interactions between Hikari and Kei. When the series came to a close I was left unfulfilled and a little bit disappointed that a manga I had once enjoyed had become so stale and repetitive.
Minami Maki’s art is decent enough. It just doesn’t really stand out. Her character designs are often a little too similar and there isn’t a ton of distinction. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that. I’m actually just thankful that she doesn’t draw eyes in the same style that another famous mangaka does. Aside from character design, Minami’s backgrounds go almost unnoticed. To her credit, the little stick figure drawings so often used in moments of humour are quite hilarious to look at. She’s good at utilizing simple sketches for slapstick comedy.
At its best this manga is mildly amusing and heart warming in that “doki doki” shoujo manga sense. At its worst it feels redundant, silly and utterly cliché. Special A is a fun series that just started to run out of steam and ideas long before it finished. It’s nothing outstanding in terms of art, story or characters but it’s not particularly bad either. If you’re looking for a nice light-hearted shoujo series to pick up and you can look past a certain amount of banality then by all means go for this one. If however, you’re after something a little more substantial and semi-realistic you’d be better off picking up a copy of NANA or Honey and Clover.
For the record I don’t consider 5 a bad score. Merely average as it was meant to be used for.
When I was younger, I absolutely loved this series. Hikari was tough but kind and Kei was the silent but cool type (aka, my type). Then as the years passed by, I reread it. And reread it again. And realized…meh. SA wasn’t as good as I thought it was. The first few volumes were enjoyable and I loved the relationship between all the SA members, especially Hikari and Kei. But everything sort of went downhill for me.
What essentially ruined my reading experience was Kei and Hikari’s relationship. Their relationship became too repetitive. They’d have a misunderstanding, then start to drift apart until their friends put
them together through a certain situation (or they finally TALKED). Then Kei would sigh, fall to the ground with relief, and say some line like “I thought you hated me.” Then Hikari would reassure him that she didn't and they were back to normal once more. Until the situation happens AGAIN.
It really hurts me to say that Kei and Hikari’s relationship was the most boring relationship in all of SA. Their relationship when they were children was more interesting than their relationship as teenagers! Even the relationship between Tadashi’s puppet and Aoi were more interesting! Do you understand me? I’d rather read a whole chapter about the relationship between the Tadashi Puppet and Aoi!
Wait…was that a spoiler? Whatever, you guys don’t even know what I’m talking about unless you read it, in which case, it’s not a spoiler.
The series got a little better during the later volumes, but from there on, I was just trudging through the series just to finish it and see if my prediction for the ending was right. And yup…it was…*sigh.
Overall, SA had potential, but then it took the typical shoujo route.
One thing I’d like to point out is Minami’s drawing style. Early in the series, I loved her defined and sharp features, but as the story progressed, her style changed into a more “shoujo” style, which disappointed me. Her faces became rounder and her eyes became bigger. And the blushing. All the damn blushings.
However, there’s one thing that hasn’t died off from SA. And that’s the humor. Whenever I need a good light laugh, I just flip open any volume and can find at least three scenes to chuckle at. Good job with the humor…not so good job with the romance (between Kei and Hikari only. The other characters were fine. But it says a lot when I’m bored of the MAIN couple).
This is going to be the first review I'll be giving. . . .so I don't really know if this would be helpful or not. :) Anyway, Special A is a brilliant masterpiece, in my opinion. I usually prefer the anime over the manga version (I wasn't so good at reading manga before, I just couldn't get used to reading right to left - it confused me!) but I am pleased to say that this particular manga bested its anime version. There are a couple of reasons I can give to explain myself. . . .
To summarize everything up before you get bored of the
long explanation coming up next: if you liked the anime version, you'll LOVE the manga even MORE! Proceed if you really want to waste minutes of your life to know what's on my crazy little mind.
First, the manga was actually better drawn than the anime. The characters are so unbelievably skinny in the anime (I think) and Kei didn't look as handsome as he was in the manga. For me it was unfair that I found Ryuu, Jun and even Yahiro more appealing than the lead guy (in the anime), of course in the manga Kei was putting up a better fight. :D
Second, the scenes from the manga were WAY better than what happened in the anime. It will make hopeless romantics like I am itching to read the next chapter without pause. Character developments were pretty good in the manga too.
Third, the ending of the anime left something to be desired and was albeit so WEIRD too. I mean, Kei and Hikari were flying then! I know they were inhuman from the start but flying was just so unrealistic I really had to just laugh it off. But in fairness to the anime, the manga's end was so anticlimactic and a disappointment to me. It was like the end was hastened and didn't quite have a romantic feel (though what Kei did for Hikari was VERY romantic). XD
Fourth (I know this turned out to be a long list), I really hope there's a season 2 for the anime 'cause the manga continues on very well from where the anime ended (which was the main reason for me to read the manga in the first place; I wanted more from Special A). If not, the manga is DEFINITELY better.
Lastly (No, I'm not quite finished yet), the manga didn't just concentrate on the two leads' romance. It also had the romance of the other characters inserted which made the story better. In the anime, only Ryuu didn't get a happily ever after (each member of the SA found their soul mates [even the twins and Tadashi]). I really felt sorry for him there,so at least, in the manga, he even had two girls falling for him. :D That isn't necessarily a very important point to go into but it just means that the story in the manga was nicer than the anime.
This has to be the funniest manga I've read yet. The main character is really dense but very noble and kindhearted so she didn't bother me like other lead females and the lead male, though seems perfect does actually have some believable flaws. A few of their ablities are unrealistic, but it's usually for a comedic effect so you tend to over look it. I also like how this series doesn't focus solely on the leads' romance, the author takes side roads and shows the budding romances of the friends, which tends to be ignored in most shojo so you don't get bored with the
main couple plus it feels more realistic. After all, your friends date too.
Some may consider Hikari unrealistic but anyone who was obsessed with school and working hard on that side would be able to understand her better, just like with anything love has to be learned and experienced or you don't understand it. So I think this is a really good coming of age story, it shows what it's like for a teenage girl who wasn't looking for love and what she does once it finds her. Plus you can't beat the silliness that's added. Between stick figure drawings and the turn-about scenes that leave characters dumbfounded with great experssions, you'll definitely be busting a gut with this series.
Actually I felt it wasn't long enough in a sense, I think it would have been better if Maki had lept ahead in the last few chapters and did a few bits with the characters after High School, after all we never stop maturing and it would have been nice to see how the characters turned out as adults. Plus I felt the characters needed to be developed a bit more, they sometimes fall a bit flat and you fall out of the story, remembering that you are reading a story, I prefer to get sucked in and be apart of the world as if it were real. I feel Maki forgot to give them more depth at points because she was too busy focusing on the comedy.
However, I think I'll always pick this manga up whenever I'm feeling down or lonely because it definitely lifts my spirits with its lightheartedness and comedy.