Sometimes the parings are just a bit too obvious and blunt, especially when love is in the air.
What They Say:
The members of the S.A. may be exceptional, but that doesn’t keep some of them from being exceptionally dense! While Kei’s thoughts about Hikari may be leaning in one direction, Hikari still sees him as the obstacle that has to be removed. Meanwhile, Akira’s attempts to protect her friend Yui from Yahiro are having unanticipated effects, Jun is forced to reveal a secret he’s been keeping from the others, and every other person in the group seems to be in love with someone else, but never the right ones!
To cap it all off, an outside force threatens to intervene in a way that will destroy the S.A. forever! Will Hikari finally figure it all out before it’s too late?
Contains episodes 13-24.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty straightforward as an early release from the company in that it has just the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The series doesn’t have much to offer with its audio as it’s mostly all dialogue and ambient silly effects at times that have a full sound to them without any real discernable directionality or placement. With this kind of show that isn’t all that big of an issue as the dialogue does come across well and it fits well with the material as the energy of the actors is what sells it. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts, distortions or noise during regular playback of this show.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. There are twelve episodes for this collection that are spread across two discs in a six/six split. The series has a very good colorful and vibrant look to it that provides for a very pleasing transfer overall. Colors look great with a solid feel throughout, even during the few night scenes with the deep blue skies. Backgrounds hold up well with only a bit of noise here and there to distract once in awhile. There are a few scenes across the set where the characters are small in the background and you can see some cross coloration introduced into it, but it’s not that often and not terribly distracting unless you’re looking for it. Special A has a good clean and colorful look to it and this transfer shows it off well.
Similar to the first half of the series, the cover here goes for the big cast shot once again. This time around they’re shuffled off to London where we can see Big Ben and lots of blue sky with clouds as everyone looks either happy or panicked The logo is a big awkward along the lower right corner if only because the show is called S.A. and that’s just hard to really place and promote in a way that captures your eye. I do appreciate that they kept the original logo but it’s one that they could have gotten away with doing something a bit more original with in order to sell it. The back cover goes with a bit of an elegant framing around most of it in which they have several small shots from the show and a large group shot of everyone in their school uniforms enjoying some tea and watching a butterfly float by. Above that is a very text heavy summary of the premise of the show, almost too much text considering the overall simplicity of it. It’s like they’re trying too hard to sell it. The bottom third of the cover has the standard production credits and technical grid which covers everything in a clear and easy to read form so you know exactly what’s on the disc. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for Special A are pretty straightforward and fairly bland as they do the static menu approach in a way where it’s almost a little overpowering with the layout. The framing is done in a faux letterbox style with orange along the top and bottom while in the middle of it is the same framing as the back cover and the same kind of light soft colors for the background. Character artwork from the back cover is partially used here as well with different pieces for each volume that look alright, but the main focus is on the big block of episode numbers through the middle which dominate things a bit. Previously we’d have them in a list similar to this but also basic menu selection, credits and special features or trailers. Everything is compressed down to juts episode selection and special features, and on the first disc there are none in there. Credits and trailers are not special features. But this is part of the compressing of things to save on time and expense likely in creating separate submenus for these sections that some will find pointless. The menus do load quickly for what little you have to use them and they’re serviceable, but it feels more like a barebones release than some previous ones we’ve seen.
The extras on the second disc go a bit beyond the norm as in addition to the clean opening and closing sequence there is also a production art gallery. The gallery isn’t the usual black and white character pieces but rather about a dozen full color pieces that look to be from the original Japanese releases. These look great with a lot of bright and colorful pieces that really capture the characters well and the sense of fun from it.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first half of Special A left me less than impressed as it played in familiar territory with nothing really new that let it stand out on its own. To my surprise, the second half actually plays out better because it spends its time working on the relationship side of the show. It works on it so much so that it actually stands out in comparison to most other shows because it actually starts making some mild progress by having multiple characters profess their interest in others. So many series revolve around the basic idea of will they or won’t they that when they do go this route it feels unusual. And with the manga still ongoing, it’s nice to see them take the risk like that.
The twelve episodes of this set kick off with a bit of clean-up from the previous set as it delves into the relationship that Sakura has with Yui and all that went on in the past with how Sakura was dealt with because of Yahiro. It’s a nice bit of resolution to it as it shows how manipulative Yahiro was even at a young age with her and the kind of influence he had on other classmates. Though it all gets resolved well enough, it’s the kind of arc that doesn’t really do much overall but helps to cement Sakura in the series itself. Yahiro was the key player for me here even if a lot of his influence was felt off stage rather than on screen because of how others reacted.
Of the ten remaining episodes, the focus is on the boys and girls getting closer and closer together. The one that I liked that appealed a lot was seeing how Jun and Sakura get closer together. While she’s initially focused on winning over Kei as her one true prince, when she sees him she realizes that it’s him that she really wants as he’s everything she’s been looking for. Jun, of course, wants nothing to do with her but not for the reasons that most would suspect. As it turns out, he has a split personality of sorts where when he’s kissed in any way by a girl he takes on a suave and confident personality that is almost like a playboy. So he’s afraid of letting that out but it gets even worse once Sakura states her intentions and even seeing her causes him to turn his personality. The two are entirely too cute together and they have a few mild adventures until they work things out.
My favorite of the sudden new pairings though involves Megumi. After things start to get serious between Akira and Tadashi since they’ve been doing the schoolyard crush kind of thing for awhile, Megumi realizes she has to do something to help them out before Yahiro gets involved. Since Yahiro is still carrying a torch for Akira through his kind of manipulations, Megumi forces him into a date with her after she claims that she likes him a lot. The two are entirely too cute on a date together, especially since Megumi only writes on her sketchbook. Yahiro is amused by it all but I takes a serious turn when he finds out why she doesn’t talk. He does offer an interesting idea on how she can practice without causing trouble and slowly the two turn to having rather fun date. When Ryuu and Akira come across them, she realizes how he’s seen in comparison to what she’s seen and starts to protect him a bit more. She’s even openly honest that she’s out on a date with him.
The least interesting of the pairings is the primary one of the series and that naturally is the one that will cap things off. The last few episodes start working through how Hikari really feels about Kei as she realizes that she can’t even say his first name without stuttering in a huge way. Kei realizes what’s going on easily enough, and he should considering how much work they put into making him seem like the smartest guy in the world, and he starts trying to get her to realize it. He’s surprisingly open about it at times but Hikari really can’t handle. What’s needed is something to make the whole situation come to a head. And what better way than for Kei’s father to demand that Kei return to London since he’s really just playing around in that school and not accomplishing the things he used to do.
The domination of relationships in this set really came as a surprise since it means they don’t cover a lot of the other usual school frivolity. There are obvious things that get done, mostly revolving around Kei being forced out of school and the closure of the S.A. for manipulative reasons but they’re pretty minimal overall. Jun’s split personality is amusing and I found Megumi’s story with Yahiro to be one of the more welcome episodes of the series. I was dreading watching this set of Special A because the first set was simply so predictable and obvious. Yet they managed to surprise me a bit by not doing what most of the first set did and going in a different direction. That isn’t to say this set won me over, but it was more interesting than I expected for most of it before it went into the obvious Kei and Hikari drama at the end with a trip to London. Special A is a really good looking show that doesn’t break out of its confines but it tries in a few ways.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Art Gallery, Clean Opening, Clean Closin
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 19th, 2010
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.