A strong second half saves an otherwise mediocre shojo comedy.
What They Say:
Until she was six, Hikari was always the best at everything she did. Right up until the moment she challenged Kei to a wrestling match and HE won. Ever since then, Hikari’s entire life has revolved around beating Kei at something, ANYTHING! Unfortunately, a decade later, he’s still the top student and athlete at their very exclusive high school and she’s still SECOND best at everything. But what Hikari’s never noticed is that he’s actually in love with her! And that’s only the beginning of the ridiculously convoluted web of relationship that ties the elite group of students who go by the name of the Special A together! Get ready for spring flings, split personalities and special (dys)functions galore as boy meets girl turns into boy beats girl in SPECIAL A – COMPLETE COLLECTION!
Contains episodes 1-24
The audio is pretty good. The voices are audible and the background music doesn’t overwhelm it, which is sometimes a problem. The show doesn’t lend itself to having excellent audio quality, so passable is fine, but the set does a little better than passable. The songs and music sound pretty good, too. The voices come through especially nice.
The video looks alright; about as good as Another. It’s presented in 16:9 and I’m about as disappointed with the quality as I was with Another. I’ve seen Maiden Japan’s Patlabor OVA discs and these are well below the quality of an 80s OVA. Thankfully, the show doesn’t really need to have any amazing video quality and it’s passable at the very least.
The case is about the same as the Another case, but the thing to hold the DVDs (still don’t know what it’s called) is much nicer. They packed it in two of those things that are held in the middle by that binder-clip-like thing instead of putting a DVD holder on the front and back panel. That’s cool, I guess, but I would have preferred the latter. But it feels like it won’t move and the DVDs won’t fall out, which is much improved from the Another set.
Menu is pretty standard. It’s got the opening theme playing over the main title, a background song over the languages and special features menu. The episodes are presented in order instead of a play all and separate episodes menu.
Extras are sparse, containing only a clean opening and ending and some Sentai trailers. Clean OP/ED are pretty much a given on any anime set nowadays, so it’s not REALLY an extra. And I don’t consider the dub an extra. Overall, I’m extremely disappointed with the lack of any extras on this set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Special A started out as a manga by Maki Minami, who hasn’t done anything else of note that’s come State-side. I’ve read seven volumes of the manga, but never had the chance to read more. From what I remember, it was a pretty good shojo story and I’m glad to be able to pick up the DVDs. The manga’s been running since 2003, but only got an anime adaptation in 2008, a co-production between AIC and Gonzo. AIC’s first big title was the divisive Megazone 23, but more recently they did Kotoura-san, Amagami, and Wandering Son. The color palette and art style in SA are obviously different than Wandering Son. Gonzo’s a little weird, though. They’re somewhat known for throwing all their money into making the first few episodes look really nice, only for the animation to fall off in the subsequent episodes.
The director, Yoshikazu Miyao, is also a relative rookie in terms of directing. He’s done storyboards and designs all over the place, but his other big directing roles are in Inazuma Eleven and the Hellsing opening (the latter also being a Gonzo production). While I haven’t seen Inazuma Eleven, I watched that Hellsing opening again just now and that’s pretty well directed. A lot of the shots take cues from the comic as I remember, but the stuff with the dog with about 17 eyes is pretty grotesque and runs great with the first half of the series. Script composer Jukki Hanada is much more storied. He’s worked on a myriad of things, from Robotics;Notes to Love Love! to Princess Jellyfish and My Ordinary Life. The scripts to the latter two were amazing and amazingly funny, respectively. First impressions are that the scripts will be great, but plotting maybe not so much. Both Love Live! and Princess Jellyfish struggled to wrap up anything by its end (in the former case, too rushed; in the latter case, no ending).
SA follows the shenanigans (and debauchery?) of high school student Hikari Hanazono. She’s been the best at everything…until she met Kei Takishima, who has consistently eclipsed her in literally every way. The name Special A comes from the group they’re a part of, the Special A class (but not the Special S class). It’s a group of the top seven students in all of Hakusenkan Academy. To exemplify her second place-ness, in a pretty funny scene near the end of the first episode, Hikari comes back to the club room declaring her 100 percent on every subject. Kei, however, got 105 because he pointed out a mistake in the test.
In the early going, each episode passes without much happening. A challenge appears that gives Hikari the opportunity to be better than Takashima and she ultimately fails. The character development amounts to learning about the characters as we move along, rather than changing in any significant way. In this way, the show feels a lot more like you really are going through these characters’ lives rather than a story being told. It isn’t until episode six, the final episode of the first disc, that any significant plot point happens. Hikari goes along with Takishima to a birthday party for Yahiro Saiga, another one of those highbrow folks that the SA attracts. Takishima becomes more transparent than ever in this episode when he’s put against the wall by both Saiga and Hikari. The challenge is for Hikari to reach the roof before being caught. Everyone’s after Hikari and Takishima’s scrambling (internally) to try and spare her from the mess.
The villain throughout is clearly going to be Saiga, who has less than a health rivalry Takishima. He seems to want to play with Takishima more than he wants to be in any sort of competition. Saiga’s “weapon of choice,” so to speak, is to convince the hapless Hikari to do silly things like say Takishima would never love her or give Takishima an innocent kiss on the cheek. The acts are innocent, because of how Hikari is portrayed, but ultimately hurtful to Takishima.
The second half of the show starts off with a new opening and a new situation for the SA class. As a result of Jun’s scheme to circumvent his own marriage meeting, his mother is forcing the SA class to go to a different school’s classes. Its continuation in the next episode is quite interesting, as the seemingly alright Akira is now amiss because Yui, the girl who looks like an old friend, wants to avoid Akira in the same way that Sayo did.
Yahiro, however, finally reveals more than just a mischievous side in the next episode. In a shojo manga, a childhood friend who’s an antagonist can only be an antagonist for so long. There’s a always a reason behind their antagonism. Yahiro’s character motivations are a bit contrived, but reasonable enough for a sheltered rich kid.
Two more romances crop up in the next few episodes. Newcomer Sakura pronounces her love for Jun and Akira finally openly shows her infatuations toward Tadashi. The more shojo manga aspect comes out here, as it’s been more episodic and cute up until now (around episode 17). The ignorance of Tadashi really shows here, but it’s more for convenience sake rather than anything else. Perhaps his attitude at current is just for his own sake, to protect his own feelings. But the behavior is more akin to what shojo (and shonen) manga sometimes does, in that characters will act in accordance to the story, not the story in accordance with the characters.
It is after the third (but first fake) romance that I’m convinced that Yahiro is not a bad guy after all. All his shortcomings were a result of his own actions rather than his personality. His mentality was to become the bad guy and he kind of plays with the idea of a bad guy by doing so.
The final arc teaches us more about Takishima, as it revolves around his grandfather’s strongarming him into moving back to London, away from SA. Over the previous 20 episodes, we’ve learned what SA means to each individual member. Hikari has been trying to defeat Takishima in one thing, anything, and uses the SA rankings as part of that challenge to herself. But everyone else? Everyone else had problems in other schools through various circumstances. But the group has become a family, closer than their real families.
The final episode emphasizes what everyone brings to the group in a Bruce Lee Game of Death-style lead up to get to Takishima in London. Of course, in the end, Hikari gets to Takishima and the couples as they’ve come together are indeed together.
The best part is at the very end. Takishima, in the previous episode, challenged Hikari to protect these flowers for an entire day. If she does, then she wins. Even before that, it was stated that, if you fall in love and confess, you lose. When the flowers Hikari’s protecting fly out of her pocket and Takishima blocks Hikari from saving them. In this moment, Takishima and Hikari’s entire relationship is brought together and it is the true ending of the series.
The dub is up and down, with some good performances and some sketchy performances. Monica Rial, Blake Shepard, and Luci Christian as Hikari, Takishima, and Akira respectively are the standouts of the cast. It’s to be expected from veterans like Rial and Christian, but Shepard—who’s been around the block himself—really impressed me as Takishima. He was able to make the high schooler sound kind of like a high schooler while maintaining the mature allure that Takishima has from my memories of the comic. Chris Patton is, as always, a reliable cast member, but I’ve recently just finished Welcome to the NHK, which is perhaps his best performance I’ve seen and his performance as Ryu Tsuji pales in comparison.
Meanwhile, Andrew Love and newcomer Kirby Brister just do not get the job done as Tadashi and Jun respectively. Love sounds way too old and, even when he settles into playing the role itself, struggles to sound believable. The acting is there, but he’s too gruff for a high school student. Brister, mercifully, doesn’t have many lines and those he gives are up and down. The ups, however, are better than even Love’s best moments. When he turns into Dark Jun, he’s much better than the timid regular Jun.
What’s more concerning is that they seemed to use the same rotation of actors for every single role in the series. The credits on Anime News Network list six actors outside of the main and supporting cast. The cast doesn’t boast many named characters, but you’d think that there’d be more than just a few actors credited.
The first half suffered from being too episodic while nothing was really happening either on a story or character standpoint. But once the shojo-y-ness kicked in during the second half, and relationships started to form and character conflict beyond Hikari trying to beat Takishima flourished, the series became much more. I remember reading the manga, but I don’t remember anything about the manga aside from the premise. The anime, from the feelings I had reading it, compare nicely to the comics. I think the artwork in the manga was better than in the anime. The animation was sort of cheap and the characters weren’t always on model. Special A was enjoyable enough, but I don’t know if I’ll be watching it again anytime soon.
English 2.0, Japanese 2.0, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: D
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Review Equipment: Radeon 7850, 24 in. Vizio 1080p HDTV, Creative GigaWorks T20 Series II