Special A – Maki Minami: Series Review

Special A is a romantic comedy shojo series that ran in Hana to Yume magazine from 2003 to 2009. Viz media began publishing the series here in the states in 2007. A high school fantasy, Special A entertains with outrageous antics and unmatched rivalry that leads to romance at every turn.

The Gist: Hikari Hanazono is a member of the Special A class at her high school. That is a group that contains the top student from every class in the school and consists of seven members. Hikari’s motivation is fed by her rival in life Kei Takishima. Though the two have been together since their childhood, Hikari has never been able to beat Kei at anything. She is determined to conquer Kei soon, however, while the rest of their friends watch in excited anticipation. Kei has loved Hikari for a long time, but Hikari only sees him as a rival. Special A follows the couple and their friends as they discover how rivalry can develop into romance.

Top tp Bottom:

Top to Bottom: Jun, Megumi, Akira, Kei, Hikari, Ryuu, Tadashi

The Characters/Romance: Hikari Hanazono seems fabulous in every way. She is super athletic, super smart, and very pretty. She already has a boy in love with her. BUT…she’s also denser than hell and super stubborn. It’s hard to believe that a girl so intelligent is also so clueless – but I’ve seen it in reality so I can’t say it’s not realistic.

Kei Takishima is the handsome genius athlete who runs his grandfather’s company at 16. The only fault he seems to have is that he is a sexist pig. :-O His overprotective jealous streak is not a pretty thing to watch.

Then there is the rest of the Special A class who are so wealthy and smart that they don’t even have to attend class. They get to spend their days lounging in a conservatory eating snacks and drinking tea. MUST BE NICE! That’s a fantasy that shojo readers seem to like because I’ve seen it played out in many series.

One of the things I dislike about Special A is that it seems to parallel a lot of other popular shojo series. It reminds me of Ouran High School Host Club (OHSHC) because the kids are at an elaborate academy but the story never takes place during class, always outside of it. Then there is the fact that Hikari is a poor student among a bunch of rich kids just like Haruhi in OHSHC, or Makino in Boys Over Flowers, or even Tanpopo in Imadoki!. How about the theme of competing for grades between the top two students – hmmm Kare Kano, anyone? As evidenced, Minami’s ideas are not original ones.

I’m sure there are feminists out there that will complain because every member of the Special A class was matched up with another character as a couple. I don’t mind that plot device because it makes the story wrap up in a nice little package. However, it is not realistic at all. But it’s nice to know that even the minor characters at least have somebody, right?

What I do like about the series that kept me reading until the end is the uncommon plot device that the boy is already in love with the girl. We don’t have to see him fall in love, he already is from the beginning of the series. The rivalry is fun to watch once Kei stops being an overprotective ogre and gets a clue to letting Hikari be herself – you know, the girl he already loves. It’s evident too, that Kei has got it BAD for Hikari, because he gets desperate at times to stay with her, and keep them together. It may not be healthy, but hey, guys can act that way when they are in love. When I look back at the moments I found memorable, most of them are when Hikari does something that surprises Kei. His expectations of her to be oblivious about his feelings set him up for some shocking moments when she actually breaks that barrier and reaches out to him on an emotional level. That is what I like about these characters. Although he teases her that she is eternally number two, Hikari does actually best Kei at times when she knocks his expectations aside. Minami implies that this is one of the reasons that Kei fell in love with Hikari when they were children.

One of my favorite scenes where Hikari wins Kei

One of my favorite scenes where Hikari wins Kei

The Art: There are a lot of typical shojo tropes with the toning in this series. The settings do call for some elaborate backgrounds, and Minami delivers beautifully, whether it’s a cityscape or a mansion. Disappointingly, the character designs are weak in distinctive features. The female characters are the most easily recognized – Hikari with long hair, Megumi short in stature with her notepad, and Akira tall and lanky with her short choppy hair. The boys not so much. There were several times when I couldn’t distinguish Ryuu from Tadashi, or Kei from Yahiro. I had to pay attention to the context of the scene to recognize the male figures. On the up side, Minami does a great job of mixing chibi or distorted forms with the more realistic drawings depending on the mood of the story.

The Audience: Kei and Hikari have a very chaste relationship. A kiss here or there deems this series cuddly. This would be appropriate for tweens and teens.

The Media: The manga is available in 17 volumes in the states from Viz Media. The series spawned three drama CDs and an anime series in Japan. The 24 episode anime was released subbed in the states by SentaiFilmworks in 2009.

Heart of Manga Rating: ♥♥♥

Although there are weak points in the story elements, overall I rather enjoyed the series with a suspension of disbelief. It was an enjoyable read with a memorable conclusion.

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Super mom and teacher until the kids go to bed, then romance manga addict and writer until the caffeine wears out! Specializes in the shoujo and josei genre of manga and anime.
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