The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Special A

Title: Special A aka S.A. ~Special A~
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Company: Gonzo/AIC
Format: 24 episodes
Dates: 7 Apr 2008 – 15 Sep 2008

Synopsis: Hanazona Hikari and Takishima Kei have had an ongoing rivalry since childhood. Hikari has an intense competitive streak, but she’s frustrated by the fact that, no matter what she challenges Kei to, she always ends up second, earning her the nickname from Kei of “Miss Rank Two”. Although Hikari sees Kei as a part-time friend and full-time rival, Kei has developed romantic feelings for Hikari over the years. They both attend Hakusenkan, an elite high school, and are both in the “Special A”, an exclusive class for the best seven students in the school.

The Highlights
Comedy: Not typical of a shoujo rom-com… in a bad way.
Romance: Sweet romantic moments make for the series’ highlights.
Characters: Not terribly deep, but interesting enough to make the romances work.
Main character: Hikari’s ongoing denseness is frustrating.
Character designs: Boring and reminiscent of CLAMP.
Music: OP themes are atrocious; the rest of the music is generic.
Ending: In some ways, a reset; features one big logic hole.

Superficially, Special A is a shoujo series, and its romantic and comedic elements are quite distinct. However, it’s the type of series that can’t help but invite comparisons with other anime within the genre, and too often it comes up short. The romance arguably owes a lot to Kare Kano, but the comedy is distinctly un-shoujo-like, resembling something like Seto no Hanayome, rather than more traditional shoujo rom-coms like Kare Kano, Fruits Basket or Ouran High School Host Club, which are more noted for a sharper, wittier sense of humour and a natural charm. It’s the comedy that really drags this series down, with much of the early episodes dedicated to “contests”, which are over-the-top competitions between the two leads where novelty is derived from the magnitude of the ridiculousness. The repetitiveness of the slapstick is frustrating, and the show has an overall awkward naivety that even the similar-feeling shounen romance series School Rumble manages to avoid.

The over-the-top slapstick never completely goes away, but it becomes less prominent in the latter episodes, where the various romances are allowed to come to the foreground and develop. Sadly, even the romantic aspect of the show is merely adequate. Several episodes culminate in sweet moments of romantic advancement, where characters will realize just what their romantic interest means to them or find themselves overcome with new emotions. You’ll know these scenes from the rotating frills at the border of the screen and changing rainbow-colour scheme. But in the end, the characters and relationships simply aren’t nuanced and multifaceted enough for these scenes to command the same emotional impact as Bokura ga Ita’s bittersweet dramatic onslaught or Fruits Basket’s innocent, yet heartfelt charm.

Despite the show’s shortcomings, there’s still enough personality in most of these characters that the romantic scenes are sufficiently sweet to distract the audience for a moment… but Hikari is the big exception to this. This female lead is one of those characters that has been written with a personality purposely designed to stall plot progress. At first, she doesn’t understand Kei’s hidden emotions for her and mixed signals. Fair enough. But when he starts outright telling her about his emotions and making serious romantic advancements on her, she should get it. Instead, she goes through most of the second half of the series denying that Kei could possibly have romantic feelings for her when it isn’t just obvious, it’s spelled out to her. How can one enamour a one-dimensional character that’s so dense? I grew to respect Kei, who was a rather mundane character himself, purely because of his patience for Hikari… mine ran out well before the end.

Special A is a rom-com that’s acceptable on the romantic side and poor on the comedic. The character designs are boring; there’s not enough variety to the male characters, and the females look like CLAMP rejects. The OP themes are bland and unimaginative and the rest of the music isn’t too much better, with a lot of tracks bearing an eerie familiarity. This might be worth its time if you can tolerate the slapstick, but I’d rue recommending this to genre enthusiasts, since the comparisons to better anime are almost inevitable.

The Rating: 5

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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