Ever since their first meeting at six years old, Hikari Hanazono has struggled to defeat her rival Kei Takashima at anything, whether it be athletics or academics. To date she has proven unsuccessful, resulting in Kei constantly referring to her as "second place." In reality, Kei has been in love with Hikari for quite some time, but Hikari remains completely oblivious to the fact. Now, as the top two students in a prestigious academy, the duo continues their long-running competition as part of the school's elite class of seven, the Special A. Will Hikari ever surpass Kei... or realize that he loves her?
Special A is a 24 episode high-school (slice-of-life style) comedy romance anime. Considering the story, this is something that I’ve seen before in Kaichou wa Maid-Sama!, which I found funny and enjoyed. It’s a sensible romance, suitable for most, but leans more towards shoujo. However, ‘high-school’ and ‘romance’ are two thing that don’t do well together, that’s just my opinion. Usually these types of anime don’t have a satisfying end. Animation The animation quality is pretty decent. The best quality it exists in seems to be 480p. But even for an anime limited by its resolution, the quality is decent. It’s not above average, but it’s acceptable for a 2008 anime. A pleasant surprise after the last anime I watched, where even a higher resolution didn’t help too much. The animation style however was certainly… interesting. It’s fairly original, though the faces of the characters seem familiar the most noticeably different facet of style are the bodies. When we first got a full body shot of the protagonist, I thought: wow, she’s very tall and skinny, how is she not falling over. It’s a big different to other anime which have tried the tall and thin character style, like Code Geass where it was much more stylised and done better. Two of the characters are supposed to be skilled in pro-wrestling and they work out for it. As a skinny person myself, I can assure you that such a training regimen should at least put on a little weight/bodymass. It’s kinda inconsistent, since other times it looks normal. They also make good use of facial expression and comic effects. There’s even a lightly shaded hand-drawn style used to good effect. I guess I should commend this rare type of character design though. It’s anime like this that reminds me of those who are uncomfortable watching anime as the style is off-putting. The eyes seem too big and unnatural or something like that. I guess I understand their perspective a bit better now. But after all that, this style of animation doesn’t affect the enjoy-ability of this anime that much. I can still like an anime that looks like this, even if it looks a bit strange and most importantly I just got used to it. There is no fan-service or ecchi I’m happy to say. This in combination with the almost bishounen, pretty boy-like designs of some of the male characters makes me think this is a shoujo anime. But ignore that, my recommendations for this anime are irrespective of gender. Sound The intro to this anime wasn’t there in the first episode. Seeing it in the second episode, I personally don’t like it. But that’s personal taste. It just doesn’t seem very accommodating. The outro was better though, but not amazingly so. The second set of intro and outro were much better. One major issue, during a fight scene in the first episode, they play a pop track, complete with high-pitched female vocalist. That was just wrong and some pretty bad sound design. The music was very unsuited to the scene portrayed. They make use of quite a few sound effects for things like the character introductions. But there are a few that felt off, like the sparkly sound effects during some bits. The rest of the music is okay, used better than that pop track in the first episode. It’s just that towards the beginning, the sound and music weren’t that great, it does improve to the usual standard later though. It did feel cliché and cheesy at times though. The anime is available in both English and Japanese (contrary to what this site says, I think it was dubbed in 2013). And the cast of voice actors includes a bunch of well-known people, who’ve done roles in some of my favourite anime. However at the very start the English version felt a bit wrong. Some of the characters had voices that didn’t suit the character and there were a lot of recycled voices. I.e. the same voice actors voiced a multitude of minor characters, even those slightly significant. I did try out the Japanese version and it felt a bit better but then I got used to the English voices. I will say the Japanese voice of Hikari is preferred over the English one, no hate on the voice actor or anything. Monica Rial voices Hikari Hanazono, who was Misuzu Kamio in Air, Mei Misaki in Another, Chanet Laforet in Baccano, Kanae in Elfen Leid, Lyra in FMA, Sayara Yamanobe in Mnemosyne, Tsubaki in Soul Eater, Coopa in Tower of Druaga (last anime I watched), Sakura in Tsubasa Chronicle and Maria in Witchblade. Kei Takashima is voice by Blake Shepard, who’s also voiced Otonashi in Angel Beats, Takabayashi in Another, Michio Hoshino in Ghost Hound and Yumeji Fujiwara in Yumekui (Dream Eater) Merry. Ryu Tsuji is voiced by Chris Patton, the voice of Teshigawara in Angel Beats, Kyousuke Tsutsumi in Ef: a Tale of Memories/Melodies, Greed in FMA, Yuichi Aizawa in Kanon (2006), Keima Katsuragi in The World God Only Knows and Takateru Akiyanagi in Yumekui Merry. Akira Tohdou is voiced by Luci Christian, who voiced Haruko Kamio in Air, Masami Iwasawa in Angel Beats, Nagisa Furukawa in Clannad, Ophelia in Claymore, Miyako Miyamura in Ef: a Tale of Memories/Melodies, Mariko in Elfen Leid, Wrath in FMA, Sanae Oogami in Ghost Hound, Mishiho Maeno in Mnemosyne, Medusa in Soul Eater, Chun Hyang/Kiishimu in Tsubasa Chronicle, Haiji/Hikaru in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase and Yui Kounagi in Yumekui Merry. Tadashi Karino is voiced by Andrew Love, who was Fujimaki in Angel Beats, Akio Furukawa in Clannad and Yuuya Daigo in Tokyo Majin. Brittney Karbowski voices Megumi Yamamoto, having voiced Yuri in Angel Beats, Ryou Fujibayashi in Clannad, Kiko Kayanuma in Darker than Black, Kei Shindou in Ef: a Tale of Memories/Melodies, Miyako Komagusu in Ghost Hound, Ayu Tsukimiya in Kanon (2006), Black Star in Soul Eater, Kanon Nakagawa in The World God Only Knows and Isana Tachibana in Yumekui Merry. Jun Yamamoto is voiced by Kirby Brister, who hasn’t voiced much anime at all. Other voices of secondary characters I recognised included Clint Bickham (Renji Asou in Ef: a Tale of…) as Yahiro Saiga/Kakei Hajime, David Matranga (Tomoya Okazaki in Clannad) as Nakamura and Hilary Haag as Sakura Ushikubo (Yui in Angel Beats, Merry in Yumekui Merry). So the English cast features a ton of voice actors whose voices I’m fond of (since they were characters in various anime I enjoyed), but some of these roles felt mismatched. I was taken aback by Andrew Love as Tadashi and Monica Rial didn’t feel right as Hikari, her voice just made the character a bit too different. Yuki Goto’s voice seemed more appropriate for Hikari and the other Japanese voices were on point. But the English featured many voices I liked so it was a tough decision between the English and Japanese. Characters Hikari Hanazono is a high-school girl in the special A (S.A.) class, the one who always comes 2nd, ranked 2nd in the academy. She is hot-headed, with a competitive nature and has been raised as a strong fighter by her father who is a pro-wrestling fanatic. Both athletic and smart, the only thing she can’t do is cook, sew and a few girly things. She absolutely loves festivals, especially traditional Japanese ones. She is constantly annoyed by Kei beating her to 1st place and is always trying to beat him in various challenges. She only sees him as a rival. In that single respect, she’s a blockhead not being able to figure out that Kei really loves her. She’s that type of character that puts in a lot of effort and doesn’t give up easily. She can be violent and aggressive, and together with her super human strength, she tends to break things a lot. She is the only member of the S.A. class who is from a normal, middle-class family. She reminds me of Misaki in Kaichou wa Maid-sama! Kei Takishima is a high-school boy in the S.A. class, the one who always comes 1st, ranked 1st at the academy. He is a calm and collected individual who loves to tease Hikari and accepts her challenges with confidence. He is always better at everything than Hikari, being a powerful athletic/smart prodigy himself. Thing is, he has a crush on Hikari, making him very protective of her and springs to her defence if anyone tries to harass her. He doesn’t’ like it if any guy tries to get close to her. He realises how much effort she puts in and appreciates it. His love towards Hikari is unnoticed, thus unrequited. He’s a nice guy, but a bit shy when it comes to his feelings for Hikari. He reminds me of Usui Takumi. Akira Tohdou is a high-school girl in the S.A. class and is ranked 4th at the academy. Though, she has known Kei as a childhood friend, Hikari is her best friend and her admiration for Hikari goes a bit further, she’s over-protective of her and won’t let any boy have her. She’s also a tea fanatic, making different kinds of tea for the S.A. class each day. In addition she is a skilled cook, but is fussy with serving her food. She gets upset when Tadashi goes for her food and she can be hot-headed as a result. She is often hitting him for no reason at all. She doesn’t like Kei, since he’s often teasing Hikari and getting a bit too close for Akira’s comfort. She also has some history with Yahiro Saiga. Ryuu Tsuji is a high-school boy of the S.A. class and is ranked 7th at the academy. He has a gentle and mellow personality. He loves animals, always getting along with them, being loved by them in return and is always accompanied by one in the S.A. garden. Heck, he has no interest in girls or romance and would rather spend time with his animal friends. He’s very protective and caring of the Yamamoto twins and always has been. Since he lives by himself, he is able cook and do housework. He also been friends with the Yamamoto twins since they were children, who compete with the animals for his attention. He’s very protective of them He’s just an all-round nice guy. Tadashi Karino is a high-school boy in the S.A. class and is ranked 5th at the academy. He loves food and is quite a boisterous, comic character. His parents run the academy and apparently his mother is scary, he really doesn’t like bungies. He gets along well with Akira, which is to say she always scolds him for eating all the food/having bad table manners. He has a one-track mind, but he does notice other stuff and can be vocal about it, like Kei’s behaviour. Heck, he’s a very sensible and empathic guy, he knows the right thing to do most of the time and is capable of being seriously helpful, especially to Akira. He’s a nice person deep down and loves to ride his motorcycle. He is also the guy who does the preview at the end of every episode, as am adorable puppet. Jun Yamamoto and Megumi Yamamoto are high-schoolers in the S.A. class and ranked 3<sup>th</sup> and 6<sup>th</sup> respectively at the academy. These two siblings are twins (non-identical because they are different genders, thankfully they got that right) and their parents are renowned musicians. They also have musical talent, Jun plays the violin and Megumi sings. The two enjoy their music, but it their music has destructive power, hence the other members of S.A. don’t want to hear it too much. Jun has a secret that links in with some troubling childhood history. All I can say is: he has a dark side. Megumi doesn’t talk and instead communicates by writing on a small whiteboard, it turns out she chooses to do this to preserve her voice, which is like a powerful shockwave. Both twins adore their childhood friend Ryuu and are a bit clingy with him. They compete with his animals for his attention, therefore they don’t get along well with the animals. Yahiro Saiga is Kei’s childhood friend and the son of a very wealthy family. Yahiro, Kei and Akira used to play together. He has pierced ears and seems a bit assertive towards Hikari. He can usually handle Hikari’s attacks and is capable of restraining her. He doesn’t see her as a rival to Kei and wishes for her to be more girly and more obedient, his opinions towards women are despicable. He knows that Kei has a crush on her and tries to prove it to Hikari. It seems like he wants help their relationship along. Kei has no problem being vicious towards his friend if he tries anything with Hikari. He seems to be a mean guy, but as we discover more about him, we find out how human he really is. Kei’s mother seems to be non-existent. His father Satoru Takashima on the other hand is a baby-faced man, who also sounds younger than his son. This is off-putting and I’m annoyed at the unrequired youth this character is given. He behaves childish and his employees tease him, making him dress up as a girl and calling him names. He relies on his older son to help him in meetings as a result. He loves pro-wrestling and is best friends with Hikari’s dad, he enjoys sparring with Hikari too. Kei’s younger brother is a mischievous elementary school student, who is capable of being moody and craves attention from his brother. He likes to annoy Hikari, who calls him mini-Takashima, because he looks like a smaller version of his older brother. Hikari’s dad Jiro Hanazono is a big fan of pro-wrestling, just like his friend Satoru. He is the one who trained Hikari and introduced him to Kei when they were children. Hikari’s mother Masako is very defensive of her kitchen, she won’t let Hikari cook because she ends up breaking everything with her uncontrolled strength. Hikari’s brother Atsushi is a normal and a high-school student, who isn’t in S.A. The student council president is Kakei Hajime, a scrawny guy with glasses and a member of the A class. He has a crush on Hikari and tries to compete with Kei for her, who doesn’t like his attempts to woo her. When it comes to competing with Kei, he likes to use underhanded, dirty tactics, which he justifies by claiming it’s to level the playing field. He’s just a jerk IMO. He’s always getting teased by the S.A. members, especially Kei who belittle him by calling him useless, dumb, among other things to rub in their superiority over him. Story In this academy, the classes are ranked F to A, and students are arranged in these classes according to the exam results they earn. It’s a lot like the system in Baka to Test, except without the class wars. But, there’s a bit more to it. For the top 7 ranking students in school are in a whole other league and class: the special A (S.A.) class. Members of the S.A. hangout in a luscious greenhouse conservatory, fitted and decorated with the most premium equipment and furniture. And there’s no teacher to teach them. They don’t need a teacher, as they do so well just with self-study. This didn’t seem like much of a romance anime towards the start. There’s a huge departure from realism as the characters do things impossible and what not. Of course, being set in high-school means there’s almost no overall plot, just like slice-of-life. Sure Hikari gets bombarded with suggestions that Kei loves her and she ignores as if she were the typical male harem protagonist. I guess that’s all there is to the plot, it’s just Kei trying to make Hikari realise that he loves her. And he gets annoyed when she ignores it or misinterprets it as something else. The anime eventually ends up taking it a bit seriously. There are other aspects to the plot, such as Akira’s past, Jun’s concern towards the Yamamoto twins, the history between Akira and Yahiro. But I was annoyed by how one of these ‘shippings’ didn’t go the way I wanted it to and the conclusion to this story is too vague, to the point where it seems like nothing happened at all. It almost does feel like slice of life because of that. These anime need to be confident and solid in their endings. Otherwise what’s the point of having this romantic narrative if it goes nowhere. But this anime does have interesting themes to discuss besides the romance. Which is depicted somewhat accurately here, it takes time for it to happen. I was also pleasantly surprised at how neatly it fell into place. There’s a variety of characters besides Hikari and Kei and I found is suspicious how easily one could ship the other characters. Almost sets one up for disappointment, since you then also want a formation and subsequent conclusion to other (non-existent) romances. But there’s also some serious discussion with rich people and how different they are. How some normal folks befriend them only because they are rich. The not so surprising reality is that this happens in real life. The attention and popularity gained by rich people, is mostly due to their money. I know because I’ve lived through it first-hand. And then there’s the abuse of authority and power for personal gain. Causing someone to suffer by firing them or someone close to them if they do something against the will of the one in power. Power corrupts. Another lesson to learn and one that might not be noticed by all viewers of this anime. So why would anyone endure the initial slice-of-life section of this anime besides the plot that lays in later? For the laughs. The comedy. If you liked anime like Seto no Hanamiye (My Bride is a Mermaid!). While I wasn’t exactly laughing out loud, it was funny. Well, okay I did laugh like that a few times. And that made the overall experience enjoyable. This anime made me smile, with how funny it was. And that’s definitely a win in my book. Conclusion It was an enjoyable experience overall. The best bit of this are definitely the quirky characters and the comedy that happens because of it. I’d recommend this to fans of romance and comedy who are tolerant of slice-of-life or the lack of plot. Because the wrap-up pretty much is standard of slice-of-life and the other ‘romance’ anime. It looked like it could have been more and the shipping pairs were almost there. Because of the way the story goes, I wouldn’t define this as much of a romance. Rather a high-school slice-of-life comedy with minor hints of that romantic stuff. If you’re expecting lovey-dovey stuff, then prepare for disappointment. It’s like a bait and switch and that lack of romantic story is my biggest issue with this anime. Even though this anime is capable of making you squeal like a little girl with what little it has. Were it to take the romantic angle seriously, then I'd have given it a higher score. Enjoy the laughs though, cos I sure did. Family-friendliness Rating: 2/5 Besides a sensible beach episode, I think Tadashi once makes a period joke, but that’s about it (lower is better) Overall Rating: /10 (higher is better)
The density of the main female character (Hikari) to admit her feelings and realize the feelings others have for her (mainly Kei). Other than the occasional annoyance that presents this anime is good. All the other characters are great and I love the interaction and growth they all go through. It sails through seemingly smoothly, other than the relationship drama, until towards the end when the drama increases just a little. Kei is too perfect at everything and even though Hikari is as well it's not good enough unless she beats Kei, which seems virtually impossible as she hasn’t been able to ever in all the years she has known him. Their relationship seems to waver between love-hate which makes it more entertaining. The music isn't anything to get excited about it. I didn’t even remember what it was after watching it. The art is good. The main selling points are the hilarity of the story, Hikari failing in her mission to defeat Kei at anything and everything, and the characters themselves.
I first came across this anime after googling some good School Life anime's to watch. Special A was on that list and I put it on mine to check it out. Sadly, I had to drop it. I just couldn't get it. It just didn't have that charm I found in a lot of other animes I've watched. There was always that one thing about an anime I find that made me want to watch it. I just couldn't find it here. If anything, I'm always over-praising an anime. Everything just wasn't my taste. However, I am genuinely upset that I cannot will myself to finish it and I know I shouldn't. There's so many good reviews that I'm kinda forced myself to try and find a reason to like it. If I do I won't properly it as I should. Hopefully I'll come back in the future and start fresh.
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