Will a new major character inject some spark back into the series?
Writer/Artist: Maki Minami
Translation: JN Productions
Adaptation: Amanda Hubbard
What They Say
he world of the SA class is turned upside down when Iori Tokiwa, a new student, transfers in and takes second place after Kei in the rankings, knocking Hikari down to third. But instead of resenting him, Hikari recognizes Iori as a kindred spirit as they both aim for the number one spot. As the two grow close, Kei must deal with a completely new experience--jealousy. Her whole life, Hikari Hanazono has been consumed with the desire to win against her school rival, Kei Takishima--at anything. He always comes out on top no matter what he does, and Hikari is determined to do whatever it takes to beat this guy...somehow! At age 6 Hikari lost to Kei in an impromptu wrestling match. Now, at 15, Hikari joins "Special A," a group of the top seven students at a private academy, for the opportunity to trounce the guy who made her suffer her first defeat.
I've had a long-standing opinion that the sudden introduction of a love triangle late into the story -- whether it be manga, film, prose, or sitcom -- is a warning sign of an author running out of ideas. Fair assessment? Unreasonable peeve? Either way, the fourteenth volume of S*A's certainly not doing much to change my opinion.
Apart from Minami unceremoniously plopping the new love interest Iori Tokiwa into the story during the first few pages, almost nothing of consequence to the plot happens in this volume. Tokiwa's existence is first noted in an opening scene where Hikari reads that she's now tied for the school's #2 slot with a new student; and, as with the last couple of volumes I've reviewed, the plot's trajectory is more-or-less fixed from that initial premise. Tokiwa shows up and turns out to be a guy with roughly the same nondescript looks and personality as Kei. Tokiwa starts confiding in Hikari. Kei gets insanely jealous. Hikari is oblivious enough to keep getting into compromising situations with Tokiwa. Kei grows even more insanely jealous. Et cetera. We've all seen this stuff before, and Minami simply spends too much time hitting all the requisite plot points. Although a good half of the volume has to do with the developing Hikari/Tokiwa/Kei triangle, not much actually happens to advance the plot beyond Tokiwa and Kei lobbing jealous threats at each other.
The other half of the volume is mostly throwaway material, generally accompanied with major pacing problems. An entire chapter is spent following Hikari in the aftermath of kissing Kei: even if the chemistry between the two were strong enough to support 30 pages of Kei fretting over Hikari's odd behavior (it's not), Hikari's trance-like reaction and Kei's obliviousness both strained my patience. The following chapter goes on a unrelated tangent where the Special-A students host a reception for incoming freshmen; the one after that stages a bizarre "Vacation Battle" between Finn and the Yamamoto twins. Neither of these chapters does anything to advance any ongoing plot line -- at least not as far as I can tell -- and I can't imagine any readers getting much out of the juvenile "true value of friendship" moral tone that permeates both stories.
Readers should be able to safely skip this one without having to worry about missing anything important. Several chapters are effectively glorified filler material; the rest are frustratingly slow in moving forward a single plot point that could just as easily be gleaned from the book's back cover.