Special A Vol. #01 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B-

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Info:

  • Art Rating: B+
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Text/Translatin Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Released By: Viz Media
  • MSRP: 8.99
  • Pages: 208
  • ISBN: 1-4215-1375-7
  • Size: B6
  • Orientation: Right to Left
  • Series: S.A. (a.k.a. Special A)

Special A Vol. #01

By Greg Hackmann     January 18, 2008
Release Date: November 27, 2007


Special A Vol.#01
© Viz Media


Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Maki Minami
Translated by:JN Productions
Adapted by:Amanda Hubbard

What They Say
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.

The Review
Volume 1 of S*A is a perfectly serviceable lightweight comedy, with dramatic ambitions that haven't really had the chance to take hold yet.

Packaging:

Viz's target demographic for S*A is pretty clear just from one look at the cover. Between the pastel color scheme; the flowers adorning the drawing of Hikari and Kei on the front cover; and the frilly dresses on Akira, Megumi, and Hikari on the back cover, I don't think that many male customers are going to feel comfortable handing this book to the cashier at their local bookstore. Moving inside the covers, the black-and-white artwork is consistently clean, with print quality that doesn't generally stand apart from other paperback titles in the same price range.

For extras, Viz gives us a brief author's bio and a handful of bonus artwork pages, including a one-page comic that gives Tadashi a soapbox to vent at the reader through his look-alike puppet ... plus, of course, page after page of ads for Viz's other Shojo Beat properties. (If you want evidence that Viz is starting to go overboard with advertising, just turn to the inside front cover to see a prominent ad for Volume 1 of S*A -- the book that you're reading right now.)

Artwork:

Minami's artwork is more-or-less standard for shojo manga, complete with the stereotypical bubbly backdrops. If there's one weakness in the art, it's the occasional stiffness in the character poses: Hikari and Kei generally come out OK, but the facial expressions on secondary characters sometimes come across as unnatural. But being a largely character- and dialogue-driven manga, S*A's artwork is more than acceptable as scaffolding; despite a few problems with the character artwork, at no point did the visuals actually distract me from the plot.

Text/SFX:

The English text includes one small typo, but otherwise reads fine. Unfortunately, Viz touches on one of my manga pet peeves here: asides are printed in a tiny, tiny handwriting-like typeface that's nearly impossible to read. Given the choice as a reader between functional-but-legible and flashy-but-unreadable, I'd pick the first option any day.

SFX and signs are translated inline. A few of the SFX translations are a little ... colorful: I'm pretty sure that this is the first thing I've read where someone turns around with a "pong", or where "klmp" [sic] represents the sound of a closing fist. The English script has one instance of self-censorship, with a mild swear word printed as "a**". It's not exactly a huge artistic compromise, but it seems weird to censor such a mild word in a title aimed at teenagers.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)

Hikari Hanazono, a student at an unnamed private high school, holds a special honor shared by only six other students in the entire school. Each student is placed into a group from A to F based on their academic performance, with the Special A (a.k.a. SA) group reserved for the seven best students in the entire school. Even though being in the elite SA class has made Hikari the envy of her classmates, being ranked #2 in the school isn't enough. The #1-ranked Kei Takishima is Hikari's real target: after suffering a humiliating defeat at the age of 6 in a wrestling match, Hikari has made it her life's goal to defeat Kei in something. But despite years of struggling, she always manages to just trail behind Kei in everything she does -- giving him plenty of opportunities to gloat and assign her nicknames ranging from "No. 2" to "Miss No. 2".

Each chapter in this collection contains a standalone story detailing SA's shenanigans at school and at home. The first two chapters focus mainly on the rivalry between Hikari and Kei as they first compete academically, then on a basketball court. Later chapters take members away from their fawning classmates and into more domestic settings. First, Kei's adoring cousin hosts the entire SA clan at an exclusive villa, hoping to use the time to form a romantic bond with him. After the party winds down, Hikari takes a part-time job tutoring Sui Takishima, Kei's bratty little brother. Despite the whole SA gang taking part in Kei's birthday party, these two chapters mostly deal with interactions between Kei and Hikari beyond their simpleminded rivalry. (Not that's hard to guess where those interactions are probably going to head in later volumes...)

Comments
So far, S*A's most obvious weakness is that it's quickly turning into an ensemble comedy without an interesting ensemble to match this aim. Minami repeatedly reintroduces Hikari's classmates to the reader, but never gives us much of a reason to care about them. At this point in the story, we're basically forced to categorize them into simple, one-line descriptions of their quirks: "The One Who Won't Talk"; "The One Who Obsesses Over Tea"; "The Childhood Friend of The One Who Won't Talk"; and so on. While these strange behaviors might make for some interesting stories further down the line, Minami only teases the reader at this point by constantly introducing and re-introducing this supporting cast at the start of the first three chapters.

Though Minami spends the most time with the core duo of Hikari and Kei in this volume, there's very little compelling chemistry going on between them so far. Instead, a big part of the storyline so far involves Hikari and Kei bickering over relatively silly things: a single exam, a basketball match, Kei's eccentric family, etc. The humor in these situations is very hit-or-miss: Kei's incessant teasing and Hikari's response to his needling provide some really good comedic touches, but other jokes sometimes fall flat. The serious moments in this volume don't go over quite as well, since Hikari coming in second to Kei in everything is a foregone conclusion; this fact tends to suck all of the suspense out of any dramatic situations.

So with all of its flaws, why give S*A a B grade? The short version is that enough of the humor worked just well enough to keep me entertained during the first read-through. Unfortunately, the effect didn't last when I revisited this volume in preparation for writing up this review: gags that seemed funny the first time around just didn't stand up the second time around. If my experience is any indicator, readers hungry for light comedy will probably get a short but sweet kick out of S*A's first volume; but Minami hasn't sold me on the series's dramatic angle quite yet.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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