Reviewby Theron Martin, Nov 23rd 2009
Sub.DVD - Collection 1
Hikari has had a fierce rivalry with Kei ever since he beat her in wrestling as a kid, so much so that she won her way into prestigious Hakusenkan Academy just to continue the rivalry. She has never been able to beat him at anything, though, always coming in second to him in any nature of challenge, a fact which Kei mercilessly teases her about because she takes it so personally. Their abilities and resolve have earned both of them spots in the elite Special A Class, a prestigious curriculum loaded with special privileges that is only open to the top seven students in the school – and they are, of course, a rather eclectic and eccentric bunch. What Hikari consistently fails to pick up on, though, is that Kei started to fall in love with her somewhere along the way. Fellow SA student Akira is much more open with her one-sided affections for Hikari, but Kei, for all his indomitable greatness, has trouble openly admitting his feelings, which naturally leads to all manner of misunderstandings. As much as both relish a challenge, neither is prepared nor equipped to handle matters of the heart, and a rival of Kei's messing with their relationship for his own reasons only complicates matters further.
Based on a shojo manga by Maki Minami, SA (mostly) succeeds despite its flimsy premise for two simple reasons: it is often quite funny and occasionally endearingly sweet. It may not stand amongst the best shojo romantic comedies, but it works because it uses the same formula as Ouran High School Host Club: revel in silliness, temper its out-of-control side with scattered scenes of seriousness, and above all concentrate on the entertainment value. If certain elements should happen to synergize in unexpectedly positive ways, all the better!
Although Kei may get equal billing as co-lead protagonist, the true and singular star of the series is Hikari. She is the catalyst who makes things happen in the story, and with rare exceptions the series is at its weakest when a particular scene does not directly involve her. Her basic personality is actually not that unusual; she is a typical type A overachiever with the typical foibles for characters of this type (thickheaded when it comes to relationships, her cooking is so catastrophically bad that her rice balls can leave impact craters on the floor). Nonetheless, Hikari endears herself to viewers through her fresh earnestness and an honesty of spirit and soul which insists that winning due to an unfair advantage is not really winning. She may not be able to resist a challenge, certainly lets always finishing second get to her too much, and definitely is not the most refined of young women, but her steadfast courage and determination in the face of any challenge, her vivaciousness, and a winning smile reminiscent of Kaname Chidori's from Full Metal Panic! leave little wonder why Kei (or, for that matter, Akira) might fall for her. She, of course, does not have a clue.
If Hikari and Kei do eventually hook up then Kei is definitely getting the better end of the deal. While he is rich, handsome, and unbelievably competent at almost everything, he has all the personality of a cardboard box. Oh, sure, the writers do try to give him some depth by throwing in the tried-and-true “overworked” and “isolated by his circumstances” angles for his character, and the latter does figure into this block of episodes' one potentially emotional scene, but in this case they more commonly feel as overused as they are. It is telling that Hikari has, so far, actually shown much greater chemistry with SA classmate Tadashi in the episode where she pretends to be his girlfriend to help him out of a tight bind with his mother. That both of them totally fail to read anything more into the arrangement despite how much they are clicking only makes what is already the funniest episode in the series' first half that much funnier.
The rest of the core cast members are mostly just pairings of one prominent personality trait with one or two prominent gimmicks. Akira is the raging lesbian (or, at the very least, is uncommonly possessive of her “angel” Hikari) whose gimmick is service of exotic teas and accompanying pastries every afternoon, while Ryu is the normally even-tempered animal lover; the literal zoo he keeps in his penthouse garden is one of the series' most stupefying gags. Jun and Megumi are fraternal twins who both lovey-dovey up to Ryu; while Jun does not have much of a gimmick, Megumi's shtick is a singing voice of such earth-shattering power that she rarely speaks, so she goes around using a notepad whose messages she must be psychically printing on the pad since we never see her actually write anything. Tadashi rounds out the SA bunch as the enthusiastic wanderer who is an even more enthusiastic eater. Yahiro Saiga, the darkly handsome figure whose penchant for messing with Hikari conceals a not-yet-explained ulterior motive, is the closest thing to a true antagonist the series has shown so far, while a Student Council President keen to undo the sacrosanct privilege of the SA members (but comically unable to succeed at it) rounds out the regularly recurring cast.
Most of the time the antics of the SA are played for laughs; indeed, the very concept of the SA is more than a little ridiculous, as is the seemingly superhuman abilities of some of them. The humor can be hit-or-miss, with some recurring jokes getting old fast (Akira beaning Tadashi with something when he gets too impatient or overzealous with eating, Akira's obsession with Hikari) while others never wear out their welcome (the stone weights crushing Hikari down every time she finishes second to Kei). Situational jokes generally work better. The more serious content also more consistently sags, primarily because it is more commonly retread material, although the writing does still manage a few fine serious moments, too. The result is an uneven flow of entertainment value which has some impressive peaks towering over disappointing valleys but generally does its job.
The artistry, a collaboration between AIC and Gonzo, gives the content a fresh look not too overwhelmingly entrenched in typical shojo design features but still quite typical of shojo style. The most notable design features are the gangly body frames sporting unusually long, thin limbs and the consistent propensity for its main female characters to wear pants when dressed casually. (Seriously, think about what percentage of teen-centered anime titles actually commonly show this.) Hikari is a long-haired charmer of a design, while Akira takes the short-haired approach to beauty and somehow hides the significant bust she shows in the beach episode underneath clothing which should not hide it that well. The male designs are generally standard bishonen looks. While the background art is nothing special, the rendering quality of the characters is usually a notch above the norm. The animation does not impress, but this is not a series which requires elaborate animation, either.
The musical score does a fine job of supporting the comical bits and an adequate one with the serious content; overall, it is an effective but not exceptional job. Opener “Special Day” by Yuko Goto (Hikari's seiyuu) is an enthusiastically lovey-dovey number which suits the series well, while closer “Hidamari no Gati,” sung by several of the main male seiyuu, is less remarkable. The Japanese dub also suits the series well, will all of its seiyuu suitably hamming up their roles.
The most remarkable thing about Section 23's sub-only release of this title is that, for a rare change, it is entirely devoid of typos and grammatical errors in the subtitles. (Yes, this should not be a noteworthy accomplishment, but given Section 23's recent track record, it bears mentioning.) Like with other recent Section 23 releases, both discs containing the first twelve episodes come facing each other in a regular-sized DVD case. On-disk Extras split between the two disks include clean opener and closer and an Art Gallery which looks like it includes poster shots of the cast in various different settings and poses.
If you are looking for some frivolous, escapist entertainment to cool down with after a long day then the first half of SA should work fine. It has its flaws, and some may find annoying the way it beats certain gimmicks and tired plot elements into the ground, but does generally do what it is supposed to do: entertain its audience.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Sometime very funny (especially episode 11!), but also has its sweet moments; Hikari.
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