The shoujo manga, Special A, was created by Maki Minami and was originally released in 2003. The book ran for nearly twenty volumes and wrapped up last year. In 2008 GONZO, AIC released a 24 episode animated series based on the manga. For release here in the States the license fell into the hands of Sentai Filmworks.
Never heard of Special A? Don't worry, you're not alone. The series is rather obscure in America, but the first collection most likely got the attention of anime fans. In case you missed it though, you're probably wondering what it's all about.
Special A is about rivalry and love at its core. Basically it follows the exploits of two main characters, Hikari and Kei. Their relationship dates back to when they were younger and their fathers, who are good friends, introduced them to each other. There was something of a competition between them, and Kei came out on top easily. This infuriated Hikari to the point that she vowed that day to beat Kei at something, anything. She took it to such an extreme that she went out of her way to attend the same school to stoke the flames of their rivalry.
Somewhere along the way Kei developed feelings for her, but Hikari is thick headed with regards to affairs of that nature. Now that they attend an elite school named Hakusenkan their rivalry continues with the two being the top students in the school and better in most things than the rest of their classmates, however, Kei still beats Hikari hands down. It's a charming set up for the show, but the first collection of twelve episodes squandered the concept on familiar pratfalls and stereotypes.
The second collection thankfully steers itself into another direction than the first. This time around love is in the air and all the players begin developing relationships with each other. Sure the embers were there for a while, but everyone gets a piece of the action. The show still feels rather generic in this sense, but there are some charming moments even if the material never truly stands out.
As far as Hikari and Kei are concerned the bit that occurs between them is rather predictable and dry. To make a long story short Kei has to go back to London, and throughout this volume he tries to force Hikari's hand. The ending is far too conventional for its own good, and quite honestly there's nothing in these episodes that really rises above the rest of the pack.
If you're okay with that, then you'll most likely enjoy Special A because it's really a play-by-numbers anime. It doesn't break any molds and frankly from the ground up I felt it was painfully generic. The brand of humor will elicit the occasional chuckle, and Hikari and Kei's relationship was fun until the final stretch. I'd say this one is a rental, but fans of the genre could consider it lightly recommended if you're looking for some shoujo material.
Special A Collection 2 is presented on DVD with its original anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. Though some of the designs do not really stand out as much as they should, the show looks absolutely gorgeous. Bright, vibrant colors, smooth, detailed animation, and rich backgrounds all come together to make an anime that pops in many ways. There's very little grain, no compression, and aliasing isn't a concern at all. Some cross-coloration can be spotted here and there, but it's hardly noticeable or really worth mentioning.
As we've seen in other Sentai Filmworks releases, Special A hits DVD with a Japanese only track and English subtitles. The audio is presented with 2.0 stereo and performs like one would expect it would. Dialogue, music, and effects are all front centric, and the soundstage is relatively flat and lacks dynamism. One wouldn't expect a bombastic soundtrack full of immersion with a 2.0 output. As it stands the show's presentation fits the material just fine.
Clean animations, some production sketches, and trailers are what you're going to find on this DVD set. It's more or less what we would expect.
Special A is an entertaining series, but it's not necessarily a memorable experience. The characters are lively and fun, and the story is appealing, but all in all there's little about the show that pops. The content is rather dry and predictable with generic relationship filler. Consider this is the second half of the show, only those that watched the first release need apply. If you enjoyed the material of the first collection, then you'll probably dig this set. Personally I felt it just didn't do enough to separate itself from the rest of the genre and because of that it's merely worth a rental.
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