More youth angst and young love.
Finally, a shojo I can love again.
After I watched Ouran High School Host Club, I searched for other similar shojo anime, but nothing was as good. So I gave up, deciding that nothing could come close to my beloved Ouran. But then, a few weeks ago, I found S•A:Special A.
The premise is pretty basic shojo fare, and similar to Ouran in more ways than one. Hikari Hanazono, our female protagonist, is a member of the Special A, an elite group consisting of the top seven students at her high school, Private Hakusen Academy. For some reason being at the top of the class seems to mean that they get to sit in a greenhouse and have tea all the time instead of attend classes like the regular students, but hey, it’s an indulgent fantasy, so I go with it. Hikari is number two, though she’s constantly battling for the number one spot, which is always taken by her childhood rival, Kei Takishima. He beats her at wrestling, Hikari’s hobby since she was a child, and he beats her at all sports, academics, contests, etc. It’s a serious but honorable rivalry for Hikari. For Takishima, it’s different, because over the years he’s fallen in love with Hikari. Unfortunately for him, Hikari, like so many female protagonists in these love comedies, doesn’t have a clue, and all but refuses to see the signs of his love right in front of her face.
When I read the description of episode one I didn’t think that I would enjoy this series because I thought that it would be all about wrestling. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is pure shojo romantic comedy, and wrestling was just a basis for Hikari and Takishima’s blossoming rivalry. The animation is interesting; like a few others I’ve caught a glimpse of, the people are drawn unusually tall and thin (even by anime standards!). However, it’s not so strange that you can’t get used to it. Many episodes are silly and more than a little outrageous, but that’s what I found so enjoyable about this show. I even laughed out loud quite a bit, which, as I have stated before, I don’t do very often. However, unlike School Rumble, it’s not all about the comedy. There are dramatic rivalries between the SA students and the regular students, and a childhood rival emerges just a few episodes in to create problems for Takishima. Hikari is kind and generous to a fault, but unlike some of her shojo sisters (*cough* Tohru Honda *cough*) she actually gets mad and serves up punches when she gets in a tizzy. Though her fights are more for comedic effect and tend to prove her innocence/idiocy, it’s still nice to see a female protagonist with a backbone.
Of course, fighting and rivalry aside, the underlying story is about love, and that’s where Special A actually has a leg up on Ouran. There are no mixed signals here: Takishima is very much in love with Hikari, and that’s obvious from the first episode. There’s always a softly-drawn montage in which someone is being nostalgic or feeling lovey-dovey, and it’s usually Takishima. As the series progresses he does more and more romantic things, enough to make nearly anyone go “squee!” Hikari, naturally, never seems to get it, but instead of being annoying, in this case her obtuse nature allows the romance to extend and build up in episode after episode. It’s thoroughly delightful to watch, in my opinion, and enough growth happens in the course of the first twelve episodes that most any romantically inclined viewer will be satisfied. However, there’s so much more that can happen, which reels you in for the second collection.
Yes, Ouran High School Host Club is still my favourite of this type of anime (romantic dramatic comedic shojo high school fantasy, that is). There’s just something so funny and delicious about watching Ouran that I can never quite let go of it as I explore other anime, or perhaps it’s just sentimental because it was one of the first series that I truly adored. But Special A has pure, good ol’ fashioned romance in every episode, and that makes it a heavy-weight contender in my shojo anime heart. Bring on the second collection!