A new semester has started (okay, it started a week or two ago. Sue me) so I thought, “let’s celebrate those who still are in the clutches of the education system by reviewing a manga about kids in school.” Aren’t I so thoughtful?
Despite the literally thousands of manga that can be sorted into this category, I fell in love with SA while I was still reading Shoujo Beat and, unfortunately, have fallen out of love with since. For, as much I love this series, SA by Maki Minami is just a re-hashing of old tropes that doesn’t offer anything new to the table.
“SA” stands for ‘Special A’: and elite group of seven students at the Hakusenkan Academy (again, an elite school for the rich and powerful) that are at the top of their class. Taking up the second spot of this group is our main character, Hikari Hanazono. Taking cues from Ouran, Hikari belongs to a lower economic status—her father is a carpenter—and takes it upon herself to try and ground the other, more affluent members of her group. She’s energetic and upbeat, but also has a strong sense of pride that can get her into sticky situations, especially when it comes to SA’s number one chair, Kei Takashima. Ever since a childhood competition over wrestling moves, Hikari treated Kei as her number one rival. She attempts to beat him at sports, school, and/or basically anything they both participate in. Of course, as rich cool guys are wont to do, Kei takes it all with a smirk and beats her at everything. This chemistry they have is really what makes the manga interesting, and when they inevitably get together the manga falls flat.
Of course, a manga cannot run on the romantic tension of one couple forever, even if one of the parties is incredibly dense about the others’ affections, but there really isn’t much of a story outside of it. Ouran at least had the opposing school trying to get Haruhi to join it and the genderbending to keep it going, but SA doesn’t have any of that. Of course, there are the plots of ‘romantic rival??!?!?’ and ‘what if Hikari falls out of SA?’, but they’re all easily solved. There’s no way that Hikari would ever be allowed to permanently stay out of SA because then there really wouldn’t be a plot. Early on, it’s clear that Kei wouldn’t allow anyone else to mack on Hikari (plus she’s about as romantically astute as a rock). There are focuses on the other members of SA and their lives, but I found that I wasn’t given enough reason to care about them: they all play second fiddle to Kei’s bombastic nature and Hikari’s burning passion. Again, to compare to Ouran, I was able to care about the other hosts because they could stand toe-to-toe characteristically with Tamaki and Haruhi and had more to them than “oh wow, we’re rich and eccentric”.
There are a few great things about this manga, though, like the great variety of characters and that it really sends the message that girls can be smart and still do the stuff they want to do. In itself, the SA members includes three girls all of which are different: aside from Hikaru there’s Akira, a tomboy who loves cute girls and tea, and Megumi, a young lady who is silent most of the time (she writes instead of speaks) and has a voice so potent it can knock people out. While most of their character-defining traits are played up for laughs, it’s easy to distinguish characters and their goals from those of their peers. Also, going on with my second point, no one in SA is there by paying someone off. The only one that could possibly do that would be Tadashi, son of the school’s director, but even then it’s made clear that if he doesn’t try his best, his mama doesn’t have a problem with kicking him out on his tush. Hikaru does work the hardest, as could probably be guessed, but her hard work pays off and she doesn’t lose any of her social life from the effort. I think this is a great message to send to younger girls about their education.
As you could probably surmise from earlier, if you want to read a really nuanced foray into the schoolgirl shoujo genre, I’d hit up Ouran rather than SA, but this manga still has a rather cute story and enjoyable characters. Just don’t be too surprised when the action begins to fade after the fifth volume.