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Manga / Special A

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Special A is a Shoujo manga by Maki Minami about Hikari Hanazono, a girl with a mission. That mission? To beat her rival, Kei Takishima, in something. Anything. It started when he beat her in wrestling (their fathers both being huge pro wrestling fans) at the age of 6, and it's continued ever since. She's so driven that she even begs her father, a mere carpenter, to let her attend the prestigious Hakusen Academy, for this chance. She even manages to rise to the second rank in the school, placing her in the most elite class division - Special A, reserved only for the top seven students in the entire academy.

The part that drives her up the wall? Kei still manages to top her, rising to number one and always able to best her using his natural talent.

Which isn't to say it's all fun and games for Kei at the top of the heap. See, it's bleedingly obvious to everyone that Kei is in love with Hikari. But she's so focused on their rivalry that she totally overlooks it. So he keeps up his half of the rivalry, hoping that she'll eventually see his feelings and return them.

Special A was serialized in Hana to Yume from 2003 to 2009. It received an anime adaptation in 2008 which aired for 24 episodes, animated by Gonzo and AIC. Sentai Filmworks licensed it for an American release in 2009, and its rerelease in July 2013 includes a dub.

This series contains the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: Played with, as while the actual student council is quite weak and often dismissed, the Special A acts as a de facto student council and is often depicted like a classic Absurdly Powerful Student Council (it helps that Tadashi, the fifth-ranked Special A student, is the son of the principal). The Special A has a private greenhouse in which they appear to skip all of their classes, have special uniforms, and have an inexplicably large amount of funding for comically random things.
  • The Ace: Kei, played for laughs whenever anyone thinks they've licked him.
  • Action Girl: Hikari is frequently shown training, and it shows - the only times she's collapsed involved injury/illness combined with a rather large amount of exertion (after competing in several matches). Moreover, the only time she's lost any of those are, of course, when up against Kei. Further, she's yet to lose any physical fights she's been in, though you'd think she was made of cracked glass the way Kei reacts to the prospect of her fighting.
  • Action Dress Rip: Hikari, chapter 10 and episode 6.
  • Anti-Villain: Yahiro Saiga, who does really value both Akira and Kei... and is willing to appear the villain to them both to keep them from being hurt.
  • Arranged Marriage: Several are attempted to be set up, and invariably it comes out that the would-be participants are interested (or are about to be interested) in someone else in the cast.
  • The Beautiful Elite: You'd think a beauty exam was part of the Special A qualifying exam, looking at the cast.
    • Lampshaded in episode 13, when someone comments, "Amazing. Which modeling group are they from?"
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Akira and Tadashi quickly develop into this dynamic. They also become the first actual couple in the series.
  • Berserk Button: A few characters have them - Hikari being called "Miss Second Place," Akira hearing Tadashi saying something stupid, Kei seeing anyone getting close to Hikari, and, most frequently, anyone lying in Sakura's presence.
  • Bifauxnen: Hikari dresses up as a boy a few times to stand out a bit less, but she's no less attractive. Finn is forced to do this for her kingdom, as she's apparently unable to inherit the throne if she's recognized as a woman.
  • Big Brother Worship: Kei's younger brother Sui develops one after seeing Kei isn't quite The Stoic he first appears to be.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Sakura and Yahiro both show up right on time to save the group in the finale, with Yahiro doing it twice.
  • Big Fancy House: Since most of Hakusen is populated by the uber-rich, these are everywhere.
  • Bishie Sparkle: Most notably, whenever Hikari is preparing food for Kei, other characters actually comment on the flowers, sparkles, and other shoujo comic staples that appear around Kei.
  • Bridal Carry: Kei to Hikari, rather often (referred to in-series as the "princess lift").
  • Brown Note: Megumi and Jun Yamamoto, any time they try to sing.
  • Butt-Monkey: It's practically guaranteed that Tadashi Karino will get abused Once an Episode. At least. Of course, he does say at one point that he likes getting hit, so he might actually enjoy this status.
  • Call-Back: As a background joke, note Hikari's lunch whenever she's shown eating it. She continues to make and eat perfectly spherical rice balls.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: You know, for being as smart as he is, you'd think Kei would have the brains to just explain how he feels if he was really interested in dating Hikari (particularly given how distressed he gets at times by her cluelessness).
    • Hikari later does this too. Mere minutes after realizing that she's fallen for Kei, she hears someone say that "the first one to fall in love loses." As she continues her obsession with defeating Kei in something, she absolutely refuses to be the first to confess.
      • Chapter 53/54 in the manga, she does spit it out. MUCH EARLIER THAN THE ANIME.
    • Besides Kei and later, Hikari, there's also Finn and possibly Ryu. The former clearly has fallen for the latter and doesn't want to admit it. Ryu, for his part, seems much more willing to admit it overall, but keeps quiet due to Finn's various family issues.
  • The Casanova: It's revealed that Jun was hypnotised by a television show to have an alternate personality like this. It comes out whever he gets kissed by a girl. Later on, when he starts falling for someone, it comes out whenever they touch.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Hikari plus illness equals really odd behavior she won't remember when she recovers.
  • Cooking Duel: Anything is suitable for a potential contest versus Kei as far as Hikari is concerned.
  • Cute Mute: Megumi refuses to speak in most instances because she wants to save her voice for her singing. Her voice is quite powerful as a result.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Dark Jun.
  • Determinator: Hikari will not give up, no matter how many times she's been defeated, at beating Kei. She won't give up on anything else, either, though her intelligence and strength result in her not needing to continue for too long generally.
  • Ditzy Genius: Tadashi - obviously very bright (5th ranked in his entire school), rather athletic (either third or fourth most in the school, after Kei, Hikari, and possibly Ryu), and is usually quick to find a solution to awkward social situations. He's also by far the most prone to sticking is foot in his mouth, saying things that only he thinks are compliments, and is shown to have an odd fondness for playing with dolls for some inscrutable reason. One imagines that he's training to be a Bunny-Ears Lawyer.
  • Does Not Like Men: Akira - fawns on any girls in her vicinity (particularly Hikari) and usually has a few nasty words for any men that might try to come between her and girls.
  • Dogged Nice Girl: Poor, Poor Alisa-sama.
  • Everyone Can See It: In large part due to the difference in how he reacts towards Hikari compared to everyone else, Kei's feelings towards her are common knowledge.
  • Festival Episode: As Hikari comes "from a long line of festival fanatics," these come up as an easy way of getting her to do anything.
  • Final Exam Finale: The last episode of the anime.
  • Follow the Chaos: Finn deliberately invokes it at one point - to let Kei and Ryu know where the two are, Finn gets Hikari to bake. As Hikari is still a Lethal Chef, the ensuing explosion does what Finn hoped it would.
  • Friendly Rival: Even from the get-go, it's clearly shown that Hikari values Kei as a dear friend, and even beyond their regular competitions, she wants to remain as close to him as she is with the others in Special A.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Tsuji Ryu, able to befriend any and all animals and children instantly.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Kei, just add anything that would come between him and Hikari.
  • Gratuitous English: In the second opening song, "Gorgeous 4U"—
    "So we wish you, go just forever!/ gorgeous forever!; So we have smile, Special forever!"
  • Greek Chorus: Ryu, Jun, and Megumi frequently remain in the background and comment sotto voce on the current situation. Tadashi and Akira will occasionally join them.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Anytime anyone assumes Kei and Hikari are dating, her response is a cheery "He and I are rivals," with her laughing merrily and Kei looking like he just ate a lemon.
  • Hot-Blooded: Both Hikari and her dad. It's shown that part of the reason that she gets permission to pursue her rivalry (even going to an extremely expensive school) is because her hot blood inspires his similarly hot blood, and the elder Hanazono supports this completely.
  • I Was Just Passing Through: Kei just happens to be there when Hikari needs help. Nobody besides Hikari believes a word of it, though.
  • Last-Name Basis: Highlighted by the fact that the sole exception to the First-Name Basis norm for Special A is Hikari always calling Kei "Takishima." One entire chapter of the manga has her coming to terms with calling him "Kei"... only to go back to calling him "Takishima" at the beginning of the next chapter.
  • Lethal Chef: Hikari's most blatant lack of talent lies in her cooking - it doesn't help that she doesn't pay attention to her own strength, powdering rice while trying to clean it and mincing beef so fine it might as well have been ground. The fact that Kei is practically obsessed with her cooking (and in fact prefers it above any other food) is taken as the most extreme example of his infatuation with her.
  • Me's a Crowd: The final competition between Kei and Hikari, with aid of Yahiro, is to see if he can find the real Hikari in the middle of a festival with a number of people disguised as her. Kei is a bit unnerved at just how good the impostors are, as they all respond appropriately to her Berserk Button.
  • Non Chalant Dodge: Kei, and Hikari if Kei isn't the one attacking.
    • Another exception for Hikari is if it's a main character guy attacking her, generally a villain trying to show her how helpless she is.
  • Noodle People: Just look at their limbs! The characters look way too thin and lanky for how strong they are.
  • Oblivious to Love: Everyone else knows (or figures it out within minutes of meeting them) that Kei loves Hikari. She somehow misses this for over ten years (as of the start of the series).
    • Note that this is only oblivious to anyone loving her (Hikari is similarly oblivious when Aoi flat-out states that he's going to seduce her) - Hikari is quite attentive to anything else, including romantic feelings directed towards someone else.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Hikari believes she is the only one allowed to even try to top Kei. Yahiro invokes her ire when he reveals that he has beaten Kei in a rigged game.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Akira attempts this on Tadashi, after she's gotten together with him and Kei and Hikari have gotten together. It fails because Tadashi sees all the little details that show that Akira and Kei are just acting and are actually barely tolerating the others' presence.
  • Pair the Spares: The manga seems almost singularly committed to doing this.
  • Parental Substitute: Ryu to the twins; it's even lampshaded later on, when Sakura notes that's it's pretty weird that Jun asks Ryu permission before going on a date with her (Ryu, for his part, admits that it's a bit strange as well).
  • The Rival: How Hikari sees Kei, getting indignant if anyone suggests otherwise.
  • Say Itwith Hearts: Yahiro does this A LOT - nearly every speech bubble he has.
  • Scholarship Student: Not quite, as the Hanazono family is shown to scrimp so that Hikari can go to the same school as everyone else, but the effect's the same.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Kei is Hikari-sexual.
    • Hikari herself is a platonic example. She values the company of other people, but there's no denying that Kei is usually the focus of her attention.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Hikari, whenever she tries teaching anyone to do something she can do. Notably, she's generally shown failing to successfully teach her charges.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Sometimes used to defeat Hikari.
  • The Stoic: Kei comes off as this up until Hikari gets in trouble.
    • Not So Stoic: Once shenanigans with Hikari do get started, though...
  • Supreme Chef: Akira, the primary cook for the Special A kids and who has several pages devoted to her delicately made treats.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: Finn, who looks very much like a guy, is a girl.
  • Talking with Signs: Megumi, rendering her The Voiceless most of the time.
  • Theme Naming: In the original Japanese, almost all the main characters have personal names that are written with one kanji (Yahiro being the lone exception). While obviously not able to be preserved in the English translation, one volume does have an author's note about it.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: While every main character is listed as having one in sidebars, two come up as a consequence of the story, both to advance relationships. Kei's favorite food is Hikari's cooking... note the entry above for Lethal Chef. Similarly, Tadashi's favorite is Akira's cooking; nobody notes it as being a sign of affection, however, because Akira is a Supreme Chef and the Team Chef.
  • True Companions: Despite various flare-ups, the members of Special A are all close to each other.
    • Honorary True Companion: The only reason Yahiro and Sakura aren't part of the true companions is because they don't go to the same school (and they would throw of the SA dynamic if they did).
  • Unknown Rival: Hikari gets a bunch of these, as several people wishing to become the center of attention for Kei try to get rid of her. She completely misses the point.
  • Weak-Willed: Jun. When he was young, he got hypnotized by watching a TV program that involved a scene with hypnosis. A program that is fictional within the story. And the hypnosis wasn't even aimed at the viewer. In summary, he got hypnotized for life by fake hypnosis that wasn't even meant for him.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: In the final chapter, Kei has a flashback that serves to answer the most likely question a reader will have after reading just a couple chapters of the series— "Why doesn't Kei just throw a contest?" He did...right before the series, and Hikari saw through it. Her response was what caused Kei to fall in love with her, and he keeps up the competitions because that's part of what he loves about her.