Tuesday, July 20, 2010

S.A. Volume 16

By Maki Minami. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.

The penultimate volume of Special A, and the series is definitely in need of an ending. Having taken care of the rest of the cast in the previous volume, this one concentrates on Hikari and Kei, and unfortunately, that means that we have one of the series' major faults, which is Hikari's cluelessness. When she and Kei weren't a couple, this was amusing, especially as it was cranked up to 11. But now that they're a couple, it just makes Hikari seem rather dumb, as even innocent naivete needs to grow up sometimes.

We have two remaining plots to tie up, the first being Iori. He and Hikari are still bonding, and Kei is understandably getting jealous, mostly as Iori is egging him on. The midterms are coming up, and Iori asks Hikari to grant him one wish if he takes first place. She agrees, knowing that no one's going to topple Kei. But amazingly, Iori and Kei manage to tie for first - leaving Hikari screwed, as everyone knows his wish is going to be to break up with Kei.

However, there's little tension there, mostly as we know that Iori isn't enough of an asshole to actually go through with such a thing. Instead, we see Hikari taking part in a model competition, with Iori as a hairstylist (shades of I Hate You More Than Anyone). Hikari's a natural model, and even with Kei as a judge, they pass into the finals easily. (Kei notes that Iori has a natural talent that's far above anyone else in the competition, and is not petty enough to fail them due to his own jealousy.)

Part of the problem we have here is that because the author clearly likes Hikari's happy dense personality, it's left little room for her to grow and mature. We see here that Hikari still finds it impossible to read Kei's moods, even when it's obvious to everyone in the entire country why he's annoyed. However, that said, her lack of understanding does lead to the biggest surprise of the volume. Iori has, as expected, bowed out of the romantic rivalry, realizing that Hikari will never see him as more than a friend. Earlier, Kei had admitted his jealousy to Hikari, and admitted he just wanted to find a way for the two of them to be together forever.

Hikari's solution is fantastic, the best moment of the volume. Unfortunately, it's undercut by the following chapter, which features the rest of the school overreacting to her solution and freaking out. The chapter reads as if the editors told her to walk it back, and that she still has a few chapters to go. So we get a bit of a retcon, and instead go on to deal with the other main plot point: Kei's grandfather, who still hates Hikari and insists that he'll never let her be with Kei. He's also still fighting with Kei's mother (or more accurately, she's fighting with him and he's wallowing in guilt), and Hikari being... well, Hikari is not helping at all. It's heavily implied that he sees a lot of his deceased wife in Hikari, which is the root of all the trouble. In the end, Kei decides to resolve everything with a nice trip to Australia as the cliffhanger.

I've enjoyed S.A., and it still has great moments, but it also has a frustrating inconsistency, especially with its lead heroine. Hikari's charm is her outgoing happiness and sometimes denseness, but it's also a very childlike attitude, and you long to see her mature. Perhaps Ouran High School Host Club, with a similar love-challenged heroine whose maturity is a major plot point, has spoiled me. In any case, Special A ends with the next volume, so it should not be that hard to pick up.

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