By Maki Minami. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.
At last we come to the final volume of Special A. Honestly, most of the plot could have been wrapped up several volumes ago. Indeed, a number of the couples resolved their plotlines long ago, and have simply been sitting there taking up space for long periods. And the plots we see in the final volume are all from the Big Shoujo Book Of Endings, featuring the family resolving misunderstandings, the heroine having to choose between family and her new love, and a final chapter featuring an over the top proposal.
All that said, I quite liked this final volume. Maki Minami is bad at all the actual plotting and pacing, but her writing itself is excellent, and she really knows how to wring emotion out of you. The first chapter resolves the fight between Kei's mother and grandfather with a minimum of fuss. The surprise here is meant to be that we've suspected Kei's grandfather of hating Hikari as she reminds him so much of his dead wife, whereas the reality is the opposite: Hikari reminds him of his own self, and he (as well as his daughter) feel that she worried herself to death the way that Kei tends to do regarding Hikari. Of course, this is all a giant misunderstanding, but give Hikari the opportunity to leap from tall buildings and be very shiny, her best qualities.
After the weakest chapter of the book, involving Akira growing weary of being treated like a chef/waitress by the others (a genuine grudge, and something resolved far too patly), we find Hikari making that choice that I mentioned earlier. It requires her leaving the school, something she has trouble telling everyone. Once they find out, of course, it becomes a giant farewell party... which, since none of them really want her to leave, turns into a giant contest. Everyone basically straight up admits that this is a way to guilt her into staying, but it doesn't read as being wrong, mostly as even Hikari's dad thinks she's making the wrong decision. Everyone bids her farewell one by one, as Hikari feels worse and worse, culminating in Akira sobbing and begging her not to go.
Until finally, it all comes down to a giant battle between her and Kei. This is the best part of the book, mostly as it's clear how much this is foreplay for them. We see Kei reminiscing about the history of their battles, and see that yes, he DID try once what all of us wondered about: he let Hikari win. This was back when they were kids. And it devastated her, as she immediately knew he did it. Seeing her on her knees in tears, begging him to fight her again at full strength... is when he fell in love with her, even back then. Then seeing her joyful face as she races from him, knowing that to Hikari the outcome is secondary to the love of the contest... this is the high point of the manga. Really well done.
After that it's just an epilogue, showing each couple getting about 2 pages to show they're all happy together. (One part, with Jun and Sakura, seems to be poorly translated by Viz. It notes that Sakura is a free man. I can't understand that at all.) And, with Kei winning one more contest against Hikari, we are finished.
Honestly, this was a fun volume for me only as I'd read the previous 16 and was invested in the characters. On its own, it's filled with flaws. But then, anyone reading S.A. 17 will have read the other ones anyway. For them, it's a decent wrapup to the series, especially for our hero and heroine. Even if it could have been done back at Volume 9 or so.