S.A. Book 1

At first, this premise reminded me of Kare Kano, since Hikari is determined to outrank the best student at her prestigious school. It quickly took a much less interesting and more stereotypical turn, though.

That #1 student, Kei, has been besting Hikari since they were six. He beat her in a wrestling match (as one would expect, given their ages and genders), but since that was the first time she’d ever lost anything, it scarred her mentally, setting her on an obsessive path.

S.A. Book 1 cover
S.A. Book 1
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Hikari works very hard, but her determination isn’t enough. Kei is naturally gifted, and his photographic memory allows him to come out on top without studying. Everyone else is also talented by birth, enjoying the fruits of their abilities and their elite backgrounds. Whether it’s a test score or a basketball game or tutoring, Kei beats Hikari, apparently effortlessly.

Instead of the usual competition manga theme that hard work and willpower will eventually win through, the message I get from this presentation is that she needs to quit trying, because the boy will naturally always be a bit better. Instead, she should take comfort in his interest in her; that’s what will give her value and satisfaction. I get the feeling that the lesson is “no matter how hard she tries, a girl can’t beat a boy”, and his affection for her is meant to be her consolation prize.

That’s reinforced by the character of Nagi, Kei’s cousin and wannabe fiancee. She pursues him unashamedly and has freakishly high strength. She doesn’t know her place, and she’s ridiculed, a figure of comedy, because of it.

Even without the subtext, the presentation isn’t as skilled as one would hope. In her author’s notes, Minami says this is her first manga, and it shows. We’re told a lot of information that would be more entertaining if delivered less bluntly. Every chapter repeats its opening information, listing the other elite students and outlining the premise. If read in its original serial publication, this information would be a helpful reminder of the thinly defined supporting cast. In a book, it’s annoying.

(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)


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