‘Baka’. It’s an instantly recognisable word that has been uttered countless times and spans all genres of anime. From the high pitched squeals of a young girl yelling “Onii-chan no baaaaaakaaaaaa!” to the deadpan statement of an elite teenager that simply drips with disdain, we’ve heard it on a million occasions, and will no doubt hear it a myriad more; but never before has a series taken this phrase under its wing and embraced it quite so much as Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu.
The series takes place in Fumizaki Academy – a school with the most extreme streaming system ever imagined. After undergoing a placement exam at the beginning of term, students are assigned classes based on their grades; the most intelligent end up in Class A with state of the art equipment and ultimate luxury, while each following rank’s facilities decrease in quality. Finally, the academy’s ‘dregs’ are unceremoniously dumped into Class F’s draughty classroom with its ripped cushions on the floor and collapsing tables. Baka Test follows the misadventures of Class F’s twenty-four carat idiot, Akihisa Yoshii, and his equally dense friends. Despite their ‘limited’ aptitude, Yoshii and his comrades haven’t lost hope and instead aim to improve their dire situation by challenging each class to an ‘Exam Summoning Battle’ (or ESB for short) and prove that grades aren’t everything.
I’ll get right to the point: the plot is stupid, the ESB is stupid, in fact the whole damn series is stupid; but somehow it works. The whole concept of students summoning sprites – whose strength is based on the user’s most recent test scores – within a virtual reality cube that then proceed to fight each other in a battle for intellectual supremacy sounds pretty lame. Luckily, what saves this anime from slipping into a pit of mediocre gunk is its humour. Baka Test has an extroverted style, employing all manner of comedy techniques from the odd ecchi giggle complete with gushing nosebleeds and jiggling jugs to random violence filled with a whole menagerie of back-breaking wrestling moves. Sure, there are plenty of recurring jokes, such as the intense fear of supplementary lessons, Shoko’s sadistic possessiveness of Yuji, and Akihisa’s habit of getting physically injured in all of his endeavours, but the show doesn’t overuse these to the point of them becoming stale. Instead, these staples of the Baka Test diet appear at just the right moment to illicit a hearty belly laugh and are much like finding another roast potato hidden underneath a pile of sprouts.
Baka Test’s biggest problem is that while the first two installments start out well enough, the central battles soon disappear in favour of eight episodes of what essentially seems like filler. Though the narrative permits this break by claiming that Class F cannot challenge anyone for three months, it still feels like the series is simply ignoring the crux of the plotline so they can parade the various busty babes in swimsuits, or send the cast to amusement parks for an unwilling marriage ceremony. Granted, the anime’s humour still shines throughout and it does allow for more exploration of the characters, but while enjoyable, they still feel kind of pointless. Then, when the summoning battles finally make a return, two hi-octane skirmishes are hastily squeezed into a single episode. While the clashes themselves are highly entertaining, by demonstrating no sense of struggle in their progression through the ranks, the main story feels sadly rushed and little more than tacked on to a comedic slice-of-life anime about a wacky school and a bunch of idiots.
Generally Baka Test’s animation is fairly standard. The character designs don’t bring anything new to the table, but are pleasant to look at, while backgrounds serve their purpose without seeming dull. Movement is relatively fluid and the whole thing is pretty much the base standard for what one would expect from any anime produced in 2010.
The best aspect of this show’s visuals by far is the ESB. The virtual reality arenas and ‘Battle game screens’ – complete with HP and turn-based combat – really do give the impression of being inside a video game. Also worthy of note are the many explosive nosebleeds courtesy of Voyeur and Akihisa. Such dynamic jets of blood projecting across the screen almost seem to dance in mid-air, which infinitely adds to their comedic value.
Akihisa’s fast-paced vocals really make some of the humour glow. His delayed reactions and utter idiocy become so much more humorous due to his babbling dialogue seamlessly flowing into sudden angry realisations or howls of pain without any pause or change in inflection. The other seiyuu perform well; Voyeur’s nasal voice adds to his perverted nature; Hideyoshi’s ambiguous timbre heightens the gender confusion that surrounds him; and Yuji’s sincere tone makes his scheming ‘brotherly advice’ all the more devious.
The bouncy, poppy opening theme reflects Baka Test’s upbeat, fun nature, whereas the more rock-based ending mirrors Class F’s rebellious nature well. Ultimately, though, neither song leaves much of a lasting impression.
Aside from their various idiotic natures, Baka Test tends to stick to stereotypes when it comes to characters. Mizuki is a typical reserved princess; Voyeur takes the role of resident pervert; Minami fulfils the series’ need for a flat-chested and volatile tomboy; Hideyoshi confuses everyone with his indefinite gender; and there’s even the uber-strict teacher in the form of ‘Ironman’ Nishimura-sensei. This relatively cliché-ridden cast becomes immediately pigeonholed and no one really escapes from it, nor do they even try to – and why would they? The show doesn’t suffer from this one iota as, much like the running gags, they fit perfectly with the stupid nature of the comedy.
I shouldn’t like this series. I should spend each episode’s twenty-odd minutes counting down the minutes until the next One Piece airs, but I don’t. Instead, I giggle to myself like a madwoman and love every minute of it. Sure, Baka Test has its faults, but as one of the most easy-to-watch and fun series of the season, it’s certainly recommended for those craving some simple, idiotic fluff
Fumizuki Academy is divided into classes ranked based purely on ability; Class A has laptops, reclining seats and ultimate comfort whereas Class F has to settle for a rundown classroom with rotten cushions and rickety coffee tables. Akihisa Yoshii has recently taken the placement exam and finds himself relegated to the lowly Class F along with many of his friends, and they’re far from impressed with their draughty facilities. Luckily, not all is lost as at Fumizuki, classes can declare war on each other to swap rooms by fighting with summoned characters whose strength is based on the users' test scores. As they dream of escaping their decrepit circumstances, the ‘idiotic’ students of Class F will try whatever they can to reach the dizzy heights of Class A’s luxury, even if it means taking on the entire school in an all-out summoning war!
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.