DVD Review – Baka & Test: Summon The Beasts

When thinking about the anime’s I have watched recently and enjoyed very much, there has been a clear recurrence of serious and mature animations filling my collection; Akira, Tekken BV,  Evangelion, countless Ghibli’s; so on and so forth. When tasked with watching a Shonen anime, I must admit it was going to be a tough watch; large beady eyes and cutsie dialogue are not per ce, ‘my thing’.

However, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed that my insatiable lust for fight scenes, complex character divulgence and overall quality had been quelled enough by Baka and Test.

Set in Fumizuki Acedemy high school, we can already deduce that this is no ordinary learning establishment. Fighting in my high school was forbidden and punished very highly, so it came as a shock that this academy is promoting fighting; mixed with an excellent twist. Here, the students grades are their strength, with higher test scores in particular studies being made the ammunition which fuels the students fighting avatars (Shokanju, ‘Beasts’), in battles named ST wars; battles approved by teachers whom can open special fighting grounds for our students to fight in using their avatars, which look wonderfully reminiscent of the characters in final fantasy 3 et al, coated in cool armour and wielding close combat weapons.

The students sit a placement exam to test their mental capacities and then are placed into classes (almost sorority in style) from class A, the highest ranking through to class F, you guessed it, the lowest ranking. These classes don’t just come with the joy of being able to gloat your intelligence, but are fancily filled with all the mod-cons people of higher ranks seemingly deserve, with class A having free vending machines and beautifully upholstered furniture which we can see decreases until ultimately we are staring at the cesspit that is class F; Broken tables and hard stools, covered in dust and an atmosphere as cold and dark as the wind blowing through it; even the Class F door sign has seen better days!

We follow Class F’s star failure Akihisa Yoshii (our ‘baka’; idiot) and a collection of low test score achieving and unlucky placement test failures on a battle to put Class F in the limelight.

One of the joys and despairs of ‘Baka’ is the character line up; filled to the brim with individual characters and we have all the ‘inner circle’ classroom cliche places fully filled, from super cool leader Yuji, overly ‘matured’ Himeji, jealous hot head Minami, Bishonen Hideyoshi and voyeur Kota, (always having his camera at the ready) rounding off most of class F with supporting roles coming and going, most notable the FFF inquisition, draped in a psuedo-KKK drab which can really make you challenge what this show is going for, when they condemn Akihisa for gaining female interest and seemingly suicide bombing others!

First thing I noted with this show is the liberal use of colour and differences in art style, which really make it a joy to watch. From literal metaphors being brightly coloured to the very pretty CG sequences in place for when our characters summon their avatars. There are also great parodies of a Metal Gear Solid HUD along with other comic styles, which leads into the overall comedy of this show which can, at times be quite good!

The fight scenes are a gem in this show and I would of loved to have seen more! excellent choreography and a lovely 2D styled side screen rekindles my nostalgia for turn based J-RPG games I love so much!

Although its very over done, our younger and less mature protagonists have hilariously over the top nose bleeds anytime there is a remote chance of seeing the erogenous zones of our female characters, (lets hope they don’t watch Sekirei any time soon!) and more hilariously to Hideyoshi, who, although gets insanely frustrated at being called female, has no problem showing off the latest female fashion trends, and when we reach an almost inevitable swimming pool scene it is side-splitingly funny!

Sexuality is a big subject in ‘Baka’  with homosexuality and transvestism/ transgenderism being excepted, there are always the worries of these situations in youth, with most taunts surrounding these premises, but it does pave the way for some funny moments with Hideyoshi being classed as his own sexuality in changing rooms and toilets (mush to his anger!), through to the sheer terror when Akihisa is propositioned by a young gent! There are tiny hints fan service to begin with, but some scenes can get quite raunchy; with Akihisa’s imaginations of a lesbian fantasy between Minami and Himeji leaving the smallest amounts to the imagination, and when Akihisa’s sister comes to visit, things can get rather weird, with boundaries of light voyeurism and incest teetering on the fence.

Juxtaposed to the comedy are some nice serious moments, especially between Akihisa and Yuji, in which the art style changes to a nicely sketched out scene, that then becomes a running scene and a nice convention which repeats.

With all the sexual tensions, the main arc can sometimes feel a little lost, but comes back at the 11th hour to keep you watching to the end.

The ending was almost too apparent and reality takes over from hope, and I still get confused to why Akihisa is the idiot in all this, when the poor boy really has the worst luck, and then gets blamed for whats happened in these rather ridiculous situations rather than actually doing anything wrong in them.

The show is exactly what it says on the tin, its colourful, cute, hilarious at times, hints maturity but ultimately is a show without anything ground breaking. Don’t expect your head to explode from originality and deep winding story arc’s, but allow yourself to tune off and reminisce back to school, and theres a good anime in here for you! Baka and Test almost has the depth I love in more ‘mature’ animations and after enjoying this to the degree that I have, I’m almost inclined to look for more Shonen anime.

But not quite, just yet!

  – Jimi Hart
Baka and Test: Summon The Beasts‘ is available on DVD from Manga Entertainment UK now. You can order this DVD at Amazon UK HERE.
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