FUNimation today begins streaming two new shows they have licensed, Dance in the Vampire Bund, and Baka to Test to Shoukanjou, which they plan to release as Baka and Test -Summon the Beasts-. Let's see if they spent their licensing money wisely.
What They Say
Fumizuki Academy's students can summon Avatars, pint-sized version of themselves that battle using special powers. The students are grouped by skill level, and those in Class A are the brightest.
Then there's Akihisa Yoshii's group - lowly Class F. They're the worst on campus, and they're about to take on the school's best.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series written by Kenji Inoue and illustrated by Yui Haga, which first came out in 2007 and is ongoing, Media Factory this year has produced an anime adaptation being animated by Silver Link, one of the lesser-known animation houses now getting its first chance to be the main studio in a production. The anime adaptation began airing in January, and is currently on air in Japan.
We start with the placement test for Fumizuki Academy. Akihisa Yoshii seems rather confident, but just before he is about to start, another student in the classroom falls to the floor, ill. The other student is a beautiful young woman named Mizuki Himeji. She seems to be running a fever and does not look like she will be able to complete the test. When Yoshii goes to help her, the teacher in the room sternly informs them both that anyone leaving the room will be given a zero for the test.
Why do the placement tests matter? They matter because your ranking determines which class you will be placed in (in Japan, classes are commonly denominated by letter: A, B, C, etc.). Those who score the highest get to be in Class A, those who do the worst, Class F. At Fumizuki Academy, this division in status matters, since the quality of the classroom that you get is determined by your ranking, thus, Class A have a plush room with leather recliners and laptops available for their use. Class F, on the other hand, has old Japanese furniture that looks like it saw better days - before the Second World War.
Yoshii, the protagonist for the series, did not do well on the test (only answering one question out of ten will do that to you...) and is assigned to Class F. There, he is stuck among the lowest of the low, including a very slim and violent girl named Minami Shimada, as well as a large load of male losers. There are only two girls in Class F (though there is a running gag about one boy who is very feminine in appearance and mannerism, Hideyoshi Kinoshita), but the other girl just happens to be... Mizuki Himeji. Unfortunately for Himeji, she does not appear to be in the best of health, but Class F's room is drafty and cold and has nothing but dusty tatami mats in it. Yoshii therefore declares that he will do something about it, but, he's an idiot and doesn't know what to do.
The Class Representative, Youji Sakamoto, however, does have an idea. At the school, your classroom may be determined by your test scores, but there is another way to advance: you can declare war against another class and if you win, you get to have their classroom. The war is not carried out by direct violence. Instead, all students are able to summon small virtual reality versions of themselves, avatars, who will fight for them. The power of the avatars is determined by the academic abilities of the student.
You might think that Sakamoto's plan is... well... idiotic, but there is some method to his madness. Shimada, for example, is not stupid. She is Japanese, but lived abroad (in Germany) for many years, so her knowledge of kanji (the Chinese characters used in writing Japanese) is very weak. In math, however, her scores are very high. And then there is Himeji, who is not stupid at all. In fact, she was considered by many to be a Class A Candidate, but her illness prevented her from finishing the placement tests. Therefore, Class F has unexpected academic power within it. They also have a secret weapon: Yoshii is apparently such a bad student, that he is a Probationary Student. Because of that, his avatar has a special ability: it can touch and manipulate physical objects, something regular avatars cannot.
The battles themselves are slightly amusing, as we seen the pint-sized versions of the characters appear in various costumes, sometimes carrying weapons, and they duel each other in the virtual landscape, though the outcomes are already predetermined fro the most part, since the test scores of the person are what matters. In order to improve their classroom equipment, Youji suggests to his classmates that they declare war on Class E right away, at the very beginning of the school year. The war is declared, and Class F, thanks to Himeji's brains, ends up winning. But it's not so simple as that, for as soon as the war is over, a representative from Class A, Yuuko Kinoshita, the genuinely female fraternal twin sister of Hideyoshi, appears and announces that Class A challenges Class F to a war. It appears that the smug elitists of Class A heard about Class F's maneuver, and want to put them in their place. Youji, however, accepts the challenge, as he has a plan.
In the second episode, we see the war between Class A and Class F. Class A proposed a special type of contest: 5 individual duels, not a class v. class war. Youji accepts, as he thinks he can use this format to his advantage. As is expected, Shimada and Yoshii are easily defeated. Unexpectedly, however, another member of their class, Kouta Tsuchiya, has an incredibly high score in Health and Physical Fitness (apparently, he is an extremely quiet, but unapologetic, pervert, and his knowledge of female anatomy is unmatched). Himeji also defeats her opponent, and thus it comes down to Class Rep v. Class Rep: Youji Sakamoto against Shouko Kirishima. Kirishima is the top student in the school. She is beautiful and well-mannered. Yet oddly she doesn't have a boyfriend, and rumors have flowed from that fact. Youji and Shouko, however, were apparently childhood friends, and Sakamoto now plans to use that to his advantage. He has an old memory of how he helped young Shouko memory a specific fact from Japanese history when they were elementary school kids. Of course, now he knows that the date he gave her for a specific event was wrong. Therefore, he proposes that instead of a battle of avatars, he and Shouko fight a duel of tests, restricted to elementary school knowledge of Japanese history. If that one date comes up as a question, he knows that Kirishima will get it wrong.
And so, in the end, he was correct, as a perfect score is 100 points, and Kirishima only scored a 97. Sadly for Class F, the best that Youji could manage was a 53. So much for the strategy. Therefore, Class F gets worse classroom equipment, as their creaky wooden tables are replaced with cardboard boxes. And on top of it, Youji had to promise that Class F, as punishment for losing, would perform any one action that Class A would order. So, Kirishima comes to Class F to demand payment... which turns out to be forcing Sakamoto to go out on a date with her. While she may be beautiful and intelligent and could have the pick of any man in the school, she has had an unrequited crush on Youji since they were children. And thus, the extorted date.
Judging from the first two episodes, Baka and Test -Summon the Beats- looks to be a decent, but not particularly special, take on the overused and over-abundant high school comedy.
The opening and closing themes and animation are cute and peppy, as one might expect, but nothing more.
The high school comedy, with elements of slapstick, exaggerated stereotypes, and unrealistic love triangles, even though one might think that the setting has been used to death at this point, is apparently limitless in its variations. Baka and Test -Summon the Beats- adds one slightly new element, that the students in different classes can engage in wars between themselves using virtual reality avatars powered by their academic test scores, but it does not really do too much beyond that. There are the usual run of stereotypes both among the "stupid" students of Class F and the more academically gifted ones of the higher classes. The lead protagonist, Akihisa Yoshii, is likable enough, and his potential love interests, the tsundere (violent on the outside, soft on the inside) Minami Shimada and the somewhat frail, but beautiful and kind Mizuki Himeji, have their charms, but there is nothing either original or compelling about this show so far. It's disposable entertainment, perfectly fine for what it is, but if you've seen a good number of high school comedies already, I'm not sure there is enough of a hook to make this one different.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Apple Mac Mini with 1GB RAM, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard