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Baka and Test Summon the Beasts(TV) (2010)
At the Fumizuki Academy the standard of equipment a class gets is dependent on test results so the top students in Class A have the most comfortable chairs and a fully equipped classroom and the idiots in Class F have furniture which is so shoddy that it falls apart after a couple of episodes and they are left sitting on the floor and using boxes as desks. In order to encourage the lower classes to improve and to keep higher classes on their toes one class can challenge another to a test where the winner gets the losers furniture. These aren't usual tests; the students summon avatars to battle for them although the strengths of these avatars are related to the strength of those summoning them.
For more about Baka and Test Summon the Beasts and the Baka and Test Summon the Beasts Blu-ray release, see Baka and Test Summon the Beasts Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 13, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Josh Grelle, Carli Mosier, Hiro Shimono, Hitomi Harada, Kaori Mizuhashi, Emiri Kat˘
Director: Shin Onuma
» See full cast & crew
Baka and Test Summon the Beasts Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 13, 2011
You've probably heard of Lilo and Stitch, and if you're a true fan of outrÚ anime you may have even experienced the patently insane wonderment of Hare and Guu, but you've still probably never seen anything quite like Baka and Test. Now the title itself is a little misleading, as it does not refer to a pair of characters, as those two other examples do. "Baka" is a pejorative nickname denoting an idiot, and in this case it's the hero of this bizarre yet charming anime, Akihisa Yoshii, a struggling student who rather miserably fails on a placement test, relegating himself to the lowest rung on his school's rather starkly delineated pecking order of intellectual acuity. Yoshii's school is divided into six distinct "castes," labeled alphabetically from A to F, with the A-class learning their P's and Q's (or whatever the Japanese ideograph equivalents are) in true style, with an elegantly appointed room full of new laptop computers, free soda and snacks, and gorgeous new furniture. Yoshii and his fellow "idiots" are consigned to a hideous room full of rickety tables with broken legs, rags which were once evidently cushions, but whose stuffing has gone the way of the dodo, and, lest it not be obvious already, absolutely no free food or sodas. Now that may not sound like an incredible premise for an anime, but against all odds, Baka and Test manages to be one of the more consistently refreshing pieces to come down the pike in quite a while. It's full of a completely out there sense of humor, and it is enlivened by one of the most appealing graphically based design styles in recent memory. If the series occasionally seems like a satire of Yu-Gi-Oh or other "summoning" animes (these students engage in internecine battles where they summon mini-avatars of themselves), even that aspect is more agreeable than it might seem on its face.
Yoshii and his cohorts are enrolled at the Fumizuki Academy, where class envy is obviously running rampant for those ensconced in the lowest rungs of the school. Yoshii rallies his fellow F-mates to take on the higher class constituents in a series of avatar battles, thereby hopefully procuring their individual stratum's perks. The goal is to obviously ultimately take on Class A and finally be immersed in a luxurious world of comfy chairs, high speed internet and lots and lots of free food and drink. The kids' summoned avatars are based on their recently acquired knowledge and test scores, and while that may imply that Baka and Test has some subtext encouraging higher learning (at least in order to provide a more skilled battle worthy opponent), no such pretensions are part of this show. This is pure and unadulterated silliness from start to finish, no holds barred.
Baka and Test is both a minimalist premise and a sort of maximalist design aesthetic mushed together into one extremely strange beast (and it's rather ironic then that the subtitle of this outing is Summon the Beasts). One of my first experiences with anime many years ago was Hare and Guu, and I literally sat in front of my television with my jaw on the floor for several hours as I wended my way through one of the most surreal "entertainment" offerings I had ever experienced. While Baka and Test never quite approaches the patently insane heights of that show (and that's not necessarily a bad thing), there's the same insouciant humor and off the wall ethos in this enterprise that at times reminded me (and only in a good way) of Hare and Guu. Jokes come out of left field, suddenly we're awash in two dimensional graphics that have absolutely no relation to anything approaching the "real world," and even the show's tentative set up is abandoned at times for any number of sidebars and weird little excursions into unexpected territories.
While some of Baka and Test is so peculiar as to be just slightly off-putting (the boys virtually swim in pools of blood from nosebleeds caused by pretty girls, to give just one example), a lot of the series' humor is, while, yes, bizarre, completely goofy and utterly enjoyable. But what really elevates the series is its unique and captivating design aesthetic, courtesy of a coterie of folks including Shin Onuma, Miyuki Kibata, and Miwa Oshima. While the character designs aren't especially innovative, the overall look of the show most definitely is. Incredibly bright primary and pastel colors literally dot the surface of the series at regular intervals. Fairly straightforward animation styles will suddenly give way to outright graphical representations which border on the abstract a lot of the time, giving Baka and Test a distinctive and very appealing look.
Baka and Test at its core is a show quite simply about friendship, especially friendship forged in the fires of turmoil. Anyone who has lived through school knows that there are most definitely social strata that must be navigated, and if Baka and Test takes that to rather unbelievable extremes, it also shows the positive effects of a close-knit group of comrades who are able to bind together to fight the inequities, perceived or otherwise, that their particular stratum has fated them with. And it's in these 2-F class characters that Baka and Test really finds its heart and soul. Yoshii is a dunderhead (one of the running gags of the show is everyone calling him "Idiot," which some may find distasteful in this PC world of ours), but he's lovable even when he's acting like a lunatic. Yoshii's best friend is the girl he attempts to help during the placement exam in the opening episode, thereby consigning both of them to the lowest rung of the school ladder. This girl, Himeji, is actually one of the smartest kids at the Academy, but ends up in Yoshii's "idiotic" class, and a beautiful friendship of sorts ensues. We also have semi-stereotypical characters akin to The Jock, The Popular Girl and others, but in Baka and Test, they're given a nice little spin that makes them all likable.
The one notable exception is Kota Tsuchiya, a boy nicknamed "Pervert" for good reason in the show. Kota spends a great deal of time trying to accomplish his own personal brand of "fan service," repeatedly spying up girls' dresses and even trying to take pictures of their naughty bits. While it's played resolutely for laughs, it's just the slightest bit creepy at times, and may remove this show from concerned parents' playlists who might otherwise let their kids enjoy the manic insanities that Baka and Test otherwise offers.
Baka and Test Summon the Beasts Blu-ray, Video Quality
Baka and Test blasts onto Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1 that is easily one of the brightest and most colorful looking anime pieces in recent memory. This series is simply a riot of bright, graphics-oriented ideas, as if the iconic Saul Bass had eaten a plate of magic mushrooms and let his imagination go just slightly hallucinogenic. As noted above, while character designs aren't especially innovative, they're certainly very, very appealing, and I personally loved the deep emerald green of several of the female characters' eyes. But it's in the weird, suddenly interpolated, graphically oriented elements that this show finds its real distinctiveness, and the Blu-ray represents all of that with stunning clarity and precision. Best of all is the unbelievably varied palette, a palette which just screams with color, whether that be bright primary reds, blues and greens or softer pastel hues in the pink and violet end of the spectrum. Baka and Test is a wonder to behold from a visual perspective, and this Blu-ray release does it full justice.
Baka and Test Summon the Beasts Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As has been the case with several FUNimation releases lately, Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts has two lossless tracks, the original Japanese language track presented in Dolby TrueHD 2.0, and a very good English dub offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Either of these options has individual elements to recommend them. The original Japanese track, while obviously narrow, has some very inventive voice work and is very well mixed within its narrow confines. The English track is a good deal more robust, however, with lots of ping ponging sonic activity scattered around the surrounds, and a better representation of the series' pop-heavy score. The English voice actors are quite different from the Japanese, and I actually preferred the English Yoshii to the Japanese. Himeji's English voice may be a bit too childlike for some, but it's enjoyable in its own waifish way. Fidelity on both of these tracks is extremely strong, with excellent dynamic range on exhibit throughout.
Baka and Test Summon the Beasts Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Baka and Test Summon the Beasts Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts was a pleasant surprise virtually from start to finish. While the series' premise is wafer thin (if even that), it's so engagingly produced, with such incredible visual flair, that ultimately the setup doesn't actually matter all that much in the long run. The characters here are well drawn (pun intended), but the graphic elements of the show are really what sets it apart, above and beyond more standard run of the mill anime fare. This is goofily humorous, and while some of the weirder elements (especially the kind of creepy "fan service" moments) mean this probably is not suitable for younger kids, it's still a delightful enterprise that should be enjoyed by everyone who likes out there anime offerings. This Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic and the release is Highly recommended.
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