Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts (Blu-ray)

“Well who among us doesn’t have a fabulous spleen?”

Himeji: “You know my friends are always saying that when you and Yuuji are walking together that they can’t keep their eyes off you because you guys are so perfect.”
Yoshii: “Your friends sound pretty nice. You should keep them around.”
Himeji: “They also are pretty sure that you’re the doughnut to his banana.”
Yoshii: “You should lose those friends.”

Welcome to Fumizuki Academy. The first part of the school year is devoted to taking a placement exam which has farther reaching consequences than you’d expect. For one thing, it places students in a particular group for the entire year. For another, it impacts the summoner wars (academic duels with mini-you Avatars), which are the only way a class can obtain new learning materials. You definitely want new materials, as the lower letter you’re assigned the lesser the quality of things you receive. The lowest of the low? Our heroes: Class F.

Here’s the episode breakdown…

Disc One
* “Idiots, Classes, and the Summoner Test War” — Akihisa Yoshii is put in the worst class in school…Class F. He doesn’t mind being there, it’s Mizuki Himeji’s presence that troubles him. She’s a beautiful brain who got sick during the placement test and thus lost her rightful place in a higher level. Yoshii becomes determined to win the Summoner Test War, in order to gain better equipment for the lovely co-ed.

* “Lilies, Roses, and Health and Physical Education” — Akihisa glues his hand to a table, which is unfortunate as he must go to battle against Class A.

* “Food Budget, Dates, and Stun Guns” — Akihisa takes Himeji and Minami to the movies and they run into Shouko and Yuuji (who’s there against his will). When Shouko tazes Yuuji to keep him in line, the girls coo over how cute they are while Akihisa twitches in sympathy.

* “Love, Spices, and Boxed Lunches” — The boys discover Himeji’s awful secret — she’s the world’s worst cook!

* “Maps, Treasures, and Striker Sigma V” — Akihisa wants to win a school contest whose prize is limited edition set of cell phone straps. But intelligence is the name of the game, so will he win out?

* “Me, Pools, and Swimsuit Paradises…And…” — Yuuji and Akihisa’s fighting lands them in hot water with Iron Man, who insists they clean the pool as punishment. They decide to turn this to their advantage and organize a pool party.

* “Me, Shouko, and Kisaragi Grand Park” — Shouku drags Yuuji to the amusement park where he finds anything but amusement, especially at his pretend wedding!

Disc Two
* “Loss of Control, Labyrinths, and the Avatar Instrumentality Project” — When the Avatar system crashes, it’s up to Yoshii’s Avatar to find and correct the problem. That’s easier said than done, as the rest of the Avatars are out of control.

* “Kisses, Breasts, and Ponytails” — Yoshii’s older sister comes to check on him…and put the moves on him. Her ideas of what behavior her little brother should be engaged in are skewed, to say the least. When his friends decide to crash at Yoshii’s house unexpectedly, things get sticky.

* “Prep Tests, Mysterious Thieves, and Love Letters” — Each character has something special taken away and locked in the school’s safe. Now they must team up with the second-ranked student to crack the safe and get back what’s theirs, but it comes at a high price.

* “Rivals, Love Letters, and Blitz Tactics” — Class D plans to wipe the floor with Class F, but they’re in for a surprise.

* “Love, Courage and Our Battle Has Just Begun!” — It’s time for the faceoff between Class F versus Class A!

* “Baka and Test…Summon the Beasts!” — Class A is pissed about how the battle with Class F went down and they want another chance…now! But they can’t get around that pesky 3-month rule, until the principal gives them a compromise — a one-on-one battle!

Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts began as serialized young-adult novels, later adapted into manga form, before being given the anime treatment. And what a treatment it is! This is a frenetic, hyper-stylized show; stoner anime that will most likely only appeal to those under the influence. It’s also loaded with genre clichés — oversized eyes, androgynous bodies, girls with enormous boobs, very short or long hair (both of which are strongly related to sexuality), characters who look down at the ground while delivering lines, and my favorite — nonsensical words that represent sound effects when characters, just like the ’60s Batman TV show.

While I did enjoy aspects of Baka and Test, you need to be flexible with sexuality in order to appreciate this series. Not your own, necessarily, but at least the concept of being shown the differing perspectives. There’s gender confusion, cross-dressing, and incestuous overtones to name but a few. You also need a high tolerance for idiots, because this show is loaded with ’em. The main character, Akihisa Yoshii, is a probationary student which means he has an advantage when it comes to the summoner wars. Then there’s Class F representative Yuuji Sakamoto, Yuuji’s self-proclaimed girlfriend Shouku Kirishima, the unexpectedly brainy Mizuki Himeji (the sex object of the group), uber-androgynous Hideyoshi Kinoshita and his twin sister Yuuko, math-whiz Minami Shimada (vying for Yoshii’s attentions), and Kouta Tsuchiya (the pervert) who’s never without his camera and always trying to get an up-skirt shot. But regardless of the Machiavellian tendencies, they are all stupid — every sense of the word.

Yoshii does everything he can to help Himeji transfer out of Class F. She knows what he’s doing and finds a way to undo all his hard work. More than once. He doesn’t catch on. He’s an idiot. Himeji and Minami both like Yoshii. They’re scared to tell him outright, but will attack (sometimes literally) whenever there’s even a mention of him maybe having a girlfriend. They act like jealous girlfriends without getting any of the benefits. They’re idiots. Yuuji doesn’t like Shouko, who wants to marry him. She tazes him and likes to poke his eyes with her fingers to keep him from looking at other girls. Yet he hangs around her and includes her in things. He’s an idiot. Kouta tries to get panty shots, but bleeds everywhere whenever he sees up a girl’s skirt. He’s an idiot. Yuuji has a secret plan and everyone goes along without knowing what it is or why it’s important, disregarding the sacrifices they must to succeed. They’re all idiots. The only person who isn’t an idiot is Hideyoshi, but that’s only because he’s too busy reminding everyone that he’s actually a guy despite being so pretty.

Think that’s bad? This ensemble of oddball characters makes about as much sense as Baka and Test‘s concept. These teenagers took a placement test and got really bad grades. Now they’re doomed to the lowest level in their year. So what? Well, they get the crappiest equipment and no teacher except for homeroom (the most important class in any high school, right?) But they don’t have to just take it! No siree Bob! They can fight for their right to partake in wars with higher ranked classes. If they win a war, they win the right to trade equipment with the losers.

Here’s how it works:
1) Declare war.
2) Summon your avatar (a mini-you who only can appear in school).
3) Whoever has the highest score in whatever subject the two are dueling in wins, draining the loser of all their points.

But wait! Act now and we’ll give you a bonus! Take a remedial test and you can earn more points! That’s right! Just because you got your booty handed to you doesn’t mean you’re done!

I know, I know. I lost so many of you already. To paraphrase: Baka and Test is about the dumbest kids in school fighting academically-themed “Summoner” wars against smarter kids, hoping to win. And — spoilers — they do win every now and then, for ridiculous reasons and out-of-the-box thinking.

Baka and Test has a second season, but the way the first season ended there was no indication of where the show planned to go, and I didn’t feel any need to see it. I’ll forget all about this, as soon as I stop having flashbacks…or discover particularly intriguing fanfic.

So on to the tech specs, but fair warning: I can only speak to the quality of the DVDs and not the Blu-ray discs.

Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the video is particularly stunning. The colors are rich and wonderfully saturated, be they intense or pastel. There’s no grain and no pixilation outside of a deliberate stylistic choice. The art direction has an obsession with polka dots that seems to come straight out of an old school comic. It’s also like there was someone who really loves Lisa Frank on staff and they’re not-so-subtly trying to infuse her spirit in the designs of every shot. The palette becomes saturated with a single color dominating depending on the heaviness of a singular emotion being expressed during a scene. Blue for sadness, yellow for compassion, pink for embarrassment, and so on.

The English 5.1 audio works well, but the surrounds only really come into play during the title sequences and the occasional battles. The Japanese 2.0 is more than sufficient for the show’s needs. I usually prefer to watch anime in its native language and read the subtitles, but things happened so fast I was unable to get into it unless I didn’t have to read. Just be aware that the English subtitles don’t synch with the dubbed track.

As for the bonus material…

Mission: Impossible: Baka Preview (1 min) — A teaser trailer for what it would be like if Kouta was actually a pervert on behalf of an MI-type group.

Baka-Only Crossdressing Contest (4 min) — A short film wherein a few of the characters participate in their school’s cross-dressing contest.

Mission: Impossible: Baka Mission 01 (4 min) — A parody in which Kouta fails at his latest attempt to capture racy photos.

Mizuki Himeji Girls’ Meal (3 min) — A blend of live action and animation in which Himeji demonstrates how to cook one of her “special” dishes.

The King Game in Fumizuki Academy (5 min) — The gang gets together to play a game in which one of them is named king and the others have to follow out whatever order is given, resulting in some embarrassing situations.

Special Christmas Footage (5 min) — Each member of the group explains the meaning of Christmas.

Promo Videos (4 min)

Original Commercials (1 min)

Original DVD Spots (1 min)

Baka and Test Tales (5 min) — The characters take on some different roles in this mash-up of favorite fairy tales.

Textless Opening Song (2 min)

Textless Closing Song #1 (2 min) — All-guy version

Textless Closing Song #2 (2 min) — All-girl version

Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts is available to watch for free online from the very company that produces the show, as well as on YouTube and Hulu. So unless you really want the bonus materials and the high definition treatment, I’d say pass.



Here are the top ten things we know: 1) She lives in Ohio 2) She is MWOC unless you count her two dogs 3) Believes Avatar was NOT the greatest movie ever made 4) Operates on a primarily nocturnal basis 5) Wants to write the screenplay for the movie adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle 6) Watches a variety of shows on television including, but not limited to: Castle, @midnight, Face Off, Sherlock and Whose Line is it Anyway? 7) Does not believe anyone will actually read this besides the editor (hello, Editor!) 8) Has attended more than one N*SYNC concert in her lifetime but only one NKOTB concert 9) Was in a car crash that would have killed her had she not been wearing her seat belt 10) Is in the process of catching up on Supernatural (incidentally would possibly leave her husband for either of the Winchester Brothers depending on the episode in question) and the bonus! 11) Enjoys reading, writing, laying on the beach (long walks tire her out) and assorted snack foods like frozen M&M's.
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