Wed 14 Jul 2010
1/2(out of 4)
Review: Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu
From a show that literally has the word “idiot” in its title, Bakatest doesn’t shy from flaunting its idiocy. From ten-cent slapstick gags to an utterly absurd premise, Bakatest is a silly comedic romp blown into a full-fledged series. While the recipe for disaster seems to be complete, Bakatest is strangely charming — and while the show basically makes no sense whatsoever, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. All and all, Bakatest is a playful, harmless gagfest that’s occasionally wildly entertaining, even sweet at times, and unbearably cheesy some other times.
Light novels adapations are not foreign ground for director Oonuma Shin, more notable for his work with ef: a tale of memories. In Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu, test results mean everything. Students are assigned into classrooms based on how well they score on the placement exam, with state of the art, luxury classrooms for the A class and a disheveled, dusty room with broken tables for the F class, our heroes in this show. Furthermore, classes can challenge each other over their facilities using a magical combat fighting tool called the Examinations Battle System (ESB), which draws power from test scores. The premise is cool, a little confusing, and results in extremely over-dramatic and absolutely inane fight sequences involving academic trivia. The combination of studying and RPG-style combat undoubtedly appeals to the show’s Japanese demographic, though I’m pretty sure it’s quite silly no matter where you’re from. If you suspend reason and simplify the plot to an extent, most of the show is actually really fun. The action is decently slick but awkwardly predictable, causing the show’s attempts at high tension drama fell a bit flat on more than one occasion for me.
Of all the idiots in a show titled about idiots, male lead Yoshii Akihisa (cv. Shimono Hiro) is by far the dumbest of them all. Absolutely helpless when it comes to school, and (even by anime male lead standards) totally clueless to signs of affection dealing with the opposite gender, Yoshii can get on your nerves fast, but his good-natured, peppy attitude manages to endear viewers. The two female leads, Himeji Mizuki (cv. Harada Hitomi) and Shimada Minami (cv. Mizuhashi Kaori), foil each other nicely while Kinoshita Hideyoshi (Katou Emiri) doesn’t do much of anything except bringing out our inner homosexual. The two female leads are relatively weak, lacking a bit of substance outside of being pretty, making the show very irritating with cliches on occasion.
The show’s breakout character is Class F president Sakamoto Yuuji (cv. Suzuki Tatsuhisa), who is cool, clever, and well-written. His strong, supportive, demeanor lends confidence to Yoshii and all of class F. Teeming with street smarts, he’s one of the most relatable characters in the show. His osananajimi relationship with childhood friend Kirishima Shouko (cv. Isomura Tomomi) is one of the bright spots in the series — fodder for violent physical slapstick gags while also being rather sentimental. Episode 7, which focuses on those two and fleshes them out as characters, is probably the best episode of the show.
The show performs well in a technical viewpoint. The animation is very good, and the voice acting cast gets the job done. The colors and very clear and the lines are nice and clean, and the aesthetic of the show complement the mood well. Some visual elements are reminiscent of director Oonuma’s earlier contributions Hidamari Sketch and Pani Poni Dash, where he worked closely with Akuyuki Shinbou.
Asou Natsuko’s OP performance, Perfect-Area Complete!, is a fun bubbly anime song that has been rather well received. I find the second ending theme, Hare Tokidoki Egao really nice on the ears in that sweet, sentimental kind of way. Debuting after my favorite episode 7 (and capturing the moment perfectly), the song and ED animation mesh well together.
The bottom line, Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu is a pretty decent show that probably could have been much better. It’s original, calmly liberal on the fan-service (more probably could have done well), and ambitiously attempts to mix incorrigible silliness with heartwarming romance. The show keeps it light, but weighs on us with laborious dialogue and plot situations. Everyone knows about the androgynous Hideyoshi, who has achieved a kind of cult status, but I wish we got to learn more about him in the context of the show. The characters are decently likable, but not enough character is there to go around. There’s a great show in Bakatest, trust me, you just have to dig though some other stuff to get there.