Baka & Test is a show that only Japan could produce. In a country where students often attend cram schools to supplement their education and shoulder the pressure of critical entrance exams, what better premise than a school of academic warriors? At Fumizuki Academy, students are categorized from Class A through Class F. While Class A students study in the lap of luxury, each lower rank possesses progressively worse equipment, down to the decrepit room for the slackers of Class F. If any class aims to improve their lot in life, they may challenge a higher-ranked class to battle, in which chibi, fuzzy-tailed avatars, wielding weapons such as rapiers and lances, are summoned with a satisfying, adorable “ploop!” However, pinhead protagonist Akihisa Yoshii and the other Class F nincompoops have their work cut out for them as the strength of these avatars is based upon test scores. But they do have an ace up their sleeve in Mizuki Himeji, one of Fumizuki’s brightest students, who was condemned to Class F when illness prevented her from completing the placement exam. Will Mizuki ever join the class in which she belongs, and will the misfits of Class F prove that there’s more to life than book smarts?
If this sounds like the perfect set-up for an action-packed shonen anime, Baka & Test has pulled its first gag. Despite the occasional Summoner Test War, Baka & Test is first and foremost a comedy, focused mainly on the countless romantic mishaps of the teenage cast. But this is most definitely not a mainstream comedy, as it’s squarely targeted at the most diehard otaku, with over-the-top, explosive nose bleeding, hilarious cracks about yaoi, and enough toying with gender roles to make a Sailor Moon fan nostalgic. Anime and video game references abound, and, in fact, Baka & Test often portrays itself as if it’s a game. Truthfully, the concept would make for a great dating sim/RPG hybrid like those in the catalogs of Nippon Ichi and Atlus.
The characters are a likable bunch, but they take a slight adjustment period. The first episode of Baka & Test comes on too strong, blazing through numerous introductions, firing off snippets of each character’s eccentricities, and squeezing in a spirited battle. It comes off as excessively hyperactive and can be off-putting, but the season quickly relaxes its pace, with mellower episodes about bento box lunches, frolics in the swimming pool, and a trip to the local amusement park. Even as the show progresses, allowing for marginal character development, Baka & Test straddles the line between following clichés and poking fun at them. Some may find Mizuki too saccharine or Minami too stereotypically tsundere, for example, but the wide variety of quirky cast members allows the viewer to lookpast any less-favored students.
Baka & Test features a clean, simple design style that may not be particularly distinct but serves the humor well. Matching the light-hearted nature of the show, scenes are bathed in lovely, bright pastels, and manga-style texturing is a unique touch. Another welcome addition is the show’s willingness to switch styles on the fly to suit the moment. Whether it’s an intimate conversation between Akihisa and Class F rep Yuuji portrayed in black and white charcoal or a moment of shock captured in heightened realism, Baka & Test doesn’t slack on production values, and this is further exemplified in the changing opening and ending sequences—in a short, 13-episode season, no less. Even better yet, several bonus shorts of the same standards were produced, and these can be enjoyed among the extras of this DVD/Blu-ray set. As with the visuals, the audio of Baka & Test perfectly suits the nature of the show, and it’s timed impeccably to nicely boost the comedy.
In the end, Baka & Test delivers a positive message to the youth of Japan. No matter how flawless someone may seem, everybody is a dummy about something, and even someone that appears to be a complete dope can surprise you and offer something worthwhile to the world. Baka & Test isn’t likely to make it on anyone’s “best anime ever” list, but it’s cute enough, funny enough, and charming enough to be an innocuous good time, ideal to add a “+1” to your own anime collection score.