Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts
BD+DVD - OVA Special Collection
Class F students are experts at slacking off, which is exactly what they're doing as the school's big festival gears up. It's only when someone mentions that they might be able to use the proceeds from the festival to buy new equipment that the class stops goofing and gets planning. If they can take advantage of their strengths—namely cute girls and a willingness to sell photos of them—maybe they can improve their classroom conditions. Which sounds especially good to Yoshii, who's afraid that Himeji's dad will pull her from the school unless conditions improve. Naturally nothing's that easy. Not when the principal can get her jollies by forcing Class F into a tournament, with supplies-buying privileges on the line.
It's time for the school festival. Every show needs one. Being as its main characters are mad idiots and its premise is built around adorably vicious virtual-reality avatar battles, it should come as no surprise that Baka and Test sees a school festival as a chance for nonstop madcap farce. Luckily that's exactly what the show does best. You may not get anything substantial from this brief OVA, but it's a lot of fun to watch regardless.
These two episodes rather neatly divide the show's two main modes between them. The first covers the show's generic schoolyard comedy mode, the second its avatar battle mode. Of the two, generic schoolyard comedy is definitely the lesser mode. The first episode takes the responsibility of being generic very seriously. It does nothing that school festival episodes haven't been doing since the Ice Age. Class F brainstorms which classroom business to set up, decides on a costume café (china dress café in their case), jockeys for customers, runs into trouble with some rabble-rousers, works some countermeasures, and eventually comes out on top. Energy is high, silliness abounds, and we see every gag and twist coming from the horizon.
The episode also has the disadvantage of having the OVA's one major stab at seriousness—a predictable bit involving a kidnapping and rescue. The show can do seriousness well, but not here. It's clear from the outset that it's a fake-out, which means that all that the kidnapping bit really is, is the OVA's longest stretch without a working punch-line.
Mind you, the episode does its generic thing extremely well. It has a great asset in its colorful male leads, and it uses them well. The measures that Yuji takes to counter the rabble-rousers—a pair of nasty, scheming third-years—are bizarre yet hilariously effective, and as a plus begin a running joke about Yoshii and women's clothing that carries over into season two. The pair (and to a lesser extent their friends and rivals) are good company even in the worst of times, and Shin Oonuma's lively, brightly stylized direction, with its humorous gaps in continuity and gentle ruptures in filmmaking convention, keeps the show fun even when its jokes are tilling old territory. Which they do a lot, repeating gags about all of the usual Class F weirdness.
The second episode centers around a tournament, itself a Stone Age plot device, but one that puts the show's test-based VR battle system front and center. Fumizuki Academy's avatar system is the show's one truly unique feature, and as ever the show takes to faux-combat with a kind of cracked, comedic ingenuity. Watching Yoshii and Yuji claw their way up the tournament bracket, using every dirty trick and semi-legal ruse they can devise, is a riot. The two sacrifice honor, public approval, each other, and eventually the school building itself in an uproarious chain of escalating Pyrrhic victories. There's a level of cleverness and comic invention to the whole business, from strategy to consequence, that the less action-based parts of the series always seem to lack. Even the recurring jokes, about Class F's dismal reputation or Yuji's “engagement” to Shouko, get applied in fresher and funnier ways.
For the record, while this is an OVA, it looks and sounds pretty much exactly like the TV series. Which is to say active, attractive, and formidably cute. (And effective and unobtrusive where the score is concerned.) If there was any increase in budget, it's only apparent in the tournament—which admittedly features some surprisingly accomplished action and a good deal of eye-catching destruction.
With little emoting and a focus on fast-paced hijinks, this OVA is kinder to Funimation's dub than the series at large. The slight colorlessness of the acting doesn't affect humor the way it does heartfelt flashbacks, and the English script's tinkering—adding its own cultural references, delivering its own slightly altered brand of humor—fits well with the OVA's freewheeling comedic air. The writers have a way with language that can be very funny when the inspiration is right. (My favorite turn of phrase is Iron Man's affectionate name for his Class F students: “turdlings.”) The original Japanese is still the best option, but if dubs are your poison of choice, this is a right decent one.
This disc's main extras are “Split Endings” for the episodes, in which several different avenues for each episode's conclusion are explored. While in theory interesting, they turn out to be very minor variations on the originals—changing a single scene in the three alternate versions of episode one's ending and inserting live-action destruction into the second episode's finale.
Given the nature of Baka and Test, you can skip whole swaths of the show and miss very little besides whatever fun was had in that particular swath. These OVAs are no different. Chronologically they take place between seasons one and two, but you can watch them whenever you want or not at all; it doesn't really matter. The only measure of how much you need this OVA is how much you enjoy the show. Though at thirty bucks for two episodes, you'll want to make sure that you enjoy the show a lot.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ More fun with Baka and Test's memorably fun cast; tournament episode is a straight-up blast.
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