Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 29th 2013
Baka and Test: Season Two
BD+DVD - Complete Set [Limited Edition]
Being idiots, the guys of F Class get into all manner of trouble. Trouble trying to hit on girls at the beach. Trouble cross-dressing at a festival. Trouble trying to best a blackmailer. Trouble playing Doubt. Trouble dealing with romantic triangles and trying to survive a school-sponsored test of courage. They're resourceful idiots though, so no trouble can keep them down for long. They'll use whatever means at their disposal to come out on top, and a surprising amount of the time, they do.
How far can a show go with just a class full of idiots and a nifty sci-fi gimmick? Quite a ways it turns out. Baka and Test rumbles through its second season with affable carelessness, ever ready to go on long comic detours or just goof around with Fumizuki Academy's “summon” system. But somewhere along the line it also picks up a fruitful vein of sweet natured character building. Like its characters, Baka and Test 2 is kind of dumb and super silly but not without its flashes of grace. As with season one, the fun factor is high, but this is the more satisfying of the seasons—by a slight margin.
Also like its characters, Baka and Test 2 is something of a likeable mess. It does what it wants when it wants and for however long it wants. It opens with a flurry of one-episode silliness and half-episode side-stories. They range in tone from raucous to sweetly sentimental, with stops in between for fan-service nonsense and goofily insubstantial fluff. Afterwards it hits two three-episode arcs, one of which braces the Yoshii-Himeji-Minami triangle head-on for the first time, and the other of which sets the boys on an epic three-part campaign to go peeping at the girls' bath. Seriously. After which the show closes with a one-off about Shouko and Yuji's past and a two-episode lark about the kids using new Halloween-themed avatars to brave a test of courage set up by some ill-natured upperclassmen. A paragon of dramatic structure it is not.
It is, however, consistently fun and funny. Even when it feels like it shouldn't be. Yoshii and Yuji turn the obligatory beach episode into an amusingly desperate exercise in how not to pick up girls. The equally obligatory festival episode vectors off into a cross-dressing beauty contest in which the boys' attempts to lose (quickly!) go horribly awry. Yoshii, Yuji, Hideyoshi, and Muttsulini spend three episodes throwing themselves into full-frontal attacks on the girls' bath, bringing to bear all the devious strategy and underhanded trickery they usually reserve for the school's avatar battles, all so that they can stop a blackmailer from ruining their reputations. Smart, boys; really smart.
The energy stays high, the loony plans and comic retribution fly thick, and the characters—with their off-the-wall reactions and larger-than-life idiocies—keep things silly and fun even when the episodes themselves fall flat. A lot of the character humor is repeated (Hideyoshi's girlish looks, Shouko's psychotic possessiveness, Himeji's lethal cooking) and yet the series continues to find new ways to riff on old personality quirks. Like the upperclassmen using their own Hideyoshi-lust against him in the test of courage. (Mushy love poems… the horror!) Or Muttsulini assassinating an official messenger with Himeji's “juice” drink. (Probably the series' single funniest moment.)
This is all quite frivolous of course; a breakfast of Animal Crackers and Hi-C when, really, we should probably be having a bran muffin with a glass of grapefruit juice. And the show knows it. Most of the time it revels in its high-fructose hijinks; content in its empty-calorie goofiness. But occasionally it'll slip in some substance. Sometimes almost unnoticed—as when the episode about Hideyoshi and his sister Yuko quietly softens her abrasive character—and sometimes with a big whack from a melancholy flashback. And, rather shockingly, it works.
The series' slimly written characters flesh out nicely over the course of this season, the new depth of history strengthening their relationships and deepening their jokey personalities. Minami makes out particularly well—her past hardships and private weaknesses kick her already estimable cuteness up notch or three—but Yoshii benefits too (mostly from sound explanations for why Minami and Himeji like him) as do Shouko and Yuji, whose relationship takes on a surprising poignancy when we witness its birth back in the mists of their grade-school memories.
The show is careful not to push its emotional appeals too hard, or to let them go entirely untempered by its sunny humor. The potentially overbearing drama of the love triangle arc, kicked off by an unexpected display of affection, is quickly channeled into a Machiavellian political game in which Yuji, like some wily feudal lord of yore , uses the affections of his subjects (Yoshii, Minami, and Himeji) to stave off a war. It is a surprisingly clever arc, and uproariously funny (it is here that shinobi Muttsulini assassinates class 2-B's messenger), but also maintains just enough charmingly clumsy romance to end on a satisfyingly uplifting note.
Director Shin Oonuma's strategy in all this is not to wow us with production values but simply to make sure that the show is always interesting to look at. To that end he breaks out every trick in the book: X-ray shots, fake screentones, decorative frames, inventive shot composition, alternate color schemes, discontinuous editing, black-and-white line drawings, video-game readouts… the list is practically endless. It's something of a lighter, brighter, less extreme version of what his mentor, directorial madman Akiyuki Shinbo does. And it's a great fit for the show: colorful without being garish, energetic without being hyperactive, and just bristling with wonderful little stylistic gags. The best probably being the detail-heavy manga close-ups that Oonuma gives Yoshii and Yuji whenever they're broadcasting faux-earnestness. Though the too-perfect CG jiggle that Himeji gives whenever she enters a fan-service shot and the Pac-Man displays used to illustrate Yuji's plans are both close seconds. Oh yes, and the knock-your-eye-out cuteness of the cast (and their avatars), Minami in particular, should not be underestimated.
The show uses its score with admirable restraint for a comedy. It's a fairly simple and understated affair, most noticeable when giving a musical wink during the show's more parodic stretches or during the serious episodes, where its gentleness works in tandem with Oonuma's surprisingly restrained atmosphere of melancholy nostalgia.
This is the kind of show where fast and loose can be a virtue, and Funimation obliges. Their script plays liberally with the characters' banter, giving the English a slightly different sense of humor than the original. It's something of a cruder sense of humor, and while certainly pretty funny, it makes Yoshii and Yuji in particular more vulgar kinds of characters. Which in turn makes the serious episodes, where they show their good sides, a little harder to swallow. A slight slackness in the cast's emoting doesn't help. Don't dismiss it out of hand, but don't expect to be won over if you aren't already in the dub camp.
Funimation stacks up the extras with this set, providing a full roster of promos and commercials and clean OPs and EDs and two commentaries, for episode 3 with writer Jamie Marchi and actress Brina Palencia (Hideyoshi) and for episode 13 with engineers Kevin Leasure and Stephen Hoff. The real meat, though, is in the nine fairly substantial omake based on the Baka to Test to Shōkanjū Spinout! Sore ga Bokura no Nichijō. manga. Though, to be honest, they're not really very entertaining. Mostly they just demonstrate how dismal the show proper could be without the clean art of Silver Link and the lively direction of Oonuma.
Don't let the positive tenor of this review fool you. This season shares a lot of the first's shortcomings. Even if Minami and Shouko improve over the course of these episodes, the female cast is still weak. Especially Himeji, who remains flat and uninterestingly perfect despite the show's best attempts to spice her up—with drunken rampages, cutesy insecurities and other ineffectual quirks of behavior. The show at large is also lightweight, disorganized, and heavily dependent on clichés. That's part of its charm though; a shaggy imperfection, a winning disregard for depth and quality. It doesn't mind being stupid, as long as we all have a grand old time being idiots.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Still scads of fun; stronger characterization and even a genuine feeling or two.
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