The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Baka to Test to Shokanju

Title: Baka to Test to Shokanju aka Baka and Test – Summon the Beasts
Genre: Comedy
Company: Silver Link
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 6 Jan 2010 – 31 Mar 2010

Synopsis: At Fumizuki Academy, tests are a serious business. A placement test at the end of each school year determines which students are afforded the luxurious learning conditions of A-class, and which are relegated to the shonky workspace in F-class. Yoshii Akihisa’s starts the placement test with confidence until he realizes that the girl sitting next to him, Himeji Mizuki, is sick, and in no state to sit an exam. He takes her to the infirmary, but both are deemed to have abandoned the test, and both are placed in F-class for the next year. However, there is a way for entire classes to swap rooms and upgrade conditions: Exam Summoning Battles. Yoshii and his friend and class rep, Sakamoto Yuuji, set themselves on beating A-class in an ESB, for Mizuki’s sake.

The Highlights
Comedy: A mix of schadenfreude, randomness and references that only succeeds at being loud and stupid.
Characters: With one exception, either worthless, annoying, bland or psychotic; mostly unlikable.
Directing: Oonuma Shin beats you over the head with his overwrought style.
ESB fights: Feels like the rules are being made up as they go along.
Hideyoshi: Just when you thought anime couldn’t run the whole “trap” thing any further into the ground…

Schadenfreude is the currency of the anime comedy economy.  Seeing a character taken down a peg is a staple – almost an obsession – of the Japanese sense of humour.  Baka to Test to Shokanju is yet another anime that thrives on schadenfreude, and seeing the characters suffer under increasingly oppressive (and ridiculous) conditions is the order of the day.  The problem is that despite the highly randomized and irregular surface, Baka Test is rather tepid at heart.  Like most other comedy anime, it wants you to sympathize with the characters, and laugh with them rather than at them.  Yeah, OK, I’d have done so if there was a character in this show worth liking.

Where it matters, Baka Test is filled with loud, obnoxious, selfish jerks.  There’s just so much dumb in this anime, starting with its overly elaborate premise that can’t hold its own weight.  The ESB battles are an entangled mess of arbitrary rules.  These battles are presented in a way that’s largely superfluous: we get lots of RPG-esque damage numbers on the screen, which are merely calculated by who has the higher test score in a given subject.  At best boring, and at worst cringe-worthy, these battles are a pain to watch because when it’s not predictable who’s going to win from seeing the HP values, it’s because of some arbitrary rule or some ridiculous happenstance that was pulled out of some black hole.  Try to imagine being subjected to a really poorly made RPG, except that you’re not allowed to play, but you’re forced to watch.

The humour simply screams “trying too hard”.  The unpleasant situations Yoshii and Yuuji are put through pile up on each other to the point that the intention becomes blatantly transparent.  It makes them pointless to sympathize with, because it’s just obvious that the anime is preparing to take another giant crap on these characters in the next scene (although Yoshii arguably deserves some of it).  Other than the schadenfreude, the anime is also driven by a fair amount of moe pandering.  The main romantic rivals, Mizuki and Minami, stick fast to standard moe archetypes, and have as much personality between them as an empty orange carton.  Don’t like these two?  Well, what about Shouko, the jealous psychopath, or Hideyoshi, the token trap?  In both cases, they’ve taken two character tropes that anime has run into the ground and has supposedly improved them by… running them into the ground.  Then again, the same can be said for so many of the other Baka Test assembly.

Oonuma Shin is known informally as an apprentice of Shinbo Akiyuki, and it shows in the anime’s style, with lots of irregular scene transitions, abstract patterns and colours and changes in art style appearing at random times.  However, Oonuma doesn’t appear to share Shinbo’s knack for comic timing or irony.  When Shinbo does schadenfreude, he doesn’t smack you over the head with it, or make you feel dumber for watching it.  I’m a big fan of Oonuma’s directing in ef – a tale of memories, but after watching Baka Test, I won’t be rushing back to see whatever comedy he makes next.

The Rating: 3
3/10

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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