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Baka & Test: Summon the Beasts Season One

FUNimation // Unrated // August 2, 2011
List Price: $64.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted August 4, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Fans of school comedies will be pleased with FUNimation's latest release:  Baka & Test Summon the Beasts.  An amusing show with just a dollop of action, he full 13-episode first season is available in a nice edition that includes both the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the show.  Not sure why you'd need both formats (it's not like a Disney film where you might want to let the kids have the DVD and the adults will keep the Blu-ray unmarred for family viewing.  I guess it would be nice if you are planning on upgrading to Blu-ray soon but haven't made the leap yet) but in any case they're both included if you need them.

Akihisa Yoshii attends Fumizuki Academy, a very strict high school that employs new cutting-edge techniques for teaching their students.  First off, everyone is placed in a class based on their entrance test scores.  Class A is where the brightest people are placed, and they get the best of everything.  Being in Class A is like living in a five-star hotel.  Next is Class B, which isn't so nice, on down to Class F, the lowest, where Yoshii finds himself (he's the 'baka' or 'idiot' of the title).  Class F sits on the floor and they have old boxes for desks.  Their teacher doesn't care at all, and even starts to moonlight as the show's announcer.
The real innovation has to do with how students resolve conflict and advance.  Each person can call forth (with a teacher's permission) an avatar that will fight for them.  The avatar's power is equal to that student's last test score.  Any class can challenge any other class to a duel, and if the lower class wins, they get the nicer facilities that the other group had.    

Yoshii thinks the system in unfair, especially since his smart (and attractive) friend, Mizuki Himeji, ended up in class F.  She was sick during the placement exam and passed out so she got a zero.  As the teacher said, staying healthy is part of the exam.
Other classmates include: Minami who grew up in Germany and is very good at math but bad in all other subjects since she has trouble reading Japanese; class rep Yūji who is calm and cool and comes up with brilliant plans that sometimes even work; Hideyoshi, the prettiest one in the class and the envy of all the girls even thought he's a boy; and Kōta a pervert who is constantly trying to peek at the girl's underwear and frequently has nose-bleeds. 
The show is a typical high school comedy, and it is pretty funny.  Early on Yoshii takes Mizuki and Minami out on a date and spends all of his food money for the foreseeable future.   For the rest of the season he has almost nothing to eat, a running gag that gets more and more amusing as the series goes on.  He ends up salt soup with sugar water for desert, and feast on a bowl of bread crumbs.  He thinks he's hit the jackpot when Mizuki makes him a fabulous lunch, but when some friends steal a bit of it and end up incredibly sick, he realizes that maybe it's not such a good thing.  Mizuki's horrible cooking becomes another running gag, with guys fighting each other in order to be the one to not eat her offerings (I mean they couldn't all turn her down, that would hurt her feelings.) 

Another subplot that earned lots of laughs involves Shōko from class A.  She's the top of that class, and the best student in the school, but she has a crush on Yuji.  A very passionate and violent crush.  He's terrified at what she'll do next, because not only does she stalk him, but she's very jealous.  As she says once after clawing his eyes with her long fingernails "Love hurts... but it can hurt worse if you allow your eyes to wander."
Happily the avatar battles, which are pretty prominent in the first few episodes, fade into the background for most of the rest of the series.   I found that aspect of the program the least interesting and I was fearful that it would devolve into a battle-of-the-week show, which it didn't.
The DVD:

This release includes season one of the show on both DVD and Blu-ray.  The single-width case includes three DVDs with the same material repeated in HD on two Blu-ray discs. 
Viewers have a choice between the original stereo Japanese audio track and an English dub in 5.1 (DD 5.1 on the DVDs and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on the Blu-rays).  I viewed alternated between the two tracks for a while and settled on the original language option.  The dub was very well done with talented actors who did a great job of not only matching their speech to the animated lip movements but also brought the characters to life, and it was more engrossing with nice use of the full soundstage, but I thought the original language track suited the show a bit better.  Neither track had any dropouts, background noise, or other defects.
This is a nice looking set.  I only screened the Blu-ray discs, but the anamorphic 1.85:1 image is crisp and clear with tight lines and a great amount of detail.  The colors are vivid and strong and really make this transfer shine.  There aren't any digital defects, with even aliasing and blocking, the two most prevalent animation flaws being totally absent.  Fans will be very happy with the way this set looks.
The final disc on both the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the series is where you'll find the copious extras.  First off is a Mission: Impossible: Baka Preview a trailer for a Mission: Impossible type show featuring the Baka characters.  Those who enjoy that will certainly like Mission: Impossible: Baka Mission 01 a 3 ½ -minute adventure.   Baka-Only Cross-Dressing Contest is a 4-minute short that features the men from the show in a cross-dressing beauty contest.  Mizuki Himeji Girls' Meal has the females preparing food, and The King Game in Fumizuki Academy has the characters playing a game where one is selected to be 'king' and that person gets to give one order to any other person.  Special Christmas Footage has the kids from class F talking about Christmas and what it means to them and Baka and Test Tales is a short mystery.  .  In addition there are several commercials, promos videos, and DVD release spots.  Overall this is a great set of bonus items.  They're all at least marginally funny and some of them have solid laughs.  Good goin' FUNimation.
Final Thoughts:
Some Japanese comedies leave me cold, but not this one.  Baka & Test was funny, silly, and interesting with some great running gags that thread their way through this first season and a set of enjoyable characters.  Check it out, it gets a strong 'recommended' rating.
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