Review for Baka and Test OVA Collection
If you’re an anime fan, then it’s most likely that you’re a freak about packaging, about format consistency, about getting all the spines lined up on your DVD shelf. It’s understandable given a medium that is all about art. It’s an impossible goal of course, especially when licensees and company logos can change halfway through a release. For years I lived with MVM and Revelation discs for Fullmetal Alchemist. Manga Entertainment released Baka & Test: Summon the Beasts across two seasons in the UK as DVD only, but they never released the OVA. When Australia’s Madman Entertainment had a sale, I finally placed an order, but for some daft reason, the Blu-ray was half the price of the DVD. The thing about Baka & Test is that Funimation’s Blu-rays weren’t officially sanctioned, or so the rumour goes. The Season 1 and 2 Blu-rays were limited, one time only releases, and subsequent re-releases of Baka & Test have been DVD only. Manga and Madman, DVD and Blu-ray; my OCD is going to go into overdrive!
Fumizuki Academy is a prep school with a difference. It has instituted the latest theories in education, which results in a social stratification of the students along the lines of academic results. After the first year, there is a placement test, and depending on the scores, the students are placed in classes A-F. Those in class A get all the privileges, the equipment, the cushy furniture, the free food, the laptops, the works. Those in class F get broken tables, worn out tatami mats, a dusty classroom with the wind whistling through the holes in the windows. The quality of education gradually increases up the class system.
Yoshii Akihisa is an idiot. One of the rules is that if anyone leaves during the placement test, they automatically fail, and when the exceedingly cute Himeji faints during the test, he gallantly stands up for her. Which is how he ends up in Class 2-F. But there is a way to work his way back up the academic league. A class can challenge another class to a Summoner War. The latest in academic technology means that every student in Fumizuki Academy is assigned an avatar, and that avatar’s strength is determined by how well that student does in exams. In an emergency, a student can sit a spot test to boost the avatar’s stats. In a Summoner War, two classes’ avatars do battle, the victors determined by the strength of the stats in a chosen subject, and the winners profit while the losers suffer. It’s thus possible that Class 2-F could become Class 2-A through sufficient academic achievement.
It’s just that Yoshii’s classmates don’t exactly inspire confidence. Yuuji Sakamoto is a slacker who thinks he has it all worked out. Minami Shimada is tomboyish girl with an affection for Yoshii, and shows it by putting him in various wrestling submission holds. Kouta ‘Muttsulini’ Tsuchiya spends more time trying to peek up girls’ skirts than he does being educated, and Hideyoshi Kinoshita looks so much like his twin sister that the boys in class 2-F are seriously confused about their sexual identities. On the bright side, Himeji wound up failing that exam too, and when she isn’t fainting, she’s a genius. And she’s sweet on Yoshii.
The two episodes of the OVA take place in between Seasons 1 & 2 of Baka & Test, and cover that staple of the high school anime, the culture festival. Of course in Baka & Test, culture festival means another Summoner war, but this time the stakes are even higher. Dissatisfied with his daughter’s performance, Himeji’s father plans to have her transfer out to another school. Class 4F need to gain some respectability quick, and buying furniture for their dead-end classroom would be a good start. If their Chinese Maid Cafe: European can make enough money that is.
Day 1: Me, Maids and a New Start
Day 2: Idiots, Fireworks and the Summoner Tournament
When I reviewed the DVDs of the series, I opined that an HD upgrade wouldn’t be all that spectacular. How wrong I was! The OVA is presented on this Blu-ray in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p format and it looks delightful, with rich and vibrant colours, and strong detail. It is very imaginative, colourful, and dynamic, with pleasing character designs, and a well-realised world, and it looks even better on Blu-ray. Silver Link takes a leaf from studio SHAFT, in terms of throwing everything at the screen. It’s full of bizarre camera angles, fast cuts, interesting compositions, and a wide variety of animation and design styles, all to enhance the comedy. There are also plenty of sight gags and in-jokes that will require a quick finger on the pause button to appreciate. As SHAFT shows have shown, this approach can be hit and miss, but in Baka & Test, it works a treat for studio Silver Link.
You have the option of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and 2.0 Japanese, with optional translated English subtitles, and a signs only track. I was as happy as a clam listening to the original Japanese audio. The dialogue is clear, the characters are cast appropriately, and the humour comes across well. Having said that, Baka & Test is one of the very few English comedy dubs that I have enjoyed. Rather than going all screechy trying to emulate the original characters, the humour has been shifted, and rewritten to engage more fully with a North American vernacular. The characters sound different, but are just as appropriately cast, while the comedy works differently to the original but is just as entertaining. This is one of the few shows that are actually worth watching twice, in both English and Japanese, as both languages offer different viewing experiences.
The jokes fly thick and fast in this series, especially the text captions and sight gags, and there’s a whole lot of fast paced subtitling going on. Even a die-hard sub fan like me would be hard pressed to keep up, and even I resorted to skipping back and pausing to catch what had been missed. It makes it all the more useful that the English dub is as good as it is in Baka & Test.
You get one disc in a Blu-ray Amaray style case, and there’s some nice artwork on the inner sleeve. The disc autoplays a trailer for Shakugan no Shana Season 3 before booting to an animated menu.
OVA1 Split: Hideyoshi Kinoshita, Muzuki Himeji & Minami Shimada lasts 10:52.
OVA Split: Ending lasts 4:01.
Both of these offer alternate endings to the first and second episode.
You get 4:20 of Promos Videos, 0:33 of Original Commercials and the Textless Credits.
There are Funimation trailers for Toriko, Is This a Zombie? Tenchi Muyo!, A Certain Magical Index, One Piece, and Baka & Test.
It’s been a while since I last saw the Baka & Test series, but randomly sticking this OVA on, bereft of its context was no problem. It didn’t take long at all for the show’s wacky premise to come back to me, and it wasn’t much longer before I had clicked with the characters once more. And the Baka & Test OVA is just as funny as the series, just as entertaining to watch. However, there is that sense that it really is just more of the same, the same gags recycled once more. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as comedy can often thrive through repetition, and Muttsulini’s epic nosebleeds, Himeji’s creative cooking, and Hideyoshi’s gender confusion should never be discounted.
It’s just that there was a time when an OVA meant something different, it was a chance to take your characters and story and do something radical, offer something more than just the same old, same old. An OVA spin-off could be something like a mini-movie, a chance to go big with the budget and the animation, a chance to play in a different sandbox. These days, OVAs really just feel like continuations of the series. And that is the case with Baka & Test, which despite offering the variety of putting the characters through the annual School Festival rigmarole, boils down to the same rivalry with the other classes, and the same character quirks coming to the fore.
As always, it’s about improving the status of lowly class F, this time made all the more imperative when it looks like the smartest, and the cutest girl in the class will be transferring out. It seems that they can bypass the academic side of things, and simply make enough money through their Chinese Waitress Cafe to buy some desks and equipment for their classroom. But you can’t ditch the class rivalry that easily, and soon they have saboteurs stealing their customers, despite Hideyoshi in a dress. An eye for an eye is demanded, and the usual comedy ensues.
It turns out that you can’t get away from the academic side of things that easily, and when Class F do make enough money, the principal announces that they will only get that money to spend if they indeed win the Summoner War School Festival tournament, and it’s back to normal service for the second episode in the collection.
The Baka & Test OVA is great if you want more of the same daft comedy and silly hijinks, but if you’re looking for a little something different from your OVA spin-offs then you’ll be laughing through your disappointment. Either way, I find that I’m now in the position of regretting not importing the series Blu-rays when I had the chance.