Baka and Test Season 1 Complete Series Anime DVD Review

Baka and Test Season 1 Complete Series Anime DVD Review School Rumble meets Yu-Gi-Oh but with a “trap” of another kind on the playing field.

What They Say:
When a fight breaks out at Fumizuki Academy, nobody throws a single punch. Instead, the students utilize the school’s technology to summon Avatars, pint-sized stand-ins with battle powers based on academic ability. That “academic ability” part is bad news for Yoshii – because Yoshii’s an idiot, stuck in lowly Class F with the slackers. If these misfits want to escape their dump of a classroom and earn some respect, they’ll have to fight their way up the ranks and take on Class A, the Academy’s brightest students. It’s going to be tough, that’s for sure. But once the underachievers of Class F get motivated, they don’t give up – and Yoshii can’t even spell surrender!

Please Note:
This is a look at the DVDs that came from the DVD/BD combo set. We review the DVDs separately through a different reviewer to provide an alternate take on the content and how the DVD design holds up.

The Review:
Audio:
Present on the disc are two audio tracks, a 2.0 Japanese track and an English 5.1 one. For the purpose of the review the Japanese track was selected and it is a solid performer with no drop outs or distortions noted during playback. The track has a nice split to it and it does a good deal better than average job conveying all the sounds so that whispers aren’t too quiet and screams aren’t too loud at the same volume level while still conveys all the intentions of vocal pitch and volume.

*Note: The materials present on the Extras disc are Japanese with English subs only.

Video:
The video also turns in a solid performance with only a few flaws really standing out- there is a bit of noise present, some jaggies and in really strong red images there can be some color bleed, particularly in one scene of episode 8. These problems aside Baka and Test makes a very full use of the color palate anime gives the opportunity for and the series presents them very well with solid and rich colors, blacks and making softer pastel colors attractive as well.

Packaging:
For full packaging review please see Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu-Ray half of Baka and Test.

The series itself comes on two DVDs that have an orange colored ring around the hub and outer edge with the series title printed there as the Summoned Beasts of the main characters are placed in between the two boarders. Only a black number and small note of the episodes included distinguish the two discs from each other. An incredible plus is that FUNimation included a third disc for the extras and appropriate to both the series and number of extras included its label resembles the orange boxes that class “F” uses for a period with the cardboard looking background with its orange with a green leaf present along with an orange section for the title of the series in the image.

Menu:
The menus are static affairs but one that works well as it is laid out with a comic panel format on the main screen. The selectable options appear inside speech bubbles from the characters which glow blue when highlighted and take on a reddish hue when selected. While the two main men’s (Akihisa on disc one and Yūji on disc two) speech bubbles start the DVD playing the other speech bubbles that are “spoken” by some of the other characters in the show take the screen to the appropriate menu while also giving the character a new piece of art (except on disc one where the characters art and speech bubbles are reversed). To add to the presentation an up tempo track plays in the background. The Extras’ menu is again static with the image of an orange box from the series as the background. The options selectable are listed in blue and a light, breezy track from the series plays in the background while a small blue star indicates the currently highlighted selection. The menus are quick when responding to changes in selection and implementation of selections.

Extras:
The orange box look for the screen and label are very appropriate here as there are enough extras you may fell you need something sizable to transport them in. While the presence of the textless open and both closings are kind of standard the series will eschew being average and aim for the top of the class score. This includes adding in promotional trailers, Japanese TV and DVD commercials but the big kicker is yet to come-mini story featurettes. With time ranging from around a minute and a half to almost five minutes the disc includes 7 little pieces that wouldn’t quite work as standalone episodes but provide a quick and simple way to get some added value while having fun with-or at the expense of-the characters.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Fumizuki Academy is school that subscribes to the idea of trying to push their students to reach for the best and they do so by using an extreme reward/disincentive program. Students are assigned to class tiers (A-F) based on their placement test results held once a year. The top students live a life that is enviable to all in the school with plush chairs, school provided laptops and even a free drink bar complete with unlimited snacks as well. The lowest tier is the “F” class who are assigned a part of the building that has had shoddy maintenance and that’s furniture makes the average first post college apartment look like a palace.

Akihisa Yoshii is a student attending this school, though barely. He is acknowledged by all around him, even his close friends, as an idiot of the highest order and possibly the biggest idiot in Japan. He is such a bad student and bit of a discipline problem that he carries the distinction of being the only student with “probationary” status on the campus which places him in the position of having to help the teachers with various tasks as well as cementing his “idiot” status.

The story starts with a moment three months before the start of school for the year as Akihisa is taking a placement test with the entire seriousness one would expect of the worst student in the area, using his multiple guess tools he has at his disposal to try to help him. He notices that a rather well built student named Mizuki Himeji is having some illness problems. He tries to argue with the teacher in charge of the testing to give her a break but when she loses consciousness she is taken to the infirmary and his pleas fell on deaf ears.

Fast forward to the start of the year and we find Akihisa having gotten his deserved placement in “F” class with some of his friends so it really doesn’t bother him any. When Mizuki comes through the door Akihisa is shocked but he learns she was given a zero on her placement test because she left the room during the test. Akihisa suddenly is cognizant of how bad an environment the room is to learning in general and to a girl in poor health in specific and decides that he will do something about it. There is only one way to do something about it after the placement test that revolves around another element that makes the school unique.

Along with their student hierarchy Fumizuki Academy has another element that makes it unique- the ability for students to call upon Summoned Beasts. In these ST wars an avatar like representations of them uses the students last test scores in RPG like function for strength and endurance with a supervising teacher providing the environment and subject whose stats will be used. These Summoned Beasts can be used in combat as entire classes can challenge the one above them to try to earn a victory and the right to switch rooms with the losing class. Winning means a better environment but even the bottom of the barrel class can still lose equipment as well and complete defeat means being stuck in a remedial class from hell.

Akihisa decides he wants to make sure Mizuki has the environment that would suit her ability to learn as she is one of the most brilliant students in the school, but being the biggest idiot in the worst class means he is going to need a world of help. To this end his friends will join him and while they may not be overall the brightest each has their own strength. Akihisa will defer (often to his detriment) to the planning of his friend and class rep Yūji Sakamoto, who used to be known as a genius but doesn’t study much anymore for some reason but knows how to best place the resources he has at his disposal.

Joining them will be Kōta Tsuchiya, the school’s resident pervert who is always looking for the perfect camera shot of his fellow female classmates at their most unguarded and vulnerable ( naked if possible); Hideyoshi Kinoshita, a very feminine boy whose looks are the envy of girls and even cause the guy’s hearts to flutter and Minami Shimada, a girl who struggles with kanji as she spent a number of years in Germany and who is rather violent to Akihisa but is there a reason for this that goes deeper given the looks she casts in his (clueless) direction?

As the class now plans to try to change things for Mizuki’s sake the group will run into problems with Summon Beasts, remedial classes, poverty, deadly cooking and even a forceful want to be fiancé armed with tasers. In this environment the group will work hard together to achieve Akihisa’s goals-but is getting into class “A” what Mizuki really wants? And who is the intended target of the love letter she has been carrying with her she tries to work up the courage to present? In any case this group will have to work to move themselves forward and shock those who look down on them, and they may even resort to studying to do it.

Baka and Test incorporates elements that are familiar in terms of both relationship stories and battle systems from other anime series but it tries to take an innovative approach with mixing them in a new way. To some extent this works as it adds a new and fresh hook to play with among the events that have been done a million times before and will be done a million times again. Akihisa’s goals of helping the girl he loves pursue her love while not realizing that it is himself is rather nice as the lead may be an idiot and more than a little insensitive but he by nature is a nice guy. I’m iffy on the actual working of their relationship triangle with Minami which is neither greatly innovative nor greatly offensive and watching the class reps from “A” and “F” interact is funny if not exactly breaking new ground either.

What does kind of break ground is the battle system idea. While audiences have grown used to these odd combat fights with SD characters in children’s game anime, this is a rare case where it has broken past that. At times it is used brilliantly as the scenes can insert humor as well as add a measure of suspense as the class of idiots challenge those with higher scores and the viewer has to watch to see how it will play out. At times though, particularly in the parody episode, this concept gets abused a bit as the idea is strong but how it gets put into practice upsets the balance of the individual aspects of the characters.

The series really picked up for me later in the episodes when the characters were established and able to really run through the paces as opposed to parts of the set up episodes that felt more forced. There is one addition late in the series that threatened the delicate balance with the prospect of complete collapse and it almost pulled it off. This introduction just felt like that one step too far in a series that spends a lot of time walking a fine line between interesting and overkill that just about wipes out all their gains. The series has some great fun moments but it has a good deal of mediocre ones as well and then it has a couple of scenes that if I weren’t committed to watching might have had me walking away early. The summation I have seen of “Decent but flawed” seems to sum the series up as well as anything I can think of.

In Summary:
Baka and Test has the feel of a pot luck type of production where everyone on the creation staff is allowed to bring their own favorite element to throw into the mix. This creates a bit of a disjointed feel as some of the mix produces some very charming moments and hilarious results but it also creates moments where the stories seem to be warring with themselves and trying to pull against the product as a whole. Baka and Test left me with a smile and looking forward to the second series but hoping that the flaws are addressed and fixed, or barring that seriously downplayed.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Mission: Impossible: Baka Preview, Baka-Only Cross-Dressing Contest, Mission: Impossible: Baka Mission 01, Mizuki Himeji Girls’ Meal, The King Game in Fumizuki Academy, Special Christmas Footage, Promo Videos, Original Commercials, Original DVD Spots, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Songs.

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 2nd, 2011
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.

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