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DVD Review

DVD cover

Baka and Test
Summon the Beasts
Season 2


Starring (voice): Hiro Shimono, Hiromi Harada, Akio Ohtsuka, Ayana Taketatsu and Emiri Katō
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 15
Available 11 February 2013

Yoshii's a good-hearted goofball enrolled at a school where students settle their differences by summoning Avatars, pint-sized stand-ins with battle powers based on academic ability. That academic ability part is bad news for idiotic Yoshii - he's 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 brightest students on campus. 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...!

Picking up without much ceremony from the close of the first season, Baka and Test continues its brand of wilfully formulaic, occasionally entertaining high school frolics with that staple of time-filling gambits in TV anime, a trip to the beach. While such inconsequential events are normally reserved for the middle episodes of a series, and as an opener to a second season might give the impression of a lack of confidence on the creators' part, Baka and Test season two is so similar in content and style to its predecessor that this set might easily have followed on without a break from the last season's close.

With the second episode centred on a yukata festival, and the three subsequent instalments devoted to half-episode storylines that are little more than throwaway comedy sketches of varying effectiveness, this second season seems blithely unconcerned about catching newcomers' interest or trying new things. An extended plot concerning the identity of a blackmailer stretches thin over episodes five through seven, with stumblebum protagonist Yoshii and his friends embroiled in an escalating campaign of voyeurism, detective work and boys-versus-girls turf warfare, to mostly indifferent comic effect.

It's not until episode eight, with the aggressive Minami's reminiscence over her first days attending school in Japan after being raised overseas, that Baka and Test shoots for straightforward drama and just about succeeds; her struggles with the Japanese language, subsequent isolation and inability to make friends are thoughtfully portrayed and manage to give her hitherto two-dimensional character some depth. The following episodes attempt to capitalize on this with some conflict and tension over her feelings for Yoshii, who muddles up the situation in his usual style with his own unresolved affection for the perennially fluffy Himeji. It's not easy to achieve dramatic depth in a knockabout comedy show, but Baka and Test makes an honest attempt, only undermined by its inability to provide a definitive resolution - an all too common problem with shows based on ongoing series.

The eleventh episode provides a similar emotionally-laden flashback to the childhood of roughneck Yuuji, shedding light on his relationship with the lovelorn beauty Shouko, whose dubiously one-sided affection and penchant for physical violence are milked for comedy in the series' present day. It's undermined by the series' reliance on jokey anime tropes - Yuuji's mother, not seen before now, comes off like more like a flirtatious high-schooler than a concerned parent - and it's no surprise that the final two episodes in this set return to the show's staples: stylized inter-class conflict and broad physical comedy, leaving the romantic entanglements more or less hanging in the expectation of a likely third season.

Baka and Test isn't a brilliant series, but the slightly frenzied air and determination to overplay its gags and character bits come what may are present and correct from the first season and lend it a certain charm. The colour palette and design are as vivid as before, with shades of the hyper-stylized unreality seen in the productions of director Akiyuki Shinbo (Bakemonogatari, Madoka Magica), and while Baka and Test doesn't reach those creative heights, it's a fun, if shallow series.


Richard Hunt

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