This one is more than a little strange, but if you can get past the odd premise it is a lot of fun. Let’s start with the title. Anime frequently gets weirdly mistranslated titles in English, but this one seems to go out of its way to confuse. “Baka” isn’t a person’s name. It means “idiots”. The Japanese title correctly translates as “Idiots, Tests and Summoned Beasts”.
To take these in order, the “idiots” are the students of Class F. Watch a few animes set in schools and you will soon realise how ruthlessly children in Japan tend to be divided up by ability. This is just a hunch, but maybe manga artists tend to look back on their school days and remember being creative more than academic; perhaps very few of them were “Class A” students, and wish to make the point that there are different kinds of intelligence, so they often show the flaws in the value judgements made about children in Japan.
In Fumizuki Academy the streaming of students is taken to extremes and played for laughs. Class A students are afforded every luxury, while Class F have a virtually derelict room with increasingly scant furniture as the series progresses, from broken tables to eventually cardboard boxes. It is a culture of envy, and to motivate the students to work harder they can challenge another class to a “test war”. The prize is an exchange of equipment.
This is where it gets really weird, and we come to the “summoned beasts” in the original title. The academy somehow has a weird futuristic computer system, a sort of holographic thing, which allows the students to fight with avatars. I really struggled to work out what this was all about, and having watched the entire two series I’m not sure I’m any the wiser, but it seems to veer from being a metaphor for students taking tests, played out on a grand visual scale, to an actual computerised battle based on their abilities. A lot of tactics come into it, which is how Class F often beat their intellectual superiors, again demonstrating that there are different kinds of intelligence.
To start with I must admit I found the test wars tedious, not really being a big fan of the kind of fantasy/battling anime this all leans towards, and luckily there are a good few episodes after you get past the first couple with the test wars suspended. This allows time for the characters to develop and the viewers to get to know them, and they are a great bunch. The big strength of this series is its humour. It is very, very funny indeed. There is even a narrator who frequently busts through the fourth wall.
As for the kids, it’s very much a comedy lineup: an “idiot”, and two girls who both fancy him, a best friend / leader of the pack, his psychopath girlfriend who is constantly jealous, a pervert, and a guy who everyone thinks is a girl. There are some great running jokes, particularly concerning feminine-looking Hideyoshi, who mysteriously gets his own toilets and changing rooms wherever he goes, so there are three genders: male, female and Hideyoshi. The psycho girlfriend is absolutely hilarious, and then the second series pulls the rug from under our feet by filling in her backstory and making us really care about her. Less effective is the love triangle between Yoshii and his two potential love matches: Himeji and Minami. The second series also fills in their backstories and makes some sense of their obsession with him, but it is still one of those frustrating love triangles that come to nothing because nobody will ever confess their feelings, and Yoshii is forever blissfully unaware of their interest in him.
Two series felt like plenty enough in the end, and this is far from being one of the all-time greats, but if you are looking for some great comedy and likeable characters you won’t go far wrong with Baka and Test. I’ve seen enough “test wars” to last me a lifetime though. RP