What the funhouse?
BAKA AND TEST: SUMMON THE BEAST OVA SPECIAL COLLECTION begins with a high school’s multicultural festival. A group of wily F-class students prepare their own presentation - - a Chinese maid cafe. As they serve nearly poisonous sesame balls to two venomous, upper crust brothers, the gang sets off across the school to make sure their maid cafe is successful. Each member of the rag-tag buddies has their own little quirks, with funny one-liners, slapstick physical comedy, a dash of drag and some adorable naivety.
It would all be terribly funny, if only I knew who all these characters were!
OVA episodes, I'm told, are designed specifically for direct-to-video; and in this case, a continuation of a well-established series. BAKA AND TEST: SUMMON THE BEAST centers around Fumizuki Academy, where test scores determine your class by letter, and your letter determines your school supplies and advantages. Class A, for example, spends their days in air-conditioned rooms with laptops, comfortable chairs, and a free snack bar. Class F, where our motley crew resides, can only make do with floor mats and tossed aside junk.
In theory, you can win better facilities with the supernatural twist to this show - - Shokanju, or Summoned Beings. These Beings can be used in a battle between the classes, but there’s a catch. The health and strength of each student’s Summoned Being is based on their last test score. In a school where geniuses dominate Class A and terrible test takers slum it up in Class F, you can see where things might be a little unfair.
Unfortunately, none of that is explained in the OVA SPECIAL COLLECTION. This type of collection seems best suited for someone already familiar with the series, but also serves as a nice gateway drug to the characters. You’re thrown right in with Yoshii, a lovable dolt, and his girlfriend (or friend?) Mizuki, a girl who lost to the system. Second in her class, she missed the day of her exams and was placed with Yoshii, Yuji, Minami, and Hideyoshi.
“Day 1: Me, Maids, and a New Chapter” follows the group as they fight off two A class brothers with a serious attitude problem, with Yoshii donning a dress and wig to fool them and somehow winning maid of the festival. He and Yuji make up the “buddy cop” aspect of the group, fueling the one-liners and wisecracks that make up the show’s irreverent sense of humor. When Yoshii believes that Mizuki’s father may take her out of the school due to their terrible Class F facilities, he imagines the repercussions as a MAD MAX dystopian future, complete with motorbikes and mohawks. That sort of over-the-top hyperbole permeates the entire show, highlighting its quick, biting comedy and accelerating the teen drama.
The second episode seems more in tune with the series description, where students battle each other with their Summoned Beings. With a set of rigged battles, a grudge match from the two Class A brothers, and Mizuki’s fate on the line, “Day 2: Idiots, Fireworks, and the Summoning Contest” is much more action-packed. It’s also Yoshii’s time to shine.
Apparently Yoshii is “Baka,” the ultimate idiot, which means he has the worst grades of anyone in school. It also means his Summoned Being is used to do chores, making him much more adept at controlling it - - a secret that comes very handy in battle. It also means, through an explanation that must come earlier in the series, he feels a backlash every time his Summoned Being is injured. The stakes are high, the battles are fixed, and the end is near.
Though these episodes were fun to watch and can inspire a viewer to go back and check out earlier episodes, is there any real reason someone would jump into the story this late in the game?
Ultimately, no. It’s a nice intro to the characters, but BAKA AND TEST: SUMMON THE BEASTS OVA SPECIAL COLLECTION seems tailored to old-time fans, anime viewers in the know, who have at least had time to learn all the characters names.
Still, I did enjoy what little I could gleam of the story and was intrigued enough by the show’s cavalier humor to explore more. Perhaps, in the end, these sort of releases would be best explicitly labeled as being for seasoned viewers, only, rather than the unsuspecting novice such as myself.
Rachel Heine is an anime novice, film buff and food blogger based in Los Angeles. She writes and edits for arts & culture online magazine, Buzzine, and runs her own personal blog at PopandSizzle. Follow her Twitter: @RachelHeine