February 2010


“Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu” brings idiots, tests, and summoned beasts together into a surprisingly funny romantic comedy that overcomes its seemingly ridiculous premise. The anime is based on the light novel series by Kenji Inoue and Yui Haga, which has steadily climbed over the last three years to #1 in the 2010 Kono Light Novel wa Sugoi! annual rankings. It shares good company in those rankings, including notable and successful anime adaptations like Toradora!, Spice and Wolf, Bakemonogatari, and the Haruhi series.


Quick Synopsis:
Akihisa Yoshi has the worst grades in his class. In a school where students are divided into classes based on their test results and where the summoned beings that the students battle each other with have a power level also based on test results, Akihisa is the Ultimate Idiot. He is joined in the F class by Yuuji, his best friend, Himeji, the girl he likes, Minami, a tomboyish tsundere, Hideyoshi, the bishounen who looks like a girl, and Mutsuri, the camera-wielding pervert. Himeji is actually one of the smartest students in the school, but she collapsed during the placement exam due to a fever. Because the F classroom is in such bad condition, Akihisa is concerned for Himeji’s fragile health, and he convinces the F class to challenge other classes in summon being battles for their rooms and extra privileges. As the Ultimate Idiot and Punishment Inspector, Akihisa’s summoned being has the special ability of being able to touch real objects, but any damage it takes is also transmitted to Akihisa.

Notable Seiyu:
Akihisa Yoshi = Hiro Shimono (Kannagi – Jin Mikuriya, RahXephon – Ayato Kamina)

Before watching the first episode, I really had my doubts about the premise behind the show. Let’s face it, who wants to see a series about battling with chibi characters based on your test results. I’m not a nerd! [yes, I am…] But ep1 actually went by pretty painlessly and with the “battles” being so ridiculous and unserious and with Akihisa being such a funny idiot, I really enjoyed watching the episode. Thankfully, they don’t really dwell on the fighting concept between summoned beings and the “battles” consist really of over the top shouting and comedic dramaticism. The series has actually moved away, at least for now, from the whole class hierarchy and challenging for supremacy premise that the early episodes introduced.

Baka Test really begins to hit its stride in the third episode by bringing in and focusing on more elements of romantic comedy. Akihisa likes Himeji, but he misunderstands circumstances and thinks she likes Yuuji. Himeji and Minami both like Akihisa but they can’t express their feelings to him because the pure and innocent Himeji is too shy and Minami acts tsundere half the time and is interrupted by her yuri admirer the other half the time. The love triangle all go on a date and get into funny situations. The good flow of the jokes for each episode is one of the strong points of the series. Because Akihisa is forced to spent all his money on dates with Himeji and Minami, other jokes in ep3 build on how he has to save money with his meals. Splitting ramen, Kubo’s dropped piece of bread, sharing crepes, and further splitting ramen are spaced and executed well in the episode, and Akihisa’s meals become just one of the many recurring jokes throughout the series. Other staples include Shouko’s abuse of Yuuji, Minami’s breast size, Hideyoshi as a girl, and Himeji’s cooking.

For the romance in Baka Test, the plot developments to progress the relationships will likely be relatively non-existant, which would be expected in a gag comedy. Here, the love triangle situation feeds the comedy, so it probably stay static for as long as it can, whereas in a romantic comedy like Kimi Kiss or Ichigo 100%, the love triangle becomes the major problem the male protagonist needs to make a decision on, emphasizing the drama aspect of the series. If the show were to end pushing towards a resolution, between Himeji and Minami, I would say Himeji has the edge because most of the major flags are for her route – Akihisa’s standing up for her when she collapsed during the placement exam, wanting to change classroom for her sake, the misunderstanding with the love letter. Despite the focus on comedy, the few relationship scenes that Akihisa does have with Himeji and Minami are done pretty well and keeps the audience satisfied with leaving the romance with just that. Akihisa reminds me of Harima Kenji in that they may be idiots most of the time, but every now and then they manage to do the right thing to make the girl happy, even if they don’t realize it.

Bottomline Impressions:
Baka Test – A, many funny aspects and recurring jokes flow together into a well executed romantic comedy that will surprise viewers doubtful of its ridiculous premise.

Reminds me of: School Rumble, both have casts with baka characters and likable heroines, episodic situations and romantic relationships driving comedy, and recurring jokes that the devoted audience will continue to appreciate.

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Director Takahiro Omori and production studio Brains Base reunite for a spiritual successor of sorts to Baccano! (2007) in the Winter 2010 release of Durarara!!, adaptation from the light novel series by Ryohgo Narita (author of Baccano!). Like Baccano!, the series begins with a fantastic OP featuring the vast ensemble of characters whose seemingly unrelated lives will be weaved together into the overall story plot. Slated for a good 24 episodes, Durarara!! shows promise to be one of the top new shows of the early 2010 anime.

Quick synopsis:
Durarara!! takes place in modern Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, reknown for its large commercial and entertainment businesses. Mikado Ryugamine has just moved from the dull countryside to Ikebukuro, where he hopes to change and have an exciting lifestyle filled with adventure. He reunites with his old childhood friend Masaomi Kida, who warns him that living in Ikebekuro will be easy as long as he avoids Shizuo Heiwajima, Izaya Orihara, and the mysterious gang called Dollars. Mikado also witnesses the urban legend going around Ikebukuro about a Rider on a black motorcycle. The Rider saves a girl from being tricked and kidnapped by a group of thugs. During the fight, the helmet of the Rider is knocked off, revealing that the Rider is headless as rumored, with just a cloud of black smoke coming out of the jacket. Just who or what is the Headless Rider?

Notable Seiyu: (many, to name only a few…)
Selty Sturluson = Miyuki Sawashiro (Galaxy Angel – Mint Blancmanche, Canaan – Canaan)
Masaomi Kida = Mamoru Miyano (Death Note – Light, Gundam 00 – Setsuna)
Izaya Orihara = Hiroshi Kamiya (Zetsubou series – Nozomu Itoshiki)

For all its comparisons to Baccano!, I want to first preface that I have not seen any of Baccano! except for its pretty famous OP, “Gun’s and Roses” by Paradise Lunch. From reviews I’ve read, I get that the story is pretty episodic with a large set of characters rather than the traditional focus on fixed protagonists and that there is a lot of interweaving for form the overall grand story – through the first few episodes of Durarara!!, I can definitely see how the format may parallel. A lot of what I’ve read so far about Durarara!! points to it doing all the good things that Baccano! did. That’s fine and I imagine Baccano is a pretty good series that I’ll have to get around to, but I don’t have that reference point, so I want to assure you that you don’t have to have seen Baccano! to appreciate Durarara!!. That said, when I got started on the series, the OP for Durarara!!, “Uragiri no Yuuyake” by Theatre Brook, got me pretty psyched going into the first episode. Cool song. Cool animation sequence. Introduction of all the unique characters during the OP, multiple potentially interesting stories, and good quality of animation and voice acting (I love the way Masaomi talks) all got me pretty hooked to the show by the end of Ep1. And come on, how cool is it that they’re carrying around a billboard of Horo (Spice and Wolf)?


There is a recurring mechanism of the different characters using online chat messages to discuss rumors and gossip circulating around Ikebukuro. It’s an interesting concept as the different screen names keep identities anonymous among the characters, allowing talk between odd pairs of characters. Unfortunately, for people with limited Japanese reading skills, this may not be easy to figure out exactly what each screen name says and I’m not sure if they’ve revealed who’s screen name is whose yet without resorting to Wiki. Until I actually figured out who was talking to who, the online chat scenes were kind of confusing and limited my interest.

In Ep4, Shinra Kishitani, an underground doctor in Ikebukuro, reveals who/what the Headless Rider actually is and tells the story about his relationship with the Rider, Selty Sturluson. I think this is a pretty cool supernatural element in the series, and its similar to the existence of immortality found in Baccano!. It also makes me think about a possible connection to another character in the series, but I’ll refrain from elaborating for sake of not spoiling the plot. After wondering about it for the first three episodes, Durarara!! picks a good point into the series to revealĀ  the secret of who/what the Headless Rider is – after three episodes, the mystery has accomplished its goal of sucking in and gaining viewers’ interests and now it can move on with it to build what will likely be the main encompassing story.

Bottomline Impressions:
Durarara!! – A, unique and interesting characters drive story, good animation and voice work, and awesome OP + ED = great start to my current favorite new show of Winter 2010.

Reminds me of: Baccano! for a lot of reasons discussed above.