FUNimation / YouTube
Nobody enjoys sitting exams at the best of times, but spare a thought for the stars of FUNimation's latest streaming offering Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts - Not only does an exam set the tone for their academic year in more traditional ways, it has an impact on their entire school environment. Thus, class A pupils get free food and luxurious desks, while class F hosts the "idiots" with little more than some broken desks... and that's if they're lucky.
Into this competitive world of Fumuzuki Academy steps Akihisa Yoshii who, unfortunately for himself, is a moron; very much the "baka" of the series title. While Yoshii's place in Class F is thoroughly deserved, the same cannot be said for new classmate Mizuki Himeji - A beautiful girl who is obvious Class A material were it not for her falling ill during the exam which decided her place within the school system.
However, there is a rule unique to this school that could allow Mizuki to take her rightful place, as any given class is allowed to battle with another using a state-of-the-art "avatar" system which lets students and classes scrap it out using virtual representations of themselves which are powered up via each person's test scores. Can Mizuki's knowledge coupled with the brute determination of her Class F comrades prove enough to see them through to secure a better school life? In fact, does this series even care about the end result of these battles at all?
The answer to that second question is, if we're honest, no - The whole class segregation and avatar battling system is really little more than a means to an end, that end being to make you laugh and laugh often. Whether it succeeds in doing that really depends on your perspective and sense of humour, as is the case with so much comedy in anime. For starters, on the one hand all of Baka and Test's selection of characters are predictable and stereotypical to the core, but on the other that's the entire point - Yoshii is a clueless idiot for a reason, while his classmates include a pervert who takes the predictable nosebleeds suffered upon seeing a girl in a compromising position to extremes and a tsundere girl who seems to know far too many wrestling moves for the good of our poor protagonist.
Baka and Test is also the kind of series that revels in its cultural references, throwing out nods to popular culture on the one hand (there are some fantastic gags surrounding the viewing of Apocalypse Now Redux early on for example) and anime parodies on the other, although as the series progresses we begin to see far more of the latter than the former, with a particularly sharp take on Neon Genesis Evangelion the most enjoyable in the midst of moments lifted from the likes of Code Geass and Higurashi. As always though, the key to such moments is whether you "get" what is being referenced and parodied, leaving you needing quite an exhaustive knowledge of anime at times to really make the most out of some of the jokes put to use here.
When all is said and done, Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts is actually an enjoyable and undemanding series throughout, although it does tend to lose its way from time to time either with episode concepts that simply don't work well in terms of their execution or with moments that try to be warm and emotional but jar against the wider tone of the series. Just how much enjoyment you'll derive from it depends on your tolerance of anime and other cultural references, but regardless there are a handful of genuinely hilarious gags squirreled away within the series that are arguably worth the price of entry alone. The trouble is that those diamonds are surrounded by rather a lot of rough at times, which prevents Baka and Test from ever being anything more than a fun distraction if you have nothing much better to do.
Baka and Test: Summon the Beasts can currently be viewed in streaming form in full on the FUNimation YouTube channel.