When FUNimation released Baka & Test: Season One in 2011, the second season of the series was only just then airing in Japan. Given the breakneck pace at which I plowed through the first season and the high praise I heaped upon those 13 episodes and FUNimation’s Blu-ray/DVD release of them, you can imagine how difficult the wait for the day FUNimation would ship the then not-yet even completed second season was and the elation I felt when I at last held the second season in hand! I, of course, immediately threw that first disc in and plowed through the season no less expediently than I had the first. Unfortunately, I find that my overall appreciation of the season paled in comparison to that I harbor for its predecessor.
The series centers on the Class F students at Fumizuki Academy, a preparatory school where students battle each other for the use of better equipment in Summoner Test Wars (or ST Wars). These ST Wars are fought by students using chibi avatars of themselves whose power levels are directly linked to the individual student’s test scores. I had praised the first season for its intelligently-structured narrative arc, which takes the time to explore the characters’ relationships thoroughly prior to elaborating on the conflict between Classes F and A that results in the climactic ST War, as well as its presentation of a sexually progressive array of characters with widely varying sexual preferences and obsessions. Moreover, I found the humor in that season to often arise naturally out of the characters’ personalities and interactions with one another and rarely, if ever, feel forced.
In season two, however, all of these elements become stale. The characters and relationships that the first season had spent so much time developing have been reduced to serving the endlessly repetitive one-note jokes that now define them. And thus, little subtlety can be found here until a late-season misunderstanding re-complicates the love triangle between Mizuki, Minami, and our protagonist Akihisa that had been stuck in a holding pattern since the beginning of the season. But this development in their relationship surfaces a little too late to salvage what had otherwise been a laborious season to work through.
What I did appreciate was that, rather than hinging the season on an ST War to determine who uses the best equipment at Fumizuki, as the first season had, this season finds new uses for the Summoner Test system. The ST system is first used here as a means to solve some of the boys’ personal problems (positioned as an attempt to see the girls naked), and later it’s employed as part of a class-wide courage test to settle a dispute with Fumizuki’s upperclassmen. Unfortunately, given the aforementioned shallowing of the characters, neither of these applications works as well as the ST War in the climax of season one had, wherein I was more fully invested in the characters. Now, if you can overlook the differing treatments of the characters between seasons, I must admit that there are few other differences that aren’t structural, and you’ll therefore probably really enjoy Baka & Test: Season Two. After all, the humor is much the same and the animation style is as eclectic and varied as ever. It’s just that, for me, the development of the characters in the first season was the key to the series’ success in all other respects.
Special features on FUNimation’s Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Baka & Test: Season Two include the nine shorts comprising Baka & Test: Summon the Beasts Spinout!, each of which runs about three minutes and were included as special features on the separate Japanese DVDs and Blu-rays of Season Two. One somewhat aggravating thing about their inclusion here is that the menu for Spinout does not feature a “play all” function, so they must all be played individually. Given that they amount to little more than a half hour’s worth of viewing (if that), were you to view Spinout in one sitting as I did, you would find yourself navigating the menu ten times in half an hour. The set also includes promo videos, commercials, commentaries, trailers, and, of course, textless openings and closings.