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Light Novels: Baka to Tesuto to Shoukanjuu v01

Full title: Baka to Tesuto to Shoukanjuu
Author: Inoue Kenji
Illustrator: Haga Yui
Label: Famitsu Bunko
Year of publication: 2007
Pages: 283

This thing won an award, you know. I’m sure that’s supposed to count for something, but the award system for light novels never made much sense to me, since it seems they’re usually given to the publisher’s own works, which makes it feel like a “Look How Awesome Our Shit Is!” award more than anything else. Maybe I should convince Omni to give me a Random Curiosity Best Light Novel Blogger Award, narrowly beating out… myself?

Authoring the novel series is Inoue Kenji, and this particular volume is his debut work. It’s a pure comedy, and a popular one at that – Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! has the title skyrocketing from #8 to #3 in the past couple of years, and a manga adaptation started in the June issue of Shounen Ace. On top of that, there’ll be an anime version some time this winter. Illustration of the light novels is handled by Haga Yui, a lady who’s otherwise drawing a manga called Lotte no Omocha!, a fact that’s supported by the very nicely done colour manga introduction to the light novel. The grayscale illustrations inside are equally well made, with good use of shading to create a high quality effect.

“Get to the plot already!” I can hear you cry.
There isn’t one. Not much of one, in any case: idiot student Yoshii Akihisa attends Fumizuki Academy, a high school where an experimental system is in place. At the end of every school year, all students take a final exam, and based on the total score gained, each student is placed in classes A through F, where A class students are brilliant, and F class students are more likely to chew on their own snot than read a book. Not unexpectedly, our protagonist is placed in class F. However, not every student who ends up here is retarded. Innocently sweet genius girl Himeji Mizuki is hit by a fever during the exam, resulting in her getting a zero. Then there’s Sakamoto Yuuji, a childhood prodigy who lost interest in studies and now coasts along, somehow keeping Akihisa company at the bottom.

Very original, so far. A side effect of the class ranking system is that each rank gets custom school equipment, with A being given liquid crystal display desks and individual air condition systems, while poor F has to put up with sitting on floor cushions, rotten tatami mats, and spider webs filling up the corners of the classroom. Thinking this unfair, class F’s leader Yuuji persuades his classmates to take advantage of the school’s arcane rule set and challenge the A class in battle, where the winners get to switch equipment with the losers. These wars are fought using specially summoned mini versions of the students themselves, where the life bar is based on test scores in a particular subject. When a summon runs out of health points, the student has to sit in detention, but it’s also possible to flee the scene of battle, and instead replenish lost life by retaking the test. Obviously the lowly F students stand no chance against the mighty students of class A? Well, that’s where Yuuji’s tactical genius comes in. At least that’s what he makes his fellow classmates believe, and so the war is on.

Summons? Is this a magical fantasy land? I’ve no idea, dear readers. It’s not entirely explained how these mystical creatures appear, only that a teacher has to be in the vicinity for the summon to work, and that a glowing circle shows up on the ground. Maybe there’s an advanced holographic physics manipulation device hidden in the school basement. It doesn’t really matter, because the plot is irrelevant. This series is all about the comedy, and as much as 90% of the text in the first novel is made up of dialogue. This makes BakaTest a swift read, and it may be a good starting point if you’re thinking of leveling up from manga reading. Up to half a page can be filled with RPG-like battle statistics, making the text even sparser.

This is a funny book, admittedly. Few are the occasions when you will stop smiling, and perhaps only because you’ll burst out laughing. But that’s also all it is. The grandmaster of comedy novels is Terry Pratchett, who has been making me bend over in laughter cramps with nearly 40 novels in the Discworld series the past 15 years, and what truly makes his work stand out is that it’s backed up by an interesting plot, fascinating characters, and some serious bits that make you stop and think. Consider the sine wave; there are ups and downs on the funny meter, and I think it’s because you can sense the difference between the joke’s peak and the drama’s dip that the real comedy is brought out. As an example we have Toradora!, where the relationship drama gives depth to the hilarious moments. Yet in BakaTest, there’s only fluffy humour covering every step of the way. It’s funny, and sometimes very funny indeed, but there’s nothing much to support it underneath.

Personally, I crave more when I have a book in my hands. This is a sitcom that will make you giggle, but unlike the previously reviewed Ben-to, you’ll find no insights to muse at the end. While it doesn’t happen often, it’s possible that BakaTest can turn out a better anime than it is a light novel, because the 24 minute format and visual aid will improve the comedy, the cuteness, and overall experience that this brand of humour can provide. At least it will be easier to sympathize with Akihisa’s reluctant attraction to the exceptionally beautiful trap.

Amazon link: Japanese

May 27, 2009 at 7:51 am
  • May 27, 2009 at 8:56 amNosgoroth

    Sounds like a yonkoma turned into text only. Let’s hope it makes a good anime.

    Oi, there’s a trap? I hope it’s not the pink-haired girl :/

  • May 27, 2009 at 9:19 amrandomperson

    I love this one, i have 1-3 of the chinese version, its a pain during the wait.
    my japanese is not good enough to read the whole book, probably.

  • May 27, 2009 at 9:39 amewok

    are the rpg stats related to school subjects, like dex= math and int = english etc?

  • May 27, 2009 at 10:15 amExia

    not a big fan of light novels, but an anime adaption of this would be interesting to watch.

  • May 27, 2009 at 11:09 am-Synchronicity-

    This series isn’t bad at all. In fact it’s pretty good. Baka-tsuki has it till chapter 6 I think. Looking forward to the anime adaption ^^.

  • May 27, 2009 at 11:23 ammiko86

    I love reading about these sections. Too bad I can’t understand japanese, so I’ll probably never get to buy any of these.

  • May 27, 2009 at 4:20 pmillusion

    “and there’s a manga adaptation starting in the June issue of Monthly Dragon Age.”

    Huh? First chapter has been out for quite some time.

  • May 27, 2009 at 4:35 pmPatrik

    illusion, yeah, got the anime announcement and the manga start mixed up. It’s been running in Shounen Ace since their “month 6″ issue, which actually came out in April.

  • May 27, 2009 at 4:56 pmRyunatta

    if you guys ever do read the veiwers comments. can you put the genere soo i can know what type it is at a glance?

  • May 27, 2009 at 6:04 pmDubleLulz

    Who’s the trap?

  • May 27, 2009 at 9:20 pmFayt

    Just from the cover image, my first thought was Shugo-Chara. After reading the review, I’m kind of interested, comedies are always welcomed, + I tend to like stuff with “RPG Stats”.

    @ randomperson
    Just wondering, for the Chinese version, which company does it ? Is it in traditional or Simplified ? Since I started Light Novels due to Spice/Wolf, Haruhi..etc, All my LNs are from Kadokawa. Which may or may not be a bad thing XD.

  • May 27, 2009 at 9:25 pmRaiga

    @the people who are asking, the trap is Kinoshita Hideyoshi, whose Shoukanjuu is in the lower left corner of the cover.

  • May 27, 2009 at 10:59 pmEriol elric

    Bueh~ , Toradora! was not the big deal
    Anyway I just like this novel, it would be cool if there is a translation into English

  • May 28, 2009 at 3:05 amlastSKYsamurai

    Heck, this reminds me of Angelic Layer. I bought the box set a couple of years back & hated it, didn’t even get past disc 3. The cute, the summons, the go-getter little girl, all if it I think could have comparisons drawn to Baka to Tesuto in some way. So apart from I guess the comedy, I take it these two series are much the same? Or more-so, will be when the Anime comes out?

    Either way, this LN doesn’t interest me at all shame to say….. :) But hey, nice review again Patrik, always an interesting read.

  • May 28, 2009 at 9:11 amPatrik

    Ryunatta, if you read the comments yourself, you’d notice that I responded to one just above your own. I won’t write the genre, because it’s too hard to figure out just where a book fits in sometimes, and it’s not the genre that counts, it’s whether the novel itself is worth reading or not.

  • May 28, 2009 at 10:06 am-Synchronicity-

    @ Eriol elric

    Woot didn’t I say that baka-tsuki has it till chapter 6(I think?). Oh…well I didn’t mention it was English translated did I? Well it is then :)

  • May 28, 2009 at 11:24 amEriol elric

    @ -Synchronicity-

    Thanks, had not finished reading the entire article due to time

  • May 29, 2009 at 5:12 amBILL DOOR

    yay patrik’s back! stay foul mouthed and interesting like you were before! read ch1 and 2 of this. found it confusing i hope its gets better later on

    and big kudos for mentioning pratchett! best book is reaper man! and thats’s BILL DOOR in ITALIC!

  • May 29, 2009 at 11:00 amRawr

    Trap… They’re so in, they’re out. It’s getting tiring.

  • June 9, 2009 at 6:33 amShinigami

    This one is funny as hell. Can’t wait for the anime to air ^^. I can’t find the latest vol of this novel anywhere near >.<. Maybe I have to import it somewhere after all.