Lots of anime fall into the same trappings when balancing meaningful content and episode length (anime like One Piece padding their episodes with extended animation sequences in order to fill a quota for example). However, those looking for a crash course in writing should take notes. An elevator pitch is named as such for a reason. Sometimes, five minutes is all you’ve got. Let’s take a look at the genius storyboarding of Baka Test, to gain a better understanding of how to use what God gave you to the best effect!
Baka Test and Pacing - Length Doesn’t Matter, It’s What You Do With It!
Baka Test is incredibly efficient in delivering a mix of Shounen satire, romance, and comedy. With ensemble casts, it can be difficult to maintain a level of seriousness. Either, the comedy must be halted in order to proceed with a scene of character growth, or the characters will remain Flanderized joke machines.
Baka Test, however, always uses its comedy to enrich its characters without spoon-feeding the audience exposition. In fact, Baka Test effortlessly sells its entire premise, characters, and themes, in the sixth of several five-minute specials included on the Baka Test Blu-ray/DVD release - The King Game in Fumizuki Academy.
1) Yuuji Sakamoto - Showcasing Your Theme
The episode wastes no time diving straight into the action. No time for elongated and narrated flashback sequences here. We’ll have to learn about the gritty childhood of Ninja Pervert another day as, within an instant, the cast is introduced and the premise is explained.
Through Yuuji’s command, we are eased into the dynamic cuts and stylistic animation choices, which run rampant in the mainline series. Akihisa’s bloodied teeth clench, really drawing you into this world of seemingly harmless outcomes that bear real consequences to a group of students. Similar to the main plot where students compete for luxurious school equipment, having a massage chair and a butler catering to your every need, though unnecessary for a school, is enough motivation to get that C+ on your algebra quiz! Baka Test sets up its themes and overarching ideas in less than a minute. If your prologue is longer than a page, try trimming the fat a little.
2) Aiko Kudou - Spotlighting Your Characters
Aiko orders number two to kiss number four on the cheek. Through this, we can understand Himeji’s attraction to Akihisa and that this will form the crux of the show’s focus on love. From Himeji’s stuttered acceptance, we can also see that she lacks confidence. Baka Test has always been one to care about its character development. Comedy anime like Seitokai Yakuindomo or more serious anime like Clannad, are great in their own right because they double down on the humor and development respectively.
What’s great about Baka Test, however, is that we can come to understand these characters even more intimately, through our teary-eyed laughter. Himeji returns after her misunderstanding; brokenhearted and jaded by the rules of this game. Her demeanor shifts dramatically into that of a determined warrior. While we receive a taste of her evolution here, it paves the way for Himeji’s growth throughout the main series, as she struggles to confess her feelings for Akihisa, but grows more courageous by unleashing her unrivaled power during class warfare. We learn that Baka Test is an anime where romance is a key theme in the development of its characters.
3) Shouko Kirishima - Exploring Relatability
We shift tones again to a terrifyingly somber torture sequence as performed by Yuuji’s love interest, Shouko. A pencil drawing of Yuuji illustrates how his hardened exterior is stripped away in her presence. Nobody likes characters that are perfect and fatal flaws are always necessary. Even space epics about fighting monsters, require some degree of mutual understanding between writer and consumer. An alien mourning the loss of its child is relatable as it mirrors a human experience. Likewise, we can understand this dynamic even if we are not students, as everyone has a paralyzing fear. This leads the way for exploring the other character’s flaws in the main series.
You would think that due to the time constraints, the writers would want to cram in as much as possible. However, Baka Test is not afraid to soften its pace in the hopes of achieving a greater payoff, pausing for an entire ten seconds of clock-ticking, before having Yuuji try his escape. Here, we see that Yuuji’s bravado is reduced to atoms in the presence of his only fear. It humbles him from an omnipotent ruler to just a guy who is kind of whipped, through a very clever joke. Even ten seconds of silence has its place in this short and partially slowing down your freight train of a story can oftentimes add to the eventual climax.
4) Yoshii Akihisa - Passion for Your Work
The final draw sees Akihisa come out victorious. The commitment to the episode’s continuity is showcased here having each draw of the cards adapt with each event (Akihisa and Ninja pervert wearing their punishment signs and Yuuji lifting the card with his foot after being bound by Shouko). Despite this being a five minute short where they could have easily reused assets for each drawing of the card, the animators took the time to create a logical throughline that the audience can easily follow. Thanks, animators!
It becomes apparent that Baka Test was a true passion project when we receive such dedication to a five-minute short that never even aired on TV. If you don’t care about your work, then why should anyone else? Making something that you are proud of, that represents the very best of what you are able to accomplish, will give your story the best chance of being well received.
This episode utilizes its short timespan to effortlessly bring watchers a thrilling adventure, a romantic subplot, and a horror movie scene, all the while providing fantastic comedy, character explanations, and doing everything in under five minutes.
This is a good starting point to get a feel for the characters and sense of humor should you be interested in starting Baka Test and is a great learning tool for those looking to pick it up. What is your favorite episode of Baka Test? Let us know in the comments below!