Ben-To Review

Hello there. This is review number forty six. I’m reviewing the Fall 2011 lineup while the Summer 2012 lineup is airing. There are some nice anime in this lineup. One that got me curious was the anime I’ll be reviewing. Ben-To.

It’s a twelve episode anime about people fighting over bento. It sounds pretty weird and that just makes my curiousity more unsettled. So let’s read on.

Story

Sato You is a high school boy who likes SEGA games. One day, he enters a grocery store to buy some food for dinner. When he tries to take a bento box, he loses consciousness. He comes around to find all the bento sold out. He notices there is a war game going on at grocery stores and players called “Wolves” compete for the half-priced bento. Yarizui Sen, the leader of the Half-Pricer Club, forces Yo to join the club and he enters the bento war.

Taking the Pants Off

This anime was certainly interesting. There is no denying that. The premise was original and it added a new twist to the high school martial arts genre. You know the type right? A bunch of high school kids fight each other to prove who is the strongest of them all? I’ve seen a lot of them and I was always on guard watching this anime because I know the genre has gone stale for a long time now. The anime did something new to the genre. How about having all of these brawlers fight over a half priced bento?

The anime is pretty simple. We have students from all over wait at a supermarket until the employees put half off stickers on a bento box and then they fight at it until one of them gets the treasured lunchbox. It was certainly a weird premise but it works pretty well. The anime was able to be interesting up until the end because of this simple premise.

The anime is about You Satou, who accidentally got involved in one of the rumbles. Upon knowing of this free for all, he was driven by his hunger to join the fray and come out on top. There is no complicated backstory here. There is no confusing story that the anime forgot to cover (like in Tenjou Tenge). The anime is pretty direct and it’s just about people brawling over cheap food. There is some method to the madness though.

There are rules that the cheap bastards follow. First of all, they must wait for the employee to put the sticker and leave the room before the brawl. The must not hurt people who already have a bento in their hands. The most important rule is to respect your opponent. Anyone can join in the fray as long as they are willing to get their jaw broken but not everyone can be good at it. Some of the more powerful brawlers are called “wolves” and word of their skill spreads throughout. The powerful ones are given nicknames or rather, a title after their amazing skills. The anime is all about the wolves meeting, fighting and forming bonds as they fight over half off bento.

The premise is excellent, no doubt about that but there are something missing at times. It’s okay to watch meaningless brawls at first but the anime never really hype up big fights. With the introductions of new characters, the anime falls flat on establishing them as a threat and having the fights with the main characters more memorable. It’s a huge failure in execution that makes the anime pretty hollow. I can forgive hollow stories because it’s the characters job one to carry the anime when that happens but the characters in this anime are all one dimensional. They were all archetypes and no one really stands out.

There were some obvious main characters and side characters but they never really get to develop. They just move along with the story with little transformation. Even the main character, Satou, was stuck in the same loop up until the end. They introduced some more characters as the story progress but without developing the main ones, the new characters are flat. There was no moment for characters to break off their archetype so it was a bit hard to enjoy the anime. This is another case of “the anime should’ve been 24 episodes to solve the lack of character development” problem.

The anime is action and ecchi. I was expecting ecchi because most anime in this genre is super ecchi but the first half of the anime was surprisingly mild. It was focused on introducing the characters and having them fight. The first half of the anime is amazing because each character made the fights more interesting. There were some unnecessary characters but the anime focused on the supermarket brawls and all the good things about the anime shines at that point.

There were very little ecchi on the first half so the anime decided to give us a huge dose of it on the second half. There lies another problem with the anime. The two genres are like oil and water. The action elements had no elements of ecchi and it was just pure action so when the ecchi rolls in, the action takes a back seat. They were never incorporated smartly which is a terrible flaw of execution. Satou, who is this guy who can hang with the best wolves would suddenly be comic relief with no prior notice and then he’ll revert back to the cool guy we knew when the action rolls back in. The worst part is that they dedicated three episodes of the second half on ecchi with absolutely no build up for the action that was to come.

There were a lot of bed scenes in the anime suddenly. After a nicely paced first half, the anime suddenly focused on the characters that don’t fight in the supermarket. They were just side characters and they just appear randomly. Yes, like the girl below. She isn’t a fighter, she’s just someone the anime jammed in to…I dunno, make the anime interesting? Sadly, she doesn’t.

Three unrelated episodes on the anime were very frustrating. It was nothing but bed scenes, a lot of hugging and nonsense talk that makes the anime an ordinary ecchi anime. It totally broke the momentum the anime had after the first half.

The anime did pick the action right back up towards the end. You can clearly see on those episodes which parts of the anime were great and which part wasn’t. The fights were the best parts, of course, even with little explanation and the fast paced action was thrilling. I wish the anime would’ve just stuck on the action. Maybe have the fighter lose their clothes when they take damage like in High School DxD to justify the ecchi. Sadly, this anime is a huge hit and miss.

Sight and Sound

The fights were short but very satisfying mostly because of how clean it was nicely animated. At first, the camera was shaky and it often just focuses on the characters face or the striking body part but it did have some nice full body fights. I love how they incorporate normal supermarket things in their fights like chopsticks or baskets that provide the anime some needed variety.

The character design isn’t that great. They were the same archetype like the personality of the characters. Hell, Satou even looks like Yuuji of Shakugan no Shana. There was no stand out and they all come across as bland and boring.

The opening song, “Live for Life: Ōkamitachi no Yoru” by Manami, is upbeat and energetic nicely capturing the action elements of the anime. The opening sequence was a nice touch as well. It had some action and some ecchi that reflect the anime pretty nicely. The opening sequence was a bit misleading though. It had some parts that didn’t happen in the anime, even doing a CG entrance that wasn’t in the anime.

The ending sequence was a bit misplaced. “Egao no Housoku” by Ise Mariya is a slow ballad that comes off as sad and touching. The anime had none of that though. Another failed execution right there. The ending sequence was nice though even though it was a bit misplaced. We see Sen Yarizui, sleeping and then smiling at the end.

There were two things I truly loved about the anime; one was when they were presenting the preview. The anime would resume with the last scene and have the characters to the preview. They would break the fourth wall and it was really fun to watch. The other thing is the product placement that was scattered throughout the anime. From Pocari Sweat to Sonic the Hedgehog. It was fun to see those things in the background.

Overall Score

5/10 “A wonderful premise ruined by a botched execution.”

I still love the premise. If you don’t mind one dimensional characters, an unfruitful plot and some mindless ecchi then you’ll enjoy the anime. The action in the anime was superb and probably the best part though.

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