Ben-To Complete Series (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 272 minutes approx.
Hopefully you will have seen enough anime to know that bento are the lunchboxes lovestruck schoolgirls prepare with all their love to win over the boy of their dreams. But some people are too busy to make their own so readymade bento are available in every supermarket and convenience store.
When the day is almost over and the bento are marked down to half price, the opportunity of saving money for the impoverished and thrifty is one to be taken advantage of. But it would appear that this simple act of waste management by the stores has given life to a very unusual and dangerous subculture, as high schooler Yo Sato is about to find out.
Beginning life as a series of light novels by the enigmatically monikered Asaura, Ben-To takes us into a mysterious twilight world with its own rules and cast of colourful characters whose reputation spreads far and wide among the daring participants in the Bento Brawls, violent battle royales which ensue once the God (or Goddess) of Discounts places that half price sticker on the remaining bento and leaves the shop floor.
It’s a simple and insane premise but is also a lot of fun but, true to anime form, it has been compromised to fit the harem genre, resulting in an unsubtle combination of boobs and bruises! To that end, the females are mostly top heavy and very jiggly, with Sato’s cousin Ayame Shaga being the designated curvy, flesh baring flirtatious kitten of the show. This gives way to some staple distractions such as the pool party episode (which conveniently also has half price bento), girl on girl seductions and Sato being beating up by the girls and earning the nickname “Pervert”.
Sato is inducted into this brutal world one night without a single memory of it happening, awakening battered and bloodied on a supermarket floor. With the help of bespectacled classmate Hana Oshiroi, the writer of yaoi novels who was present at the time, Sato learns of the origins of his injuries but, the need to feed is great and the pair return to the supermarket the next night where they witness another schoolmate, the silver haired Sen Yarizui leap into action and kick some impressive butt before going back to the school dorm to enjoy her prize.
Sen invites Sato and Oshiroi to join her Half-Price Club at school and coaches them in the dos and don’ts of bento brawls as Sen is a Wolf at the top of the totem. Sato and Oshiroi as Dogs are at the bottom but under Sen’s tutelage they work their way up the rankings. Many wolves have nicknames – Sen is the Ice Witch; Ayame is the Beauty Of The Lake while others include the Wizard, Monk and The Monarch, while late story arrivals the Sawagi Twins operate under the mysterious moniker Orthorus.
Aside from the regular scuffles for the bento boxes there is no discernible overarching story here unless you count Sato’s gradual development from dog to wolf and the ongoing comedy of his women troubles (school president Ume Shiraume constantly beats on him for being in the same galaxy as her crush Oshiroi) and Oshiroi’s yaoi erotic stories for which the characters are inspired by other wolves.
Even so there is plenty of development for the cast, mostly Sato as he finds himself re-evaluating his priorities when brawling, having become closer to Sen, Oshiroi and Ayame, while Sen herself mellows out considerably over the course of the series thanks in part to Sato’s loyalty to her and the club. With the characters largely being familiar tropes they are an engaging bunch and the interaction between the various permutations of pairings and groupings in one of the show’s key strengths.
The brawls themselves are fast paced spectacular shonen style punch ups with bodies flying everywhere, gravity being defied at every turn and plenty of bruised and battered bodies left in their wake. On the surface the violence meted out in the pursuit for discount food is of course utterly ridiculous but that is what makes this so much fun. And what they lack in finesse they make up for in sheer exuberance and enjoyable silliness.
Things slow down mid way through the show’s run as we encounter a two-episode diversion from the regular brawls to watch the Sawagi twins, disguised as nurses, manhandling Sato in hospital while Shiraume seduces Oshiroi. It is not as if the fan service has been lacking up until this point but one gets the impression these episodes were designed purely to send aficionados of all things sexy into nosebleed heaven – and I expect will succeed with aplomb.
David Production handles the animation who, while not a big name, have been involved in some major shows including Code Geass R2, Soul Eater and Black Butler while Inu x Boku SS is a notable solo effort. The standard is consistent throughout and the artwork of the prized bento boxes and the supermarkets is extremely detailed. Character designs aren’t exactly mould breaking and one can probably name a slew of similar looking characters from others shows. That said the main players are easily distinguished from each other although Sen and the Sawagi twins sharing silver hair is a bit lazy.
Unfortunately the chapter markers on these discs are again placed randomly if you like to skip the opening credits, while skipping the end credits will cause you to miss the coda and rather fun episode previews.
As ludicrous as it sounds Ben-To does have as great concept at its heart and in the early going promises to be one hell of a fun ride. Sadly sexing the show up for mass-market appeal results in something with great potential which was unfortunately unable to be fulfilled. When it is on form Ben-To is great fun but ultimately this is just another harem comedy with a unique premise it should have stuck with instead of following the same old conventions.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 2.0
Episode 3 Commentary
Episode 7 Commentary
Bento Brawl with Justin Rojas & Joel McDonald
Textless Opening Song – “Live For Life”
Textless Opening Song – “Treasure”
Textless Closing Song – “Formula Of Smiles”
Rating – ***
Man In Black