Review: Ben-To

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Ben-To  (David Production) – Genre: Action, Comedy, School

I’m really glad that I decided to take off my cynical hat when I did because it’s allowed me to catch up on some seriously great anime series that I had previously missed. I actually remember when Ben-To first came out back in late 2011, and I totally dismissed it because I thought the premise was dumb. Turns out that was a pretty big error on my part because I passed up a gut-busting experience with some great animation and some of the absolute funniest characters I’ve ever seen.

The whole plot of Ben-To revolves around the idea of bento battles, which occur in supermarkets just before closing time when the leftover bento boxes are marked down in price. When they say battles, they mean it because these are all out brawls we’re talking about. It’s a hunt for your own dinner; a struggle to survive in its most primal form. Despite the animalistic nature of these battles (the regular battlers are even known as “Wolves”), there are some set rules. Battles can only begin once the worker has left the room, and a battler who has successfully acquired food can no longer attack or be attacked. The most interesting part of this whole system is how deliberate, yet at the same time how tongue-in-cheek, it all feels. I think the fact that these supermarket showdowns are taken so seriously is what makes Ben-To so funny, and I think the show knows it, too

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The characters in Ben-To are definitely what makes the series stand out, as they’re unlike anything I’ve seen in any other show. First, we have our protagonist You Satou (CV: Hiro Shimono) who always seems to find himself getting mortally wounded. Despite his proneness for injury, he develops a quick fighting sense on the bento battlefield. Next, we have Hana Oshiroi (CV: Aoi Yuuki) who often tags along with Satou. She secretly writes yaoi fan fiction and draws inspiration from Satou and his bento brawling exploits. The president (and only member in the beginning) of the high school’s Half-Price Association is Sen Yarizui (CV: Marise Ise), a peerless Wolf that was dubbed the title”Ice Witch.” Later, we’re introduced to Satou’s cousin Ayama Shaga (CV: Emiri Kato), who is president of her school’s Gaming Club and another Wolf known as the “Beauty by the Lake.” Then we have one of the funniest characters ever, Asebi Inoue (CV: Ayana Taketatsu), who is the only other member of Shaga’s club. Asebi is essentially a walking disaster, causing incredible bad luck for anyone that touches her. She’s also always sick, which may explain why she always wears a scarf and an adorable cat hat.

These are the central characters for most of the series, but there are quite a few more great quirky characters, including an abusive lesbian who’s overprotective of Oshiroi and a pair of twins that pose an unstoppable force on the bento battlefield. Nothing pleases me more than great original characters, and Ben-To has one of the strongest casts I’ve ever seen. The way each character interacts with each other is just so well-done (mostly because it’s hilarious). Whether it’s Satou yanking Oshiroi’s ponytail for having perverted thoughts, or watching Asebi get sprayed with cola, Ben-To keeps the laughs rolling out.

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David Production did a fantastic job with the animation. The characters look great, and I never noticed any distracting distortion at all. The animation really stands out during the action scenes, which are all very flashy and smooth, somewhat legitimizing the inclusion and focus on action. The music on the whole is very good, again most notably during the battle sequences. It’s got a little bit of rock plus a twist of the unconventional. It reminds me of the soundtrack from Durarara!!, often using a manic tenor sax amidst the fray of other instruments.

There are little quirks that make Ben-To stand out as a great comedy experience. The funniest thing about the series is probably the fact that even though so much ridiculous, over-the-top stuff happens, everyone just acts like these are everyday occurrences. Whether it’s Asebi accidentally destroying vending machines or Satou being hunted down by the army, it’s all in a day’s work for Ben-To. Another fun thing to note is the amount of actual product placement in this show. We’re all familiar with “WcDonald’s” showing up in every series, but Ben-To actually uses real names like “Pocari Sweat,” a Japanese bottled water brand, and even Sega. Sonic and Virtua Fighter 2 (Juunen hayain dayo!) make several cameo appearances throughout the series.

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Having one central male character and many female characters, one might be led to believe that Ben-To should be a harem, but it really isn’t at all. To be fair, there is a good amount of ecchi, but I don’t believe that it’s enough to detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the show overall. While there are some romantic undertones, a majority of the focus is placed on the action and the comedy. The balance is nearly perfect, I would say. Ben-To is one of those series that kind of has it all, and it does it all well. A small gripe I have is that the battles tend to feel samey after a while, but the ridiculous factor does make up for it a little. So, if you’re looking for a hilarious anime series that has some of the most lovable characters you could ask for, you should grab yourself some food (not a good idea to watch this on an empty stomach) and enjoy some Ben-To.

B.W.

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