Ben-to (Anime review)

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Anime is an art form with a lot of weird premises. Yurikuma, for example, is about bears attacking an all-girls school. It presented what happens when this tactic of including an outlandish idea is utilized in the right way. Another show with a strange setup is Rio Rainbow Gate, which involves fan service and magic battles with characters based off of pachinko games (needless to say, the writing wasn’t very good for Rio). Even something as nostalgic as Ranma can be considered incredibly strange to many people when they first get into anime. In the twelve episode television series from 2011 called Ben-to, the plot is propelled by the idea that high school students are brutally fighting each other within convenience stores, in typical shonen style, for half-priced packaged meals. The beginning of Ben-to seems to be an odd choice, but it grabs attention.

Of course, an anime series can have the craziest starting point in the world, but it doesn’t turn out to be a good show unless it’s executed well. Unfortunately, well-done is not a good way to describe Ben-to. Even though fighting seems to be the main draw in this action-comedy, the forefront almost always has to be the fan service. None of these moments are funny and are all pretty defined representations of scenes that have been used over and over again in anime. This time, the retread really crunches down the character development, which in this case shouldn’t have been a big deal. If there is a show about kids beating the crap out of each other over bento, then deep, thematically troubled characters are not necessary to have fun. Unfortunately though, because this thing is crammed with cheesecake nonsense, there is not any time between the battle scenes to at least make these characters endearing.

Alas, the animation doesn’t really bring anything memorable either. The character designs are not inspired, but they at least service the show in a way, with some decently cute girls that are usually on model. The story’s protagonist is lame and has generic average boy face and hair. Animation done for the characters is not too smooth either, but the real focus should be the action scenes. Surprisingly, these are a letdown too, because they become too repetitive and organized to really be entertaining. However, there are little places here and there where intensity and humor peeks out from around the corner, such as in one scene where a character is knocked out via grocery store bags. Even the animation for this scene steps things up a little to make the situation livelier.

I will give this to Ben-to: the writers were wise in taking the fight scenes seriously. The show knows it’s not supposed to be high drama, but playing it straight when characters are crying over relationship conflict and personal injury, all because they are fighting over food, is amusing in its own way. This is pretty standard, but at the same time also includes better humor because of its often ridiculous scenes, as opposed to the terrible fan service gunk that surrounds it.

In Ben-to, one of the themes (because yes it’s not completely shallow as a nearly dried puddle) is to give it your all. It’s a standard shonen cliché, and usually when relating this to the creative staff, it’s easy to give them a break when they can’t show off great animation because of television time and budget restraints. However, the funny aspects of the script really don’t go all out with using its purposefully stupid setup, like say Excel Saga or even Ramen Fighter Miki. Ben-to really should have just been a lot weirder than it ended up.

 

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