Much like a one–trick pony, Ben-to only has one good trick, but surprisingly, very capable of making it last for the duration. Unfortunately, it does proceed to overstay its welcome. Still one heck of a trick, though.
Studio: David Production
Genre: Action, Comedy
While innocently reaching for some half-priced bento, Yō Satō finds himself beaten up on the floor of a supermarket. He soon learns that getting half-priced bento is an all-out brawl between customers. Yō is invited to the Half-Priced Food Lovers Club by one of the top fighters, Sen Yarizui, in order to train to compete in these battles.
When it comes to the adage “all flash and no substance”, Ben-to fits that descriptor without a doubt or with that many peers during the 2011 anime season. With the only redeemable factors lying in the stylish and copious amounts of brawling and absurd humor tied together with an even more absurd premise, it is the very definition. However, when it comes to pure wish-fulfillment of seeing over-the-top action packed battles coupled with the unbridled sense of excitement most action based titles bring (and some antics along for the ride), Ben-to then makes better case for itself for its appeal. One part comedic parody, another part hyperactive martial arts romp – the experience is one that very few shows can manage to match.
Of course, calling Ben-to an outright parody wouldn’t be entirely correct or do it justice as it does respectfully make use of the story as it follows Yō Satō’s growth to become one of the wolves, a group that fights for half-priced meals with pride and honor. There isn’t any Karate Kid or Kenichi-esque training montage moments during Satō’s journey into the fold, yet does make his path cross that of stronger warriors that teach him the basic principles and coming into his own personal victories and even some crushing losses. It is a shonen series through and through complete with one-note characters, abnormal martial arts, and other common shonen trappings that drives the point home. It isn’t anything that helps the series case or standout, but does bring it a little charm when not taken to the utmost extremes. Sadly, that seems to happen throughout the series to varying degrees to create some extra dimension of conflict or drama (see episodes 10-12) that in many respects, not needed or required and does tend to get in the way. Regardless, across the 12 episode run, the writing and story arcs hold up fairly well and help offset many of the weakness Ben-to has not only one the surface, but also under the hood.
I’m not completely sure if the author was a fan of the Sega era (or former employee), but there are plethora of references if not outright sight and sound gags devoted to it in the series. Everything from Virtual Fighter to Sonic (heck, even the Sega logo song as heard in episode 8) gets some sort of recognition one way or another. As strange of a creative choice as it might be, the inclusion of these references do help highlight the series own inspired video game tropes that play out in both the action and comedy realms. While the homage to Sega gaming culture is a murky argument for the latter, the situational jokes do work slightly better – usually ones where Satō comes off as pervert by no fault of his own and incurs the wrath of Ume Shiraume, especially if the object of her affection, Hana Oshiroi is involved. Limited as the comedy is, it does have moments of where it pans out, yet most of those moments are very seldom at best.
With the choreographed battles being either hit-or-miss, the animation is more reliable in terms of consistent quality…most of the time. David Production and use of their lighting gives the action sequences an ample amount of gravitas to come off as dramatic and thrilling, but thanks to the clunky choreography and other directorial choices, things do sometime end up with variable results. The conclusion to the battle in episode 6 is a fine example with the lead-up going smoothly, yet the finishing scene and awkward positioning of the characters involved give it a rather anticlimax feel. Actual moments of oversights like the aforementioned are rare and don’t distract that much from the quality already put in place – yet that double-edged sword does exist. The music composition is a more remarkable saving grace as it mixes a variety of styles and genres together that produce some amazing results. Yarizui Tantan has one of the most noticeable as it starts off with a slow tempo incorporating a hip hop like syncopation until the horn section joins in to make it more along the lines of R&B that carries a really slick, liquid-like timbre. And of course, for the action sequences when a beat-down is inevitable, I Gotta Turn It On fits in perfectly with its pseudo rock theme accompanying some near inaudible lyrics that actually encompass the series perfectly. Where there is a Japanese voice-track, Funimation also includes an English track, but really not much to say than the voices sound in-line with their counterparts and commentary, for those that enjoy it does exist.
Despite enjoying Ben-to for what it is, the series clearly is something of a one-trick pony and the trick does wear out its welcome as it reaches the finish line. However, when it comes to the action, meager comedy trimmings, and aesthetics coming together and how they meld as one entity, Ben-to as a whole is truly better than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t give it a recommendation since it does fall off-kilter (like many shonen affairs), but for those taken with series like Kore wa Zombie or C³ that carry the same blend of action and comedy, this is at least one of many possible choices to be given consideration.
Pros: Some nicely choreographed combat sequences, great soundtrack, artwork, balance of action and comedy.
Cons: Flighty combat sequences do interfere with the animation quality, one-dimensional character archetypes do little for the comedy elements.