No matter where I begin, this is going to sound ridiculous. So here goes nothing. Ben-To is an anime that can’t be expanded on much further than the title itself. It’s an anime about bento. It’s an anime about lunch. That’s literally it. But for a premise so stupidly simple, it was a thoroughly entertaining watch.
The series starts with our protagonist, Yo Sato, innocently minding his own business as he enters a supermarket with the nonchalant aim to buy some bento. However he ends up battered and bruised as he’s left beaten up on the supermarket floor and can’t remember what happened. After retracing his steps the next day and succumbing to the same fate, he changes tactics and instead ends up witnessing what goes on when the supermarket bento goes half-priced. An all-out war is waged between a plethora of hungry customers, all brawling to obtain the discounted bento. After this, Yo Sato is invited to join the Half Price Food Lovers club and is trained in the art of Bento Brawling. And that’s how the story goes.
Yes, you could say the series is overall lacking a storyline but that’s beside the point because the plot is not and was not intended to be the focus of the anime. Although as a mere watcher I can’t say what the intended focus of the series was, the clear charm comes from how absurd it is, which is what makes Ben-To worth watching. That being said, you could live without it. It’s far from a must-see series, particularly when you look at the grand scheme of anime and the kind of shows that deserve their recognition. However there’s definitely a wide target audience for this kind of thing. It’s something you can sit and watch with friends, not pay entire attention to and still get a damn good laugh out of it. It’s pure nonsensical comedy. It’ll have you classically questioning ‘What the hell did I just watch?’ but even without an answer, you’ll probably still want to continue watching it for the pure stupidity.
Now the point is, Ben-To is utterly pointless. Story and development are non-existent but it’s all in the name of fun and simplicity. That being said, when it comes to picking out the main details of the series, it becomes easier to criticise. Although many of the following points aren’t necessarily criticisms, given the genre of the anime, they are still areas that could have been improved upon. The main one being the characters and their roles in the series. When you have an anime that focuses heavily on one aspect or drama from beginning to end, it’s very easy for it to become stale. However, this is where the characters come in and are expected to carry the series and keep it fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, Ben-To had a lot of very pointless characters. Throughout the first half of the anime, each character introduced was a new rival and served a purpose; to create a new fight scene. As the series progressed, it seemed that more and more random characters were popping in for absolutely no reason. Even Ume, considered one of the more relevant characters, didn’t add much to the overall value. Also due to the lack of character development, the series left me longing for something a bit more when the end rolled around. Even Sato himself doesn’t seem to change significantly throughout. Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when you have a series filled with flat character archetypes, there was definitely room for some development and transformations that could’ve changed the perception of the entire series.
Another big problem was the pacing. Ben-To boasted its comedy, action and ecchi themes, however they were all executed in a very poor way. It was pretty much split into two halves, action during the first half of the series and ecchi during the latter. Given the theme and focus it could have been very interesting to weave some ecchi themes into the action scenes (I can’t believe I’m saying that either), yet it just felt very stagnant and try-hard watching the countless hugging scenes during the second half, where the fights seemed to dwindle into the background. Although the comedy was well integrated from beginning to end, it would have been nice to see more merging between the other main factors. It basically felt as if the makers got halfway through the anime and suddenly remembered that it was supposed to be ecchi too and decided to cram as many pointless scenes into the last section.
One area that definitely deserves kudos though is the animation and style. Despite the fight scenes being quite short most of the time, the animation was fluid and intense. It was great to see supermarket themed items included in the fights as well, which was original and amusing. The characters had nice designs, although the females did have very typical designs that fit various ‘types’, such as the big chested blonde, a mysterious white haired girl and so on. But they were all very distinct designs. The scenery and surroundings detail was pretty minimal. Most frames captured the same supermarket area, the club room and a bedroom. So there was a lack of diversity when it came to that.
Overall Ben-To is a pretty marmite series. It’s easy to love and yet very, very easy to criticise, depending on what you’re watching it for. All that can be said in the end is that if you’re looking for depth and a well-thought out plot, you won’t find even a morsel of that here. It’s a show about fighting over half priced food for people, like me, who tend to have a very immature sense of humour. And there really isn’t much else to it.
Ben-To Complete Series Collection is released on DVD by Manga Entertainment on 16 March.