A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment
There is nothing more fearsome than a hungry student, especially a hungry student competing with other fellow students for a scrap to eat. Surprisingly, food fighting is the sort of running gag that has appeared several times before in anime, from Ramna 1/2 to Naruto. But Ben-To takes the food fight to a whole new level, with codes of honor, lightning fast punches, and a refreshing absence of “special” themed attacks.
Instead, Ben-To is simply a lighthearted animated romp that lives for the moment and loves fiercely the art of bento brawling without a lot of extra fluff–and to the victor of these discounted food wars, goes the spoils…
Ben-To is based off of a Japanese light-novel series of the same name. Our main protagonist, Satou Yo, is your average high school student–navigating the twisting turns of high school while also balancing a pretty strict allowance. He turns to a local convenience store for the ultimate budget food: half-priced bento. However, on a fateful convenience store trip, Satou finds himself nearly beaten to death after trying to grab one of these half-priced bentos.
Fortunately, his determination and raw talent wins him a place in his school’s Half-Priced Food Lovers Club, where he is mentored by a notorious fighter, Yarizuri Sen, the Ice Cold Witch (epitaphs and code names play a huge role in this serious). With Yarizuri’s guidance, Yo soon enters the world of bento brawls–where only the strongest, hungriest of combatants–aka wolves–win.
Based on the premise alone, this series is a bit of a trip.
But it does have its charm thanks to the absurdity of it all. I mean, come on: gangs of high school students throwing punches, with a strict honor code, over discounted fast food? Lightning fast battles that do not harm civilians, and an understanding between shop-owner and customer that this is just a Thing that happens and we’ll need to roll with it, even if it leaves kids comatose in the aisles?
Yes, it’s ridiculous, but combined with the conviction that the characters have in their bento code and the dedication to adhering to and poking fun at action anime tropes makes Ben-To a fun–if not terribly complicated–show to watch. Combined with its pretty stellar street-fighting animation (without any “finishing moves”) and creative camera pans, the fights are fun and zany, with victory assured as we watch our protagonists chow down on some beautifully rendered food.
But nonetheless, Ben-To has its flaws. Charmingly absurd premise aside, what humor there is in the show is surprisingly flat, falling into the realms of literal slapstick (usually at Satou’s expense) or somewhat sexual innuendos. The characters themselves aren’t terribly compelling as much as fulfilling roles.
Satou is our average Joe in the middle of a fighting-anime-with-cute-girls harem.
Yarizuri is our “cold” love-letter to Rei Ayaname who begins to open up thanks to the powers of friendship.
We also have a cute megane character, an elegant class representative with a sharp left-hook, and a voluptuous sporty girl with a heart of gold.
To sum up my point: the Ben-To cast pretty much falls into a line of character types without significant character arcs. This is fine, as not all anime have to be compelling or even offer a solid story, but I do wish that our strange medley of a cast did have more moments to evolve.
The entirety of the series runs more like a slice of life series, with occasional bouts of violence. The strange friendships built around bento brawling are at the forefront, and the show prefers to run through the motions of grabbing a new bento, sort of like a monster of the week, rather than anything truly substantial. For instance: the characters are rather quick to forgive a pretty powerful rival thanks to soundly defeating him in a battle that could have very well been easily prevented before anyone got significantly hurt–but well, that’s just too much forethought for this show.
Overall, Ben-To has its charms despite being an overall “average” sort of show; one needs to simply suspend disbelief to really savor the simplicity of the show and its devotion to all things fighting and food.
– The animation is pretty impressive, especially for fight-scenes
– Be sure to try the English voice cast’s script; by rolling with the absurd to make it cornier is certainly a highlight.
– Little to no character development keeps characters in a sort of “trope-stasis”, which can get kind of grating if there’s a character type you don’t like
– Plenty of fanservice humor which, if it isn’t your thing, can be a turn off