First Impressions – Ben-To

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I enjoyed the premiere of Ben-To a lot.  But seriously, it’s getting pretty absurd listening to old men like Shimono Hiro play 15 year-olds.  Is the anime industry never going to cycle through the same six guys playing teenagers forever?

OP: オープニングテーマ「LIVE for LIFE 〜狼たちの夜〜」by Manami

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OK, rant over.  As far as the show goes, very good first effort.  About four miles from my house is a Japanese market, Suruki.  Every night around 6:20 (sometimes 6:10, it can be tricky that way – and 5:20 on Sundays) a guy comes out with a red marker and puts a slash through all the bentos, packs of karaage and such, and sushi and sashimi.  Half-off – half, I tell you!  He always makes an announcement that violence won’t be tolerated, but it never makes any difference.  And let me tell you, elderly Japanese-American ladies have very sharp elbows.  But fortunately, they tire easily.

So as you can imagine, I identified pretty strongly with the idea behind this anime.  It comes to us from David Productions, who did last winter’s stellar Level E, and from director Itagaki Shin (Basquash, Black Cat.  Only “B” series, Itagakik-sensei?) and is based on a LN series by Asaura.  Once you surrender yourself to the concept, this is a very funny show, at least so far.  The material had a nice edge to it, the direction was interesting, and it was a nice combination of violence, innocent fanservice and broad comedy.  It’s not going to win any Nobel prizes, but it’s very entertaining.

The schlub at the heart of things – as usual – is Hiro Shimono.  This time he’s playing a kid named Satou You, a first-year high-schooler with a minuscule food budget who naively thinks he can waltz into the soopa at closing time and snag half-priced natto with cheese topping (ewww).  But this is the territory of the Ice Queen, Yarizui Sen (Ise Mariya), who savagely patrols the aisles and destroys all challengers in her path, including local bento hunters “The Wolves”.  The first try lands Satou in the hospital but he returns for another try with the help of megane-girl Hana Oshiroi (Aoi Yuki, great as always) who was the breakout character of the premiere for me.  Also on-hand to dish out torture is Class President Siraume Ume (Kayano Ai) a sadistic terror who appears to be the Ice Queen’s arch-rival.  Fortunately Sen seems to take pity on Satou, and invites him to join the Half-Priced Bento Club – of which she is the sole member.

While some of the abuse was pretty clichéd and a bit over the top for my tastes and I’m getting pretty sick of Hiro-Hiro in these kinds of roles, the good far outweighed the bad there.  David Productions appears to be a studio that has been a sense of style and a sharp sense of humor, and both are on display here.  While much credit goes to the source material for Level E’s success and I’m sure the same is true here, you can really sense that this is a studio that “gets it” when it comes to dark comedy.  Like that show, this one has a retro look and sensibility to it, very impressive visually withoug being showy about it.  I liked this premiere a lot, and it should provide a nice addition to what’s shaping up as a good season for comedies.  And that’s a good thing because while the first three-quarters of 2011 were pretty good overall for anime, they weren’t especially good for comedy.

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ED: “Law of Smiles” エンディングテーマ「笑顔の法則」by Daffodil Spears

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8 comments

  1. Z

    It's good that someone understands the premise of the animes. It seems so alien to me as while we do have discounts for lunch boxes here too, so is it obviously cheaper to make your own food rather then ready made lunch boxes, even at half price. So the idea to live on lunch boxes while poor seems rather stupid to me.

  2. U

    I agree with Znail. And i would be more amused if the main character was just really, really stingy.

    The show somewhat gave me Nyan Koi vibes, despite the main character looking like Rumina from Tokyo Underground.

    First episode was very entertaining. I was always curious to see what would happen in the next scene, but there was always enough satisfation to prevent me from giving up.

    There is indeed a very sharp sense of humor. At first, i was annoyed about all the subtle masochism displayed in some scenes. However, it was adequate to show how frustrating it is to lose a lunch box to someone. It made feel what the main character was feeling, and cheer for his success.

    I liked some parts of the BGM. Generally, the music in comedy shows is just there to complement the mood, but it doesn't really stand out. This time, some parts of the BGM were a bit odd, and that helped me to get immersed in this absurd premise.

    I hope that the animes stays this way. The balance between all the show has to offer is just right. It's very easy to decline into an uninteresting romance or become a mindless sadistic anime. So far, so good.

  3. S

    Yum… Natto rice with okra and cheese
    The whole premise is pretty silly but I like it. Wonder what is megane-girl's role in all of this. Is she after the half-price bentos as well or is she a mere spectator? It might be a good idea to join the fight too since she likes to be "stomp" on ;P

  4. d

    I think you guys watch too much anime where the guy knows hot to cook his own dishes. In Japan, it is normal if your mother, sister, or female neighbor cooks for guys. It is a custom and it does not need to be a person related/ in love with you. Naturally this guy can't cook and no one is there to cook for him. And i doubt a guy's dorm would allow girls to come in to cook anyway. so he is stuck with low cash.
    Will definitely continue watching this show.
    Mirai Nikki is less than 24 hours away, hopefully it'll be better than the preview ova, the seiyuu choice seems bad.

  5. U

    @ deafvader

    Nothing prevents him from learning how to cook.

  6. d

    @Ulisses, besides his laziness and that Japan is still pretty traditional, so guys doing cooking and stuff is weird. which is why only gals goes for home economics (cooking & sowing).

  7. U

    @ deafvader

    Poor people don't have the luxury of choice.

    He is concerned about his finances, but doesn't make the best choice to preserve his savings, which is the reason why "the idea to live on lunch boxes while poor seems rather stupid to me" too and that "i would be more amused if the main character was just really, really stingy".

    This, of course, is a minor complaint, since this anime is not supposed to be taken seriously.

  8. d

    @Ulisses: my bro went overseas to study and he tried cooking. wasted all his cash, would bake a chicken without defrosting and stew a chicken without taking away the organs. (imagine eating organs with the stuffing…)

    trust me, some people just can't cook. But i get your point, my bro is a rare case. thanks for giving me an objective view!

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