If you follow discussions in places like Animesuki, you know there’s been a pretty lively and even heated debate about this series. Mostly, it concerns a topic I’ve been outspoken about here – namely, Ume and the unwarranted abuse she inflicts upon Satou. She’s obviously a polarizing character and I’m not at all surprised she’s split the fan base the way she has. That’s why it’s so ironic that this week’s episode is sure to open the chasm even wider, and Ume doesn’t even make an appearance.
To be frank, Ben-To has a tendency to descend into pure, unabashed sadism in a way I find totally unappealing. I’m all about Schadenfreude – I understand that laughing at the misfortune of others is the root of most humor. But when there’s no sense of justice, or comeuppance, or getting your own back – well, I just find it tiresome. I didn’t like the second season of Baka Test largely for the reason that it descended into a sadistic waste of time, and there are times when Ben-To does the same thing. I understand the premise behind The Monarch and I expect that storyline to dominate the next few episodes. But the brutal beating he put on Satou was really unpleasant to watch, especially since no one lifted a finger to help. Is this really a comedy, with a scene like that? And that was on top of him being randomly stripped and threatened with an ass-rape by a bunch of goons at Saga’s school for no real reason whatsoever except as a weak attempt at humor. The general trend of an ever-deepening spiral of abuse inflicted on Satou every week has become a trial for me to sit through.
And that’s too bad, because I still find the premise of this series really clever. And when it’s funny, it’s really, really funny. And much of that seems to involve Oshiroi. From Aoi Yuuki’s never-ending stream of linguistic sound effects to her ever-deepening S & M fantasies around Satou, every scene she’s in, she steals. And the new character we met this week, star-crossed schoolgirl Inoue Asebi (Taketatsu Ayana), Shaga’s classmate, was a hilarious addition. Shaga herself is a pretty memorable character too, though she was toned down from her bombastic debut last week (and how could she not be?). Of course, she’s also apparently acting as a double-agent for The Monarch.
And that seems to be the plot driver for the next few episodes – the pending war between the Eastern Wolves under The Monarch and his oddly named organization, Gabriel Ratchet (who I assume take their name from the “Hell Hounds” of English legend), vs. Yarizui and the Western Wolves. There’s also some backstory about some imagined slight from three years earlier that sent Monarch into a spiral of hatred vs. the West. Honestly, that all sounds well and good but my level of enjoyment is going to be determined by which personality Ben-To reverts to as it progresses. I’ve rarely seen a show that can whipsaw from whimsical cleverness to outright mean-spiritedness so quickly. I don’t mind violence in a comedy like this one, but only if it’s a real fight and not pointless, gratuitous abuse – be it from Ume or anyone else. I long for a return to the fanservice and GAR combat of the first few episodes – less Ume of course. But at this point I really have no idea where things are going to go from here, so I’ll merely watch with mixed hopefulness and trepidation.