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Ben-To: Complete Series
Sometimes you really just have absolutely no idea what you're getting yourself into with an anime series, but I think that's the appeal to it, you never know what you're in for. Ben-To is a pretty unique series in the same vain as Fight Club, where the primary characters are all apart of an underground club that they participate in... for half priced Ben-To. And that's the plot. Yup, it never gets deeper than that and it's a surprisingly enjoyable series.
As we open the series, we meet Sato (voiced by Austin Tindle), a high school boy who has a fractured skull that can't remember exactly what happened to him beyond the fact he was in a super market before his mind went blank and a warning from a silver haired girl named Sen Yarizui (voiced by Trina Nishimura) to stay away from the aforementioned super market, a warning Sato doesn't heed as later that same night Sato, along with his friend Hana Oshiroi voiced by Felecia Angelle), goes back to the same supermarket. He reaches for a half priced Bento (a portioned out Japanese meal) when he suddenly receives a swift kick in the head and is subsequently pummeled.
Refusing to give up on the half priced Bento, Sato decides to return the next day, only this time observing and strategizing. He witnesses an all out brawl among customers where Sen dominates, after which she invites him and Hana to join The Half-Priced Food Lovers Club, explaining the various participants in the bento brawls, where the top of the hierarchy, like Sen, are referred to as a "Wolf", players who don't play by the rules are called "boars" and newcomers like Sato who haven't quite ascended to "wolf" level yet are referred to as "Dogs." She then starts training them in the ways of Bento Brawling...
The rules are as followed:
1. Every brawler must wait away from the bento area until the God of Discounts, the ones who put the half-priced sticker on the bento boxes, put the sticker on the bento boxes and leave to the break room before beginning to battle. To take one beforehand and to harass the God of Discounts is disrespectful as the last thing they need at the end of their shift are people harassing them for their discount.
2. If another brawler manages to get a bento for themselves, they cannot be attacked. If two or more brawlers get their hands on the same bento, then they fight among themselves until the other lets go of the bento.
3. A brawler can only take one bento, to take another would be greedy and would spoil the victory for another.
4. Brawlers should never do anything to cause a bento to spill, doing that would mean one less bento for someone to get.
Scattered throughout the anime are a few subplots including Sato's cousin, Ayame Shaga (voiced by Morgan Garrett), arriving in town to whom he also finds out is a "wolf", eventually becoming the sworn rival to Sen. We get two short villain arcs in the series, the first being a group led by Sato's rival, Ren (voiced by Ian Sinclair.) While the first "villain" of the series is played more for laughs, The second half of the series takes a bit of a more darker approach with the introduction of the Orthrus Sisters, which in Greek Mythology is known as a two headed dog. Initially the twins are simply the co student council presidents, but they're revealed to be the toughest challenge Sato and company could possibly face in the world of Bento brawling. With the players set and the rules known, Sato and his friends quickly find themselves fighting for their lives for their favorite half priced meals!
+ Excellent dub by FUNimation.
+ If you roll with the absurd premise, it's a ton of fun.
+ When it comes to Anime, Comedy is typically hard to translate to American audience, but Ben-To pulls it off.
- Should have fully embraced it's silly and absurd premise, but instead tried to turn it into a serious story, which came off as melodramatic.
- I can't really count this as a negative after watching it, but if you want depth or solid character development, skip Ben-To, either of these things are goals the creators were obviously not reaching for.
Videos and Audio:
The animation quality of the series is absolutely stellar, as is most new age anime. The colors are vibrant, the palette used is vivid and varied, and there's no noticeable grain. The money shots of the show are during the Ben-to brawls, the fights are nothing less than spectacularly animated with fluid animation throughout.
Ben-To: The Complete Series features an English dub in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and the original Japanese language track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0. I listened to the series in its English dubbed track while sampling a few episodes of the original Japanese. If you're a fan of English dubs, you're in luck as FUNi provides an excellent cast for the series. The sound mix is solid throughout, with the scoring of the series never really dominating the scenes albeit a quiet tender scene or a brawl sequence. The dialogue is crisp and clean with no noticeable dropouts or distortions.
- Episode 3 commentary with Joel McDonald, Austin Tindle and Felecia Angelle.
- Episode 7 commentary with Joel McDonald, Morgan Garrett, and Trina Nishimura.
- Ben-To brawl with Justin Rojas and Joel McDonald.
- Textless opening and closing themes.
- US trailer for the dub.
- Trailers for various other FUNimation properties.
Ben-To ended up being far more enjoyable than I had imagined it to be. Yes, the premise is 100% completely absurd, but it was an enjoyable series from start to finish. It seems to be a series that you're either going to accept it for what it is and love it or you're going to hate it. Also, the series had a tremendous dub that I found easily superior to the original Japanese. Recommended