Ben-To (Comedy Action Anime Review)
When I visited Japan in 2013, one of the unexpectedly pleasant things I found was the excellent quality meals available at grocery and convenience stores. While the taste of each was amazing, my favorite being sautéed eel with buckwheat noodles that could be found at this small convenience store a block from my hotel, the thing that amazed me is how cheap these delicious meals were, especially considering the U.S. Dollar to Yen exchange rate at the time. For less than five dollars I could normally get a full meal and a Coke or Boss, Rainbow Mountain blend if available. At first I thought this was just at this one little store, but soon came to find out, after getting lost in the Namba area in July and wondering into a grocery store for the air conditioning, that grocery stores did this as well. Even better they had more selections and even full uncut sushi rolls. All of the food was very fresh, and when I think about it, I get hungry. That’s why when I was browsing around various anime and stumbled upon Ben-To, I gave it a shot.
Indeed, the item referenced in the title was the food that I remember, but the story is not about the food. Instead the food is the goal of a group of very hungry fighters, battle it out for half price bento as soon as they are discounted. Some of these fighters are broke, and others just want to test their skills as Bento Brawlers. Unfortunately, for the main character Yo Sato, he had to find this out the hard way. When reaching for a half price bento, and lamenting his lack of finances, he knocked unconscious and beaten. While he is lying on the ground of this supermarket, he realizes he is about to die, but quickly pops up because he, “can’t die on an empty stomach.” The next day Sato, still confused about the previous day, meets up with Hana Oshiroi, who he actually met the night before. Oshiroi, is an easily excited girl, who also has a phobia of germs, and is an aspiring writer of, what seems to be, yaoi detective fiction that she bases off of real life experiences. Rounding out the main trio of the series is the “Ice Witch” Sen Yarizui, who is the strongest of the western fighters and president, and only member at the start of the series, of the Half Priced Food Lovers Club.
Yarizui instructs both Sato and Oshiroi in the art of Bento Brawling, as well as the rules of the brawl. One of the rules is that the brawlers must wait a considerable distance from the bento while the God of Discounts, the one who does the markdowns, places the half price sticker on the bentos and walks away. Others are, once a brawler has grabbed a bento, they can no longer be attacked; each brawler can only take one bento, only as much as they can eat, and brawlers are not supposed to let any bentos spill, because this would be a waste. Other than those simple rules, which are agreed upon to maintain order and respect, for the food and the store, brawlers can use any means necessary to win their bento in the ensuing brawl.
While the basis for this series is fighting for food, what makes this show intriguing is its use of comedy, character building, awkward interpersonal moments between the main and supporting characters, and well written story, that parodies those about fighters who fight for respect from their peers. The references to Sato’s love for Sega, and most importantly his love of the Sega Saturn, provides many comical moments.
Even as the series progresses it remains funny, especially when Sato is given his brawler nickname, which comes about due to a series of unfortunate mishaps. Some of the things said in this series may come off as a bit racy for younger audiences, due to their sexual nature, but anyone else who is looking for a short form anime with good characters and a funny story should look into this. I know that I personally relate to this one, because if I had to brawl for some half price bento in Japan, you know that I would happily participate in the fun.