Ben-To – 05 Review
Well, clearly someone who fights other people over half-priced bentos has to have a high tolerance for weird preferences…
Ben-To 05: Evil Is Good With A Tragic Past
The fifth episode sets the stage for the opening shot of villainy in this series. Monarch, an evil bastard, who somehow can’t get over the fact that he actually isn’t a monarch strives to be the Godfather of Ben-To-fighting in both east AND west. An evil plan is threatening to disturb the violent peace of the jungle in which all the Wolves and Dogs live fighting over half-priced bentos.
Satou is visiting Shaga at her school but is stopped by someone who’s a fanatical fan of her. Threatening Satou because he assumes him to be a weirdo who wants to attack Shaga he barely can escape with the help of Shaga. In the process of that he has to wear the school-uniform of Oshiroi and also gets a weird cap from Inoue, a friend of Shaga. Arriving at the supermarket everyone’s crept out by his appearance but soon after that the fighting starts. Shaga and Yarizui quickly settle their fight both gaining a bento. As Satou is still fighting Monarch arrives with goons who surround him beating the shit out of him. As he wakes up later he’s greeted by Matsy and Yarizui, Shaga and Oshiroi also arrive. Shaga reveals to them then Monarch’s plan and Matsy then interrupts saying it is all her fault. Meanwhile at Monarch’s headquarters it’s revealed that Shaga revealing their plans is part of the plan which means that evil already has a head start.
Only in Ben-To it’s better in a fist-fight to stop an enemy’s punch with chopsticks instead of using your bare hands.
This episode shows for the first time something resembling a villain. What we’ve seen until now were pretty much stand-alone-stories with only a little bit of development. Now that a villain has entered the stage the plot is truly tested whether it can keep being as funny and charming as it was until now. Because one thing that bugs me about the current atmosphere of the anime is that it’s hellbent on making fun of generic shounen-tropes. But the way they’re used depends on the viewers sense of absurdity in regards to the setting where the generic shounen-tropes are used. At some point, though, this won’t work because everyone will get used to the setting at one point and like that there will be no real absurdity anymore. The series will need something fresh to keep it funny.
Monarch doesn’t seem to be that ‘refreshing’ in terms of ideas. There were already the ‘Gundogs’ in episode 03 who used teamwork to achieve their goals. What surprise me was that the episode seemed to use ‘dogs’ as a kind terminology that defines a concept. ‘Dogs’ appear to be a general term for all those who try to get half-priced Bento’s via teamwork or anything that’s not ‘Everybody fights for their own benefit’. Wolf became a sort of ideal while Dog is actually slander since well… you gotta be a hero or you’re nothing, something like that. Now what Monarch does is being dishonourably by doing things that are not very Wolf-like. But he’s strong and he has a kind of problem because some shit happened in his past. Tragic shit. And that’s where I fear that it just gets too shounen.
What confused me quite a bit in this episode was the question ‘Why?’. I actually ask that question quite a lot every day, even if it’s just to annoy a philosopher-student who doesn’t know how to shut up about his stuff. What bugged me about this episode was Monarch’s plan – to do what exactly actually? “He wants to take over the western supermarkets.” – Why?! I mean, what the hell does that mean exactly? It’s not like anybody owns these supermarkets and controls the fights like that. The way I guess it was meant is that Monarch has a badass-organization of people working together to kick some asses in multiple supermarkets in his name. What seems strange about that is that the setting was presented as if every evening these supermarkets become goddamn jungles with teenagers becoming monkeys fighting over some half-priced bentos. But Monarch’s organized ‘That’s mine now!’-declaration doesn’t quite seem to fit into the image I got from the setting. You can’t go into a forest and simply announce “I control this now!” and expect anything to change because of that. I hope the next episode makes it clear what exactly Monarch’s plan is and what it means for the west or they could show how exactly things are different in the east where Monarch is already the boss.
Okay, I get it, he’s fasting to heighten his hunger and therefore his power fighting for half-priced bentos… but why the hell has the room to be dark?!
One thing I really like about the comedy of this series is that sometimes it really has good timing to deliver the jokes. And that’s far better than making sophisticated jokes that just seem out-of-place. There’s a good timing behind those jokes and they make sense character-wise. The best jokes come from misunderstanding which is used quite often as the ‘hook’ for a joke. You have this scene where Sato comes to Shaga’s school and is mistaken for someone suspicious who wants to harm her. Then there’s the scene where Sato comes into the supermarket wearing these strange clothes and the Ice Witch assumes he’s wearing them because that’s his style or something. There’s also the scene where Sato wakes up after being knocked out by Monarch and his goons. Talking to Matsy he totally misunderstands what has happened and acts according to that. Like that it’s pretty similar to the series main-joke of people fighting over half-priced bentos in the way the audience knowledge is used to see the absurdity between what they know and the characters in the story do. That’s the main-method that’s used for most of the jokes of this series but what makes it work isn’t that alone but also the distinct characterizations and the timing of the scenes to deliver the jokes at the right time. And the timing is really important here. Because since it’s based on the audience’s knowledge when the joke is delivered too late the knowledge necessary for it is water under the bridge but if it’s delivered too early the audience might not have the time to get the joke – but so far Ben-To is doing a really good job of getting the timing right. The substance of the jokes isn’t always the best stuff out there in terms of comedy-animes but it’s surely a well-done comedy-anime overall.
What this series still needs is some fresh air. The main-joke is slowly getting old by now and all the good moments rely solely on the characters-interactions at this point. Now what the series could do with the way it’s set up now is pretty limited. The setting is clearly outlined at this point and there aren’t that many surprises to be found here or they shouldn’t be found because the series has established its own logic by now. This series can’t pull off crazy stunts at this point that will blow your mind. I think the train has departed for that kind of awesomeness. What it can do at this point is exaggerating, raising the stakes so to speak. Of course what everyone will notice is that this is something every shounen-battle-series does. It isn’t original but it’s the only way to keep this interesting. It has to be really well-done, though, because basically it’s nothing special. And that’s what it comes down to for this show: it’s either sinking down to mediocre levels or it somehow becomes at least charmingly above average. But it won’t be awesome.
The series is charming as ever in terms of comedy but it’s apparent that behind all this comedy the story doesn’t appear to get more interesting. Far too typical in its tropes the story can’t impress with the same kind of charm the comedy of this show has. It doesn’t seem to get better but the least thing one can hope for this show is that it doesn’t embrace the very mediocre shounen-ideals it actually wants to make fun of with its main-joke.