Anime Reviews

The eyes of a wolf: Ben-To's awesome

There’s a few different tactics one can employ when approaching a new season of anime. You can either jump straight in during the first week or wait a while longer for the dust to settle; neither choice is perfect, but for this season at least, I decided to wait for 3 episodes to be released before getting my hands dirty with any new series.
If 3 episodes seems an arbitrary amount, that’s because it is. My only logic here is that since I want a decently informed opinion on anime, 3 episodes are better than 1. Any given episode of a series can be misleading, but 3 are more likely to betray a consistent sense of story-telling and quality. Alas, they also take more time to watch, but for the most part, I enjoy watching anime, so that’s not such a drag!
(I say for the most part because Guilty Crown proved so atrocious that I had to quit barely 5 minutes into the 3rd episode amidst a growing sense of vertigo. So, this is what passes for noitaminA now?)

I’ve taken-in roughly 8 of this season’s new offerings so far, with only Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing left to sample, and right now my favourite is Ben-To, with both Chihayafuru and Fate/Zero also impressing.

Ben-To‘s hot-blooded and fun and reminiscent of Gurren Lagann, but it’s probably best compared to Astro Fighter Sunred, a similarly absurdest sitcom rooted in the suburban blandness of modern-day Japan.
In Ben-To, people literally fight each other in the shopping aisles for first dibs on the evening’s discounted bento-boxes. The more we see, the deeper we dig into their strange world’s sense of strength, honour and comradery, a microcosm of modern life clashing with man’s primordial urge to hunt and gather. People team-up to fight “The Boar,” an aggressive, overweight woman who uses her shopping cart like a battering-ram to force her way through the isles, the Wolves are strong loners, concerned as much with pride as with food, whilst The Dogs hunt in packs, using their strength in numbers to block off their opposition.
The main character isn’t your typical Guilty Crown-esque loser, but a resilient, strong-willed boy capable of both taking and handing out a beating. At the end of the third episode, one character proclaims that “He doesn’t have the eyes of you dogs. Those are the eyes of a wolf.” On its own, it’s a line that wouldn’t seem out-of-place in rather more hard-boiled stories like Berserk, Vinland Saga and Fist of the North Star, but that it appears in Ben-To is great. It isn’t all bad-ass, though. I have to mention the fan-service and stereotypical “moe-ness” of it, too.

Episode 4 introduces a girl we first meet in the main character’s bed. Later on, she sexually harasses another girl… Sound familiar? Sometimes it feels like 2 different series forced together, but it’s worth persevering with for the crazy fist-fighting; the sheer disparity between its 2 halves is perhaps why Ben-To‘s so much fun, anyway.

11 replies on “The eyes of a wolf: Ben-To's awesome”

I keep hearing about this series, I might have to check it out since you recommend it so strongly. I am a little worried about the “fanservice fan-service and stereotypical moe-ness” aspect of it but the concept certainly sounds fun.
Plus if your other two favorites this seasons are Chihayafuru & Fate/Zero that means we are pretty much in agreement.
Also Guilty Crown, yes what is it doing on noitaminA? Ugh! But I probably sound like a broken record with how many times I have said this. 🙂

This has been a woeful year for noitaminA. We’ve seen a fundamental shift in the type of anime they produce, now much more towards the otaku-pandering stuff they were supposed to be the antidote to. Guilty Crown really takes the cake, though: the worst series I’ve ever seen associated with the noitaminA label, because even if stuff like Jyu Oh Sei wasn’t good, it always had good intentions.
As for the “moe-ness” of Ben-To, episode 4 is probably the worst yet, but the latter half comes back with some great, hot-blooded action too. Anyway, I endure it because I love the whole idea behind the series. It never takes itself too seriously, but has moments of real catharsis. Give it a shot, you’ll soon know if you can stomach its more… stereotypical side 🙂

Yeah, Ben-to is weirdly charming for some reason, despite the occasional cliche and spot of in-your-face fanservice. Obviously the source material ought to be credited, but I think the people directing/animating it deserve a hand as well. Had the fights not been as well-choreographed or the tone just slightly off, the whole thing would probably have come off as generic at best and probably terrible at worst. But the music, the fight scenes, the chopstick transition sequences and Dreamcast references and visual quirks–it all comes together as something a lot larger than the sum of its parts. It isn’t in the league of something like Mawaru Penguindrum (or even in Fate/Zero’s!) but for what it is it’s surprisingly great. Calling it the Gurren Lagann of light novel adaptations isn’t that far of a stretch (although Toradora is still probably better by a mile.)
What really surprised me are the quiet moments, when the protagonist and his friends just sit around and eat food. Those scenes could have easily come off as forced or cloying, but at least so far they’ve worked remarkably well. The fact that most of the characters don’t neatly fit into archetypes (with the exception of the protagonist, probably) helps a lot as well, I think.
Also, in terms of noitaminA at least UN-GO is definitely taking enough risks to justify its place in the line-up. The pacing can be a little wonky and the characters are fairly undefined so far, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff swimming under the surface–commentary on censorship and government, cynicism coupled with optimism and despair and the truth behind the strange, fluid relationship between detective Shinjuro and his ward/boss Inga. It compares pretty interestingly to Guilty Crown, actually: both deal with terrorism and corruption in Japan, but both tackle issues from totally different perspectives and in very different ways.

I’ve found UN-GO hard to pin down so far, it’s definitely something more akin to noitaminA but feels like it’s holding something back. I guess I just have some very vague feelings about it at the moment.
Anyway, great comment. I’d forgotten that the music in Ben-To is composed by the equally awesome Taku Iwasaki! That may be how I made the connection with TTGL 🙂

Wow. I’m impressed by the wet/sparkly look seen in the 2nd and 3rd screenshot. There’s quite a bit of depth and the action looks good :O Also, I do love my discount lunches..
That said, I think you make a pretty sweeping statement in this post: “The main character isn’t your typical Guilty Crown-esque loser, but a resilient, strong-willed boy capable of both taking and handing out a beating.” But couldn’t it also be said that most heros are either a) almost over-capable and confident (Luffy etc, ie) or b) “total loser” types? Particularly in shounen anime, these are two stereotypical hero-types made to intersect with two very different sections of the male psyche: the part that’s all raging testosterone, energy, and potential (Luffy-type) versus the part of the reader which is likely a little low on self-esteem and drowns himself in Shounen Jump all day (total loser-type).

I see what you mean, but it isn’t quite like that in Ben-To.
The typical Shounen Jump heroes are boys like Naruto, Luffy and Gon. They are optimistic to a fault, extremely ambitious and without an ounce of sarcasm/irony. The guy in Ben-To is quite cynical and not seemingly carried away by any great notions, but he’s aggressive, which is to say, he’s a little more self-aware that the typical Jump hero, but will put his body where it hurts if need be.
I don’t mind the whiny Shinji Ikari type when it’s justified or more nuanced, but there’s no nuance to Guilty Crown at all. It’s such a tired set-up. I’m sure, sooner or later, the guy in Guilty Crown will grow a back-bone, but it’s akin to watching Ganta from Deadman Wonderland all over again: the destination just doesn’t justify the journey.

I’m still watching Guilty Crown but mainly in the hope that they have something up their sleeve. The conclusion to ep3 hinted at that, but did so many other things badly it’s getting hard to care. UN-GO is much better, but frankly if someone’s watching it hoping for a good mystery series they ought to look elsewhere. Also, for a show that’s making a lot of comments about todays hi-tech surveillance society, they’re not doing a very good job of it. How many people nowadays depend absolutely on direct downloads for purloined music? Er, folks, encrypted files? Last year at this time noitaminA was giving us Shiki and Princess Jellyfish. Sigh.
Ben-to has a lot of things going for it. It’s directed well. Just about every scene is fun to watch. One thing I love is Yuuki Aoi’s work as Oshiroi. I can take or leave fighting shows just as I can fanservice-heavy shows (though I suspect I have a higher tolerance for the latter than you do). Ben-to is entertaining enough that I barely notice there’s any fanservice at all.

It’s not so much fan-service as just… fan-pandering, I guess? The whole sexual harassment thing going on in episode 4 was particularly distracting/annoying. It’s probably fair to describe Ben-To as quite “trashy,” and I don’t mind trashy things. It’s fun seeing them trying to merge moe archetypes with such a hot-blooded premise 🙂
Also, I long for a Kuragehime sequel 🙁

Now there are a few too many people whose opinions I trust praising Ben-To’s appeals to ignore. I’ve taken too much on my plate as it is to pick it up now, but I’ll probably check Ben-To out later if everyone’s tune stays the same.
Noitamina’s current direction is very distressing to someone like me who used to look forward to the offbeat offerings the timeslot used to offer. Since the expansion to a full hour, they’ve at least balanced the otaku show with another more in line with their past selections: Wandering Son with Fractale, [C] with Ano Hana, and Un-Go with Guilty Crown. But did you know next season Noitamina will feature both Guilty Crown and Black Rock Shooter? Hence Winter 2012 will be remembered as the season Noitamina completely sold out.

I think noitaminA’s already sold out, sadly. They now seem to be going more for DVD sales than TV ratings, which explains the sudden emphasis on “otaku anime,” to the cost of diluting their image in eyes of guys like us. You never know, they may come back strong next year, but it’s worrying that powerhouses like Bones, Manglobe and Production IG have lost the touch of producing good anime: Guilty Crown, No.6 and Deadman Wonderland, 2011 has been a complacent year for the traditional giants of anime.

Heh, all the negativity around here almost makes me feel bad that I actually like Guilty Crown, in the same way that I liked Sacred Seven. For a show that’s admittedly shallow and woefully simplistic, it is actually rather well-produced and betrays the amount of effort poured into it (at least technically). Though I also think noitaminA is heading into rather questionable directions recently, I still can’t bring myself to hate the slot…maybe when BRS finally comes around, because the balance between the simpler stuff with the more artistic fare they’ve been striking for a while may be totally and irreversibly upset.
Besides, you can’t have a Kenji Nakamura or a Masaaki Yuasa anime every year (they release ’em every 2 years, it seems like).
Funny thing about manglobe is that they’ve been pretty much dead after Michiko e Hatchin. They’ve resurfaced for a while with Five Leaves, but since then have been back to crawling in the muck. If there’s any studio I feel bad for, it would be them. They had legitimate spunk and ambition.

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