What They Say:
Every day an epic struggle rages in grocery stores across Japan – the battle for half-priced bento boxes! Once the discount stickers go on, ravenous brawlers start throwing punches in a knockdown, drag-out war over who gets to take home the cheap eats. When a young, broke high school student named Sato joins the Half-Priced Food Lovers Club, he proves to be a rising talent in the world of insane food fights. But does he have what it takes to become the king of clearance cuisine?
Welcome to the world of Ben-To, where chopsticks are lethal weapons, the supermarket is a battleground, and there’s nothing more delicious than a deep-fried win.
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language adaptation in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The serie is one that works the forward soundstage well as there’s a decent bit of action per episode with what the cast has to face and that provides for some enjoyable moments. The mix doesn’t go for heavy impact but it sets the tone well with what it does, providing solid enough impact from different directions across the forward soundstage as the fly back and forth with kicks and punches. The dialogue works a more standard pattern as it’s mostly kept to the full feeling without a lot in the way of directionality for it, but it comes across cleanly and clearly with both language tracks.
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with nine episodes on the first and three on the second. Animated by David Production, the show has a clean and solid look about it that the transfer captures well with good looking colors and some real detail to the various bento boxes that we get a look at with its food. The show is not one that looks high budget in general as it goes for a simple look but it works it well to create the world it inhabits as the backgrounds are well detailed overall and the character designs have a good look about them that translates well with the transfer. The high action sequences are definitely the stronger areas here as there’s some very fluid scenes, but overall the show looks good and comes across in a solid way without any problems, though it’s not a show that pops off the screen in a big way.
The limited edition version of this release is pretty nice as we get a solid heavy chipboard box that holds the two Blu-ray sized cases inside, with one case holding that format and the other the DVDs. The front of the box has a good image of Sato in the foreground with Yarizui and Shaga behind her while the logo runs sideways along the right. It uses a lot of yellows and whites that may seem a bit off at first, but it stands out in a pretty good way here. The back panel under the information sheet has the same overall design but it lets Yarizui take the whole piece with her outfit being ripped up just a little bit. Inside the box we get the two cases where the Blu-ray case gives us Shaga doing sexy pose with chopsticks in her mouth while the DVD edition has the close-up of Yarizui from the back of the box. The back covers provide different characters as we get Shiraume and Oshiroi getting their own panels which looks good, sans chopsticks. There are no inserts with the release but each case has reversible covers with the BD case using the front cover artwork of the box while the DVD has the Orthros sisters together. The back panels are changed out for a listing of the episodes by disc with numbers and titles as well as a breakdown of the extras.
The menu design for this release is standard fare for FUNimation’s general design aesthetic as we get a red stripe along the bottom that has the logo alongside the navigation. It’s all quick and easy to access with the submenus and language setup as well as getting around with the extras. The rest of the screen is given over to material from the show itself which shows some very lovingly detailed images of the meals in the boxes, which very much sets the mood right for the show in this regard to it. The menus are certainly functional and work well so those who just want to get in and get to things will appreciate it and there’s the right kind of visuals looked to set the tone as well.
The extras for this release are pretty simple as we get the clean openings and ending sequences, but we get a cute three minute piece that has several of those from FUNimation such as Justin Rojas and Joel McDonald bringing one of the action sequences to life in their facility. It’s short but amusing as they play out the combat side with these two taking the center stage in an effort to get the half price meal.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Asaura and illustrated by Kaito Shibano, Ben-To is a twelve episode anime series animated by David Production that aired back in 2011. This is one of those shows that felt like it slipped through the cracks when you’d expect it to get a pickup somewhere, which FUNimation eventually did, though they had to delay it in order to ensure they had the proper materials. The original work began in 2008 and to my surprise, managed to produce fifteen volumes worth of material before coming to a close last year. After watching the show itself, I’m even more surprised that it went on as long as it did since there’s not a lot of meat here. At least in terms of story and character, as there’s a decent bit within the bento boxes.
THe series revolves around Sato, a freshman at his new high school who is having to struggle with his existence in the dorm because he has so little money available to him each month in order to have decent meals, never mind anything else. He’s basically reduced to scraping by on some of the bento boxes he can get from the various convenience stores in the area, but even then it’s proving to be a real problem financially. What surprises him, after a couple of really awkward encounters, is that there’s a large number of people in similar situations or just interested in the idea of getting the best meal for the best deal. As he discovers, after a certain time each day, the stores discount their meals by half since they’re going to go bad soon enough and they’d rather sell them basically at cost rather than lose money. When this happens, various groups of people who are called wolves go into battle in the stores to get their meal – and only their meal. They play it pretty much like an animal with honor, though there are “dogs” that are used as well to get some of the best deals by some groups that don’t get the same kind of respect.
Sato gets drawn into this world through Yarizui, a fellow second year student in the school who is the sole member of the Half-Price Club. She ends up drawing him in to learn how to handle himself in these battles, to be a proper wolf himself, and he couldn’t have lucked out more as she’s known as the Ice Cold Witch. Naturally, most people have various nicknames, such as Wizard, Lady of the Lake and the Monarch Butterfly. Sato? He ends up becoming known as Pervert because… well, it doesn’t really matter in the end. It’s a nickname that sticks no matter how good he tries to be because it offers up plenty of laughs. Sato and Yarizui are joined by Oshiroi, another student in the school who isn’t a wolf by any stretch but learns how to sneak in at different times to get her meals. She’s also partially in the group just because of Sato as she’s really enjoying writing yaoi material about him and others that gets her all excited.
As the show goes on, there’s a decent number of supporting characters introduced that feel like they’ll be expanded down the line. The one that gets more than you’d expect is Shaga, known as the Lady of the Lake, that’s actually Sato’s cousin. She’s the big breasted blonde type with a flirty nature towards him that’s amusing to watch in how he doesn’t know how to handle it. She’s from another school that eventually gets tied into events here, but she spends a lot of time with Yarizui and Sato as they become a pretty decent group, though she doesn’t join this particular pack in a formal way. The way the two interact is interesting as out of the various combinations that exist in the series, they’re the two that I actually like seeing get together because of just how at ease they are with each other overall. With the “family” tie between them, that certainly adds the awkward element, but it doesn’t get mentioned a lot and there’s just a lack of real tension between them.
In fact, this is where the show kind of loses me in a way. As it progresses, they continue to push the relationship between Sato and Yarizui and it just doesn’t work. While we get the two of them working together a lot as Sato learns from her about how to be a wolf and a part of the club, the two never have what you’d call a relationship with any kind of romantic or sexual tension between them. We do get the aspect of Sato being the typical guy and liking to see women in general, and he does get interested in her in a swimsuit during one episode, it’s all rather understated for the most part. So when things get more serious in the final episodes of the season, it just feels forced rather than natural. In fact, you could pretty much go through most of this season up until that point and just view everyone here as mostly disinterested in relationships outside of being partners as wolves for the bento hunt.
Ben-to is a series that is admittedly a good bit of fun with what it does as it spends most of its time focusing on the training, the quirks of it all and how the competition goes nightly at the hunting grounds. There’s a fair number of locations they go to, but they’re all mostly the same in layout and design, though we get to see a few of the managers who have their own tales and experiences to tell about the wolves. There is a sense of some larger stories to be told here as well as there are various groups looking to expand their territory, challenging the well known players like the Ice Cold Witch, but it never really gels as something serious. There’s a very superficial feeling to a lot of this with what it does, but it provides for some fun action and shows how Sato is drawn further and further into it and gains some skill. But while there are the hints of regions and territory and challenges, it never feels substantial in a way that really holds you.
The show does play to the fanservice side well, though not as heavy as one might think in some ways with how it does it. There are stronger moments, such as Shiraume making a serious play for Oshiroi towards the end that ends up just being awkward and we get the accidental bath scene and some of the usual accidental groping here and there. And some fun moments with Shaga going after Sato more towards the beginning, and a few instances here and there. Where it goes the biggest overall is that we get a water park episode about halfway through that has lots of skin and swimsuits with Sato looking forward to seeing Yazirui. This is the first real instance of him being truly infatuated with her, but the two spend only so much time together. It’s probably the best episode overall for the fanservice, but it doesn’t really stand out in a huge way compared to a lot of other shows.
While I had a decent time overall with Ben-To and the quirkiness of it all when you get down to what they’re doing with intense fights over half-priced meals, the show is one that is made up of mostly empty calories. There’ve been a number of shows that revolve around food and they’re really hit or miss with what they do, but Ben-To mostly feels like a swing and a miss. There’s a pretty nice look and feel to it overall between the fanservice and the action, but the characters have no depth or history to them which is a huge impediment to really connecting with them. It really comes across for most of them that they didn’t exist prior to the series, there’s no interests or school lives explored here and the relationships that are brought into play feel simple at best. It’s not bad, but it’s just very light and didn’t do much for me beyond smiling through a lot of it. Fans of the show definitely get a solid release here overall and will definitely like the end result. For others, I’d recommend sampling a few episodes first to make sure it’s to your tastes before going for the full course meal.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentary (3, 7), “Ben-To Brawl” Live Action Parody, Textless Opening Songs, Textless Closing Song
Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: February 3rd, 2015
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.