Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ben-To – 12 (End) and Series Review

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For a series I really liked a lot for a long time, it’s amazing how little I cared about what happened in the final episode of Ben-To.


I’m not sure just exactly where things went wrong with this series.  Having some experience with the half-priced bento wars at my local Japanese market, I was favorably disposed towards the material from the beginning.  I thought the series displayed an extremely clever visual style and flashes of some of the best comedy writing of the season (I’m the proud owner of a dial-up modem ringtone, in fact).  Satou was an agreeably goofy lead, Yarizui an enigmatic and charismatic heroine and Oshiroi – as brilliantly portrayed by Aoi Yuuki – was one of the funniest characters of the year with her one-woman special effects track and hilariously ecchi personality.  And yet if you told me tomorrow there’d be a second season of the show, I’m not at all sure I’d even bother to watch it.

It’d be tempting to blame this all on Ume, and indeed she’s easily my least favorite anime character of 2011, in terms of dislike/screen time anyway – Fam from “LE: Fam” might nip her at the post in terms of total volume but she’s on-screen pretty much all the time.  But apart from the execrable all-Ume episode 9 (arguably the worst anime episode I watched this year) she was only a mild irritant in the rest of the series with minimal screen time.  So as much as I’d love to, I can’t blame the series going off the tracks on Ume. Frankly, I think it just came down to some extraordinarily poor choices by director Itagaki Shin (who’s had a pretty bad year and is quickly losing credibility with me) and writer Fudeyasu Kazuyuki. 

Where to begin?  Well, for starters, the series is called “Ben-To” and yet spent about four solid episodes in the second half of its run with almost no mention of bentos, wolves, or supermarket battles.  Instead it got caught up in Ume’s demented mind games, silly slapstick subplots and most importantly, decided it wanted to be all about the Sawagi Twins – who we didn’t even meet until the series was three/fourths over.  And I never really got why we were supposed to care about them.  Their initial appearance – an extremely bizarre hospital episode that highlighted just how demented the twins are (especially Tamura Yukari’s elder).  It pains me to say that characters played by Yukari and Horie Yui don’t work, but I really don’t think these girls do.  They’re OK as a curiosity, but the series made a major mistake in trying to install them as the pseudo-MCs for the final arc.  They can’t carry a series.

The worst part of that is that the final episode was entirely dependent on the audience feeling sorry for the twins, and frankly this audience member feels as if he was never given any reason to.  They aren’t very likable, they treat their wolf opponents with contempt, and one could even argue that they’re cheaters for using the shopping baskets as weapons, no better than the “pig” who used her shopping cart and bullied the God of Discounts.  I was slightly dubious of the twins as the final boss, but prepared to see it work – but to see them as the sympathetic figures and make the finale all about saving their asses? Who gives a rat’s tail about that?  Add onto that the fact that the final boss – “Heracles Club” – wasn’t even introduced until the end of the 11th episode and the finale was pretty much a big yawner, I’m afraid.  What fun is a final arc of Ben-To where Satou, Yarizui and Shaga are basically irrelevant?  The most interesting element was probably the Pocari Sweat.

All that’s a real shame, because while my feelings about this show fluctuated as much from week to week as with any series, I really did love it when it was on.  There was a real sense of fun and extreme silliness to the first half, and you saw it flare one last time in the really novel and original take on the pool episode. But most of the second half was either downright nasty, too somber or focused on the least interesting elements of the series.  I didn’t hate the final arc like I hated the Ume ep, but instead I felt almost nothing one way or the other – and in its way, that’s almost worse.  As any PR guy could tell you, it’s better to be loved than hated but the worst thing of all is to be irrelevant.  Give me more of Satou’s geeky sincerity, Oshiroi’s hilarious hentai and Yarizui’s classy GAR and pair it with the samurai spirit of classic bento battles and I’ll gladly sign up.  But if what we saw this last month is what Ben-To essentially boils down to, I just don’t see the point.

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13 comments:

  1. The thing I was really disappointed about was the revelation of the "traumatic" incident that happened to the twins. I thought that it would have to be some horrible and dastardly plan to have caused such a mental scar on the twins for 3 frickin' years, even giving the younger Sawagi twin nightmares till this day. So imagine my incredulity that the plan just consisted of all the wolves basically deciding to ignore them and only fight after they had taken their bento unmolested. I know that this series's foundation is the way they all take fighting for half priced bento so seriously, yet that has got to be one of the lamest reason for anyone to feel so traumatic about.

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  2. Such a disappointing finale this turned out to be.

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  3. I loved this series each week up to the twin fiasco. You were dead on the money about how the twins angle and the finale killed the series.

    If everyone had teamed up and beat the twins to a pulp 3 years ago then maybe I would feel sorry for them. Instead we found out that this "monster" Hercules let them take what they wanted and they were devastated over it?

    I think if they needed to have the twins arc in the series then they should have switched places with the arc before it. This whole twins arc was anticlactic after the previous one.

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  4. I'm not opposed to the material and concept that this arc brought with it. The idea of it being "lonely at the top" is perfectly expected, the only problem is how they paced it.

    That being said, there's so many ways they could have done it, I just don't know why they chose this route.

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  5. Ben-To episodes 1-7 = one of the best, most refreshing series of 2011. After that, it really went downhill.

    They tried to built the suspense about the Twin's motivations, their problems and all that happened in the past. It was so unrewarding.

    Sawagi sisters are BORING characters with a BORING backstory. Even their character design is BORING. Episodes 8-12 had terrible pacing, subpar dialogue and while the finale wasn't bad per se, i couldn't care less. I wish this arc was just a filler, so i could dream about a good source material, but it doesn't seem to be the case.

    Other than that, i will recommend this series to my friends and tell then it is a 6 episode series with episode 7 as an OVA - Pool Episode.

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  6. well give i say the show stealer of fall anime season.

    indeed so like so much yea i'm all in predict a s2 & even english dub of it.

    really this so show stealing at it best.

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  7. Episode 9, worst episode of the year? Evidently you didn't see Yumekui Merry's finale.

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  8. @Anonymous\Evidently you didn't read my post about YM's finale. And it's not even close, Ben-To 09 was a hundred times worse AFAIC. But to each their own opinion.

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  9. The Sawagi sisters absolutely ruin the series for the reasons everyone has already mentioned.

    But additionally, the "lonely at the top" idea does not work when you spend your entire time 2v1ing everyone. All the other wolves go by themselves and usually fight by themselves, especially if they see a very strong opponent. I thought that was part of the "pride" of being a wolf. But Orthos always fight together, I can't remember them ever fighting each other, which is okay by itself, but even worse I can't remember them ever not both being in one spot helping each other out. The Half Priced Bento club wouldn't help each other get bentos, they just wouldn't beat each other up and they'd pick different targets in advance.

    I gobbled up the first several episodes, and even didn't mind the hospital one, although I agree clearly the series was on a downswing by then already. It took me until today to FINALLY watch the final two episodes, that's how little I cared at the end.

    Seriously what kind of story planning is to make your villains into sympathetic characters and then introduce a "final boss" who just gets bitch slapped by everyone at once.

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  10. Just finished watching this after a friend recommended it. I was pretty disappointed. The story was pretty interesting and good up until episode 8+ after which it just went downhill.

    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who utterly despised Ume. Without a doubt one of the most annoying and despicable anime characters I've ever seen. Her obsession with Oshiroi was effing creepy and borderline stalking and her constant misunderstandings/blaming/beatings of Sato without a reason was beyond infuriating. I very rarely get extremely angry when I watch anime but Ume succeeded in making me want to break the fourth wall and punch her through my monitor. I just wish Sato could have stopped her beatings at least ONCE and said "That's enough, I'm getting tired of your senseless misunderstandings and assumptions. You need to back off and get your head checked, lady. You're not mentally healthy." because that's what I would've done.

    I can't say I particularly liked Shaga either. Overbearing and smothering, and her mood swings made absolutely no sense at all. Well, she was obviously jealous of Sato's closeness with Sen but I still extremely dislike characters like her. What did Sato even apologize for (I forget which episode) after she had lost to Sen and Sen made sure Sato followed her to cheer her up? Was it because she lost and he wanted to eat his bento in the clubroom? It seemed way too intense of an apology for something so ridiculous small and insignificant. Both me and Sato himself was confused as to why he had to apologize (though he did it anyway). Just...ugh.

    Sawabi sisters...didn't care for them at all or their past. I found myself looking at the time stamp during the episodes focused on them hoping it would end soon. I just thought they were annoying. Despite saying that, the calmer sister was a million times better than her incredibly annoying crybaby/whiner of a sister.

    To be honest, the saving graces of this anime were Sen, Sato, Oshiroi and Asebi. Yes, even Asebi intrigued me more than some of the characters that had a lot more screen time than her. That says a lot.

    Overall I give it 4/10 and that's being generous. If it hadn't been for the characters I list directly above it would've gotten a stone cold 0/10.

    Would not watch a second season.

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    1. Yeah, if shark-jumping were an Olympic event Ben-To would be a gold medal contender. What a horrendous finish after a promising start.

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    2. I don't see why you're so worked up about Shiraume, Andreas, she's just very overprotective toward Oshiroi, thinking Satõ was a bad influence to her, which he arguably was, considering that Oshiroi kept following him to the supermarket and getting beat up. Satõ ignored Shiraume's warning to stay away from Oshiroi, just like he ignored the warnings to stay away from the Ben-to battles, so in both cases trouble was to be expected.

      Looking at Yarizui, she's just as weird as Shiraume. She choked out Oshiroi and Satõ, forcing them to sign up for the half-price club, she threw Satõ's uniform and game out the window, for no apparent reason, let Shaga torment Oshiroi unhindered etc.

      I think most people agree that the twins didn't add anything to the show, and the plot for the last episodes was a big disappointment.

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