With Yarizui still sick in bed, Satou sets her alarm to the wrong time and takes it upon himself to get her the grilled eel bento she craves. On the way, he is stopped by the Club of Heracles, the wolf who brought Orthos to their “downfall” three years ago. He did so by convincing everyone else not to fight them, and let them take the bento without a fight. He’s back to do the same thing, but rather than go along with the plan, Satou wears himself out until he’s starving, awakening the guts of all the wolves around him. He defies Heracles and fights the Sawagi twins, wins the eel, and enjoys it with Yarizui.
And so ends the series with one of the more novel and interesting premises of all the fall shows, the idea that modern society has fight clubs within supermarkets in which the prizes are half-priced bento. It sounds far-fetched, but they really made it work, helped in no small part by the best hand-to-hand combat of the season, and the best soundtrack to boot. Heracles turned out to be nothing more than a convincing organizer; he was just tough enough to bully most of the wolves into inaction, but not The Freak. Satou wanted his eel, and he knew he wouldn’t get it until he worked up the savage hunger of a starved wolf.
We’re glad Heracles wasn’t simply a boss who was initially invincible; once we saw the Sawagi twins’ flashback and his plan repeated, we knew his power was more the stuff of legend than fact. The fact is, the Sawagis are so powerful, he took it upon himself to try to take them out of the game, and in doing so turn his back on the ideals of wolves. Yet even after Heracles was foiled, the twins still lost to Satou when it came to the Golden Wreath…and while we didn’t see exactly how that happened, we’re fine leaving it to our imaginations. Here’s something that isn’t imaginary: Ben-To was a damn good show.
Orthos revel in their victory over the Ice Witch while Sen is sick at home with a cold, but has her eyes on a grilled eel special at the Super Odori in two days. You and Nikaido meet the twins at Tokiwa for a rematch, and lose again. Nikaido learns they’re daughters of the CEO of Sawagi corp, who own a growing chain of Sonic Stores. They were driven from their old territory by a wolf named Heracles with his ‘combo’. Sen can’t shake the cold, but Heracles arrives in town to drive off Orthos again.
The cardinal rule of nature is, there’s always a bigger fish – of wolf, in this case. That is, the hunter inevitably becomes the hunted; it’s a matter of evolution. The Sawagi twins, who wanted to be ‘noble wolves’ from a very early age, were beaten and driven off by that bigger wolf. They’ve been interesting foes, because they’re not evil and are even fans of the Ice Witch’s work; but up until now they’ve also been virtually invincible, and this Heracles dude looks to be their kryptonite.
That should make for a nice battle, and the revamped opening suggests Orthos may ally themselves with Sen and You to survive. We’ll see. There weren’t any on-camera bento battles, but there was plenty of buildup to make up for that lack. Plus, a vulnerable, home-with-a-cold Sen is frankly frikkin’ adorable, though it seems cruel for her to have to face Orthos with a cold. Get well soon, Ice Witch! Cold ain’t got nothin’ on you!
Just as You is discharged from hospital, and being given a slow regime to reenter the fray, the Sawagi twins step up their vicious attacks on established wolves. No one remembers their idenity when they’re beaten, so they’re referred to as Orthos, the two-headed mythical dog and brother to Cerberus. Everyone save You, who remembers them as the sexy nurse(s) from the hospital. They dispatch him, then return to fight both him and Sen. Their combo attacks utilizing shopping baskets prove too much for the other wolves, and Sen is roundly defeated. The twins put the ball in her court as to how to respond in the future.
Holy bento, there was a nice piece of creative, insane, off-the-wall (and ceiling) combat, perhaps the best sustained fight thus far, and of a different style than those before. These Sawagi twins are a serious threat, as Sen can only keep up with them for so long. Even You inserting himself in the fight to try to even the odds fails, and we believe this is Sen’s first true, utter defeat. By the end, it isn’t close, either; the twins don’t have a scratch on them as they leave. In TNG, you know the bad guy’s tough if he can beat Worf so easily; here Sen is a similar barometer of a foe’s efficacy.
Besides the phenomenal battles and the soundtracks accompanying them (pumping up the goofy J-muzak to herald the start of a brawl is a really nice touch), we also applaud Ben-To’s consistency in the strength of its cast. Shaga is strong, but there’s a limit to her abilities, and she falls quicker to the twins than Sen. Ditto You. Extensive teamwork and some luck were necessary to take out the Monarch; even more clever tactics will need to be used to neutralize Orthos’ devastating coordinated attacks. They move as one. Yet even in the face of having their entire Bento game broken up by these ruthless twins, there are still moments when You can say things like “buying a hot dog with two sausages in it!” upon realization his nurse was actually twins.
Ume confers with the Sawagi twins about an exchange of apologies – Ume for allowing You to run around their school in his boxers, and the twins for allowing Shaga to infiltrate Ume’s school. The unpleasant ordeal makes Ume even more disgusted with You, and she punishes him accordingly. She then finds solace in “nursing” Hana back to health and trying to force herself upon Hana, and in the process finds her muscle guy rag with all the heads replaced by You’s. Ume blames You and the next day in school punishes him further, much to the approval of You’s masochistic classmate.
This episode’s prologue rather inefficiently confirmed one truth to us: we’d be perfectly content seeing as little of
Yumekui Merry Asebi Inoue as little as humanly possible. Her overwrought character with the aristocratic background just doesn’t mesh in any way with the rest of the cast. I don’t even get why she’s friends with Shaga. She’s more of a tacked on mascot. We were relieved upon realizing this would be not an Asebi-centric episode, but one that focused on everyone’s favorite stern lesbian class prez, Shiraume Ume. While this episode was another tangent from the normal Bento story, it added richness and intensity to the rather unique triangle between Ume, Hana, and You, in which Ume love Hana, Hana loves You, and You is Ume’s incrementally willing punching bag./
Ume’s seiyu, Ai Kayano, puts on a clinic in this episode, virtually making love to every syllable and breath she utters to Hana in a bedroom scene that’s part in parcel of what seems to be a release valve regimen for Ume and a weird, uncomfortable ordeal for Hana. It’s ironic, because Hana is the dominant one in her imaginary relationship with the literary version of You, but here in real life, the tables are turned, and she is forced to submit to the far more assertive Ume. So why isn’t Ume a bento wolf?
When Sen loses in quick succession to Shaga, Asebi, and You at Sega, she throws it out the window. You leaps out to catch it, but ends up in the hospital, covered in bandages. A pair of twins from Shaga’s school mistake You for the Ice Witch, whom they’re extremely interested in meeting. They disguise themselves as nurses and visit him one at a time. When one twin removes the bandages and sees what’s beneath, she races through the hospital yelling “freak”, unaware at the time that that boy is actually You, AKA Freak. They abort their mission, then hit up a supermarket and instantly dominate everyone else there.
The Bento Club’s normal operations are interrupted by a rather reckless – but very poetic – self-defenistration of You Satou, and much of the episode revolves around the exploits of the Sawagi sisters, whom he haven’t met before. By episode’s end, it would seem they’ll be more competition for Sen and her pack in the near future. The only Bento battle happened at the end, and we didn’t see it, but we saw all we needed to to get that these twins mean business. However, unlike the Monarch for instance, these twins seem to have a lot of esteem for the Witch, and would consider it an honor to fight her and an even greater honor to defeat her. Of course, they could just approach Sen and talk to her directly, but we guess that wouldn’t be as fun as all this subterfuge…
Though they look alike, one Sawagi twin (voiced by the higher-pitched Yukari Tamura) is impulsive and emotional (like Shaga), while the other (voiced by a lower-pitched Yui Horie) is more stoic and analytical (like Sen). You has the misfortune of wearing more bandages than he needs (Asebi’s family owns the hospital, and Shaga got them to overbandage him) when the twins descend upon him, albeit one at a time. His squirming and confusion with the dual personalities of who as far as he knows is only one hottie nurse, provides much of the episode’s comedy. His subsequent romp through the hospital corridors as his bandages unravel, and getting tangled up with Asebi and hot milk, only further justify his nom-de-guerre. The things we do for Sega.
Matsy presents Sen’s club with free tickets to a Hawaiian swim park, but after a long, expensive train ride, realize they’re missing one, so Satou has to buy his own, leaving him short on cash. Not only Nikaido has also been invited, but Monk, Endo, and other wolves. Since this is a park owned by Ralph Store, it also offers half-price bento a half hour prior to closing, so a battle ensues, with the added challenge of taking place in a pool. Satou makes the most of the result of Shaga’s “attack” on him and manages to grab the honor stamp.
A pool episode we didn’t hate would have sufficed, we weren’t expecting this: an innovative swimsuit episode that takes that trope and adds all of Ben-To‘s own distinctiveness. Just about every cliche had a distinct purpose: Inoue’s cameo uses up Satou’s ticket; his lack of cash makes half-priced food his only choice; and the Montage of Fun Events serves both to tire people out and make them hungry, preparing them for the pool battle. At first we thought Sen was being too serious and diligent when she came out in a sporty one-piece (worn under her clothes) and spent a lot of time stretching and doing laps. But she was just making sure she was fully-prepared if battle came – and it did.
The battle itself was full of great practical details. Fighters were hampered both by the sudden malfunction of sexy bikini tops; the distraction of said malfunctions; by cramps; even by the sting of the chlorine from all the splashing. The bentos themselves were floating around in clear plastic balls, requiring totally different tactics from store battles. And after suffering a long, intimate Shaga Hug, Satou makes ingenious use of his hard-on as a goddamn rudder to maneuver his way to victory. Heck, we were even made privy to the origins of Sen and Shaga’s noms-de-guerre, and learned that Satou’s is “Freak” (Hentai), which considering the manner of his triumph, is quite fitting.
Tadaaki Endo AKA Monarch doesn’t care about food or territory, he wants the title of the strongest wolf, once held by his senpai Matsy, now God of Discounts at the Ralph Store. To do so, he must defeat Sen. Sen leaves her territory in You and Hana’s care and goes after Monarch alone, but when Shaga shows up to warn You, they rush to help the ambushed and outnumbered Sen. Their hunger proves stronger than Monarch’s and they win the day. Matsy disbands the Gabriel Ratchets.
One thing we noticed immediately this week was how firmly and confidently the episode was directed. The pacing was perfect and the characters moved smoothly and effortlessly from place to place, helped in no small part by Taku Iwasaki‘s phenomenal and deliciously conspicuous music. There were no gags or fanservice. Everyone knew the score, and knew what to do, and did it. The energy level never dropped, but kept building until perhaps the best battle of the entire fall season, a downright lyrical spectacle: Sen, Shaga, and You vs. Monarch and his gang.
Sen keeps the west and learns she’s no longer a lone wolf. Shaga redeems herself by warning You and coming to their aid. You gets Monarch back for the beatdown he recieved. Matsy, who along with Endo and Nikaido was very much like Sen in her youth, vows to clean up the mess she had left the East after retiring. Just as Sen was Wizard’s successor, Endo wanted to be Matsy’s…but he lost sight of the most important things; the thing that gives Sen and You their power: honor, pride…and of course, the food, and eating it with people you care about when the fighting’s done.
The Monarch, and Eastern wolf backed up by a pack of dogs called Gabriel Ratchett set a plan into motion to take out You. He’s invited to participate in a Ralph Store battle. Shaga doesn’t warn him, and Sen is there to protect him, but he gets cornered by the Monarch, who mops the floor with him. He wakes up in the store lounge with the God of Discounts, a young woman named Matsuba who used to be a wolf herself and has a past with the Monarch, who wants to conquer the west and rule all stores.
So the dark organization we were fearing didn’t turn out to be all that bad, it’s really just the small, regimented army of a very powerful wolf who wants to start a war with Sen. What better way than taking out her beloved protege? And You does get the stuffing beaten out of him, but from the intensity of the Monarch’s blows, you’d think he was killing him. Instead, You pretty quickly recovers, albeit with a little short-term memory loss.
That first creates a misunderstanding in his mind when he finds himself lying on a couch in his underwear and a lady he doesn’t know, and then another when Hana enters the room to find him in a compromising position with Shaga and Sen. Everybody’s half-judging, half-encouraging conversation with You when he arrives at Ralph mart wearing Hana’s uniform (given to him by Shaga after another misunderstanding) is also pretty funny. Despite the fact that serious threats are mounting and Shaga proves unreliable, there was plenty of levity on tap.
You’s cousin Ayame Shaga, AKA The Beauty by the Lake, infiiltrates his school with a uniform he borrowed for her from Hana. Unlike the stoic Sen, Shaga is inappropriately playful, fondling Hana at every opportunity before being arrested by Ume and made to share a bath with her. The primary reason for Shaga showing up on the Ice Witch’s turf is to challenge her at the supermarket. Shaga holds her own for a time, but the Witch’s skill and composure proves too much for her. Sen gives You leave to console Shaga. Meanwhile, an organization in the shadows is planning things for the wolves. You defeated one of their scouts, but all they know about him thus far is that he’s an outsider.
At last, we’re introduced to the Beauty by the Lake, the lovely Shaga, voiced by Emiri Katou (Mayori from Ghostory; Blair from Soul Eater). She gets a unique, Shaga-centric opening with a 16-bit/karaoke visual theme that fits well with her role as You’s cousin and frequent gaming partner in their youth. It isn’t the introduction we were expecting (we weren’t aware they were relatives), but in hindsight, it wasn’t a bad one. Right off the bat, Shaga is not above using her half-Italian knockout looks to tease You, who for his part stands his ground. Her behavior is nothing to to him, even if she has filled out in recent years. We won’t mince words; there’s loads of fanservice throughout the episode, but all of it was pretty funny and didn’t distract from the story.
For all her good looks, confidence, and predatory behavior towards You and Hana, Shaga is soon put in her place in two areas: the bedroom by Ume (in a scene that really shows how weird and kinky Ume can be) and on the battlefield, by Sen. Both defeats were good character-building moves for Shaga, with wiffs of karma following her handling of You and Hana. The combat continues to impress, punctuated this week by clever use of chopsticks by Shaga. She has skills and heart, but Sen is more graceful and makes dispatching her look easy. This episode also touched on some shadowy organization with “Plans.” We don’t like the sound of this so far. We’ve enjoyed the lack of a centralized authority and infrastructure in the bento fight club. Hopefully, Ben-To will prove us wrong and do something interesting with this. Thus far, we have no reason to doubt them.
Yamahara invites Satou and Oshiroi to join the Hounds, made up of “gundogs” who work as a pack to win their quarry. After a tryout with the Hounds, they’re able to get their dinner quickly and easily without any messy combat. But Satou finds it lacking; it’s boring and too easy. The food is far more delicious when he’s won it himself against a superior foe, and sharing it with Oshiroi and Yarizui, so he and Oshiroi decline the invitation and take the bento without their help.
Comparisons with Princess Mononoke are inescapable where Yarizui’s concerned. She’s like an albino verson of her in looks and is referred to as a wolf girl. But the rest of the school has it all wrong in calling her the “Ice Witch”. Once you get to know her and she lets her guard down, she’s a very warm person. Satou doesn’t want to lose that by switching to another club – especially one like the hounds. This week, Satou learns without doubt that he’s meant to be a wolf, not a dog. We think it’s a good move; it all comes down to taking pride in how you get your meals. And these three wolves are fun to watch.
There were other developments: Ume withdraws her objection to Oshiroi’s membership and association with You. Oshiroi gets the keys to the clubroom. And lastly, You’s old friend Shaga ends up in his bed somehow. Looks like next week will bring in The Beauty by the Lake, who most definitely does not resemble Mononoke Hime. Still lovin’ the next episode previews that take place the moment after the episode ends, breaking the fourth wall, and the soundtrack and action sequences continue to rock.
You and Hana join Sen’s club, and learn many crucial rules of the game: always wait for the God of Discounts to finish; Never take more than your fill; have respect and pride. But these are the rules of wolves; there are other beasts to content with, like a boar who breaks all of the rules, or a storm of pigs who would clean the place out. With help from the Wizard, You successfully wins the Bento with the honor seal, and thus the day. But Oshiroi’s obsessive friend Ume Shiraume has taken her hostage and won’t let her befriend anyone else.
Another fantastic effort for a series that looks to be extremely strong as the fall season progresses. This week we learn supermarkets are not only arenas, they are jungles; ecosystems with well-defined hierarchies, and each member of that system has its roles, strengths and weaknesses. After essentially being swept into the club (he had to sign while Sen had him in a choke hold), You has definitely gotten into the swing of things. It’s likely up to this point his life has been dull and monotonous; this new element is just the thing, awakening and reinforcing values in him like honor, pride, and respect – things he’ll need if he wants to rise from dog to wolf. Values true wolves always put first.
I’m a little surprised what a good fighter he is; he is able to pile through a rugby team without getting knocked out requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but who cares. As for Oshiroi; she seems to have been game from the start, but in her case, it seems she wants to make new friends besides the one she has – Ume, who is naught but a clingy bully. You is yet again at the recieving end of her physical and verbal abuse. Considering the strength and endurance he exhibited winning a half-price Bento later on, one has to wonder if and when he’ll ever stand up to her. One last comment: Taku Iwasaku is in the house, lending an excellent score to the proceedings.
15-year-old freshman You Satou walks to his second day of high school from the hospital, with no memory of how he got injured, nor of the girl Hana Ohiroi that meets up with him. The previous night he awoke on the floor of a store near the bento. He then helps a silver-haired girl with enormous bags of bento containers, who tells him to stay away from that store. Curious, he returns and is beaten severely when he goes for the half-priced bento. He returns a third night with Hana and this time waits until a battle royale for the food breaks out. The silver haired girl turn out to be the “Ice Queen”, the Top Dog in the store’s ‘bento fight club’, and president and only member of the Half Price Food Lover’s Club, which she invites Satou and Hana to join.
Rarity of something always carries the potential for conflict, whether it’s diamonds or cheap bento. The premise of this show is ridiculous (though it’s well aware of this): that something as trivial as half-priced bento will cause riotous battles among otherwise normal citizens. They will spill blood for the deal, and for the taste of victory that comes with it. But is it so far-fetched? Bento are everywhere in Japan, it’s true, but it does cost a lot. 420 yen is equal to $5.50, which is a lot of cash for not much food. Half-price bento mitigates that injustice…but it’s rare. If there are less available than there are people who want them…there will be blood.
After Bantorra and Level-E, David Production continues to impress with its quality series. Ben-To distinguishes itself with high production values, including excellent detailling, quick, sharp fight sequences, beautiful color, and a top-notch soundtrack, where even the muzak helps create dramatic tension. The character design is simple but effective, and even the fanservice isn’t annoying. Bumper cards feature art with a character in a bento tray, With this series, RABUJOI is now reviewing a great many Fall 2011 series that take place in a high school and/or club, but among them, Ben-To is one of the more creative ones, and we wouldn’t missing out on it.