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.
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.
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.