Times are hard, and in these days of global economic crisis and recession more and more people have joined the hunt to find the best bargains. As with anything in life though, experience is what counts, and veterans in the ways of saving money will usually have the upper hand in the war of the aisles. While there are a few young hotshots who have a natural talent for finding a store’s bargain products, the truth is that wherever there are discounted groceries, there will undoubtedly be kings and queens who rule over them.

ben-tou-1Now it may sound as though that whole paragraph is nothing more than a flowery representation of Ben-Tou, Asuara’s light novel series (and its anime and manga adaptations), about Satou You, a highschool student who unwittingly becomes embroiled in an all-out brawl between people wanting half-price ready meals, but that’s actually incorrect. Surprisingly, it’s more akin to the reality of discount shopping than most people think, but while there’s generally a lot of shoving, actual combat is … uncommon.

Ben-Tou has a relatively simple storyline that isn’t encumbered with complex philosophical questions or existential uncertainties. The plot is straightforward, but very typically shounen in its repetitiveness and predictability, which may explain why there are attempts towards the end of the series to add a layer of depth to the narrative. Unfortunately it doesn’t really work as the show spends too much time trying to be funny, justifying all out brawls in grocery stores (which never seem to attract the attention of the police), and servicing hormone crazed teenagers.

ben-tou-2The sad thing is that Ben-Tou has potential as a concept, but when it comes to execution the author, and then everyone else, seem to have left their artistic sensibilities by the wayside. There are some genuinely good flashes of inspiration in the narrative that come about because of the fact that each territory is “ruled” by the strongest fighter (or “wolf”), in that area. Sadly these sparks of inspiration never really amount to anything, and the anime becomes little more than a parade of characters, brawls, inane comedy and pointless fanservice.

Given that this is supposed to be an action anime, one would assume that the emphasis would be on making the combat scenes look good, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. The characters are decent enough, but the reliance on stereotypes can make some viewers think that the designers lacked imagination. In addition to that, the settings for many of the show’s fight scenes are grocery stores, so it’s remarkable that the post-battle shop floors remain unscathed. The animation quality is fairly reasonable, but it’s not up to the standard that David Production are capable of (they made Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra), and the series can sometimes look like a rush job (which may explain the unusual postures and the odd jumps and glitches).

ben-tou-3The opening sequence features the song “Live for Life: Ōkamitachi no Yoru” by Manami, an upbeat rock song set against a backdrop of character introductions, action and fanservice that make a surprisingly accurate presentation of the show’s content. There’s also an additional introduction for episode four that focuses on Shaga Ayame while “Treasure” by Kato Emiri plays out in the background. The melodic ballad used for the ending theme, “Egao no Housoku” by Ise Mariya, serves as a nice counterpoint to each episode, and the rather placid sequence fits well with the idea that it’s a post-battle scene.

As for the rest of the music, although the series is well served in the variety of pieces on offer, the usage of particular tracks can seem a little repetitive.

Ben-Tou likes to wear its shounen heart on its sleeve, so the dialogue is filled with juvenile sentiment and lots of shouting. Like almost every other action/harem/comedy/fanservice anime out there, the script is a little too reliant on familiarity with the genre, but within that there are a few decent little deviations from the norm (mainly about fighting for discounted food). Unfortunately the acting is pretty much what one would expect from this type of show – lots of effort and not much actual skill, but maybe that’s to be expected. The four leads have little experience with serious roles, which isn’t an indictment of their abilities, but rather an observation about the anime industry’s propensity for churning out mediocre titles that cater to the minority of fans.

Seriously, stop wasting talent. It’s too hard to come by.

ben-tou-4In true shounen fashion the characters are about as one-dimensional as they come, and there’s very little in the way of refinement throughout the series. That said, the main focus of the story isn’t to develop each person, but rather to put them in situations where the warrior mentality can be prominently displayed. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way as Ben-Tou is a veritable who’s who of stereotypes, and pretty much every trait and personality associated with genre are on display, especially the wishy-washy lead male – Satou You. The problem is that viewers may become too familiar with a character’s behaviour outside of combat, so watching them fight can often raise several questions, the main one being why does someone who is supposedly capable keep getting slapped around by Shiraume Ume.

Like many harem lead males, Satou You seems to be a bit of a masochist.

As a concept, Ben-Tou has some merit, but somewhere along the way a decision was made to try to appeal to a specific fanbase, and that’s what ultimately lets the show down. The addition of multiple love-interests, inane comedy, innuendo and fanservice seem tacky at best, and can often feel more like hasty additions to the plot. Although there is some entertainment value in the series, this is mainly due to the fact that audiences can watch this as though it was a half-decent action movie.

The truth is that Ben-Tou could have held up a mirror to the real-life tribulations of discount shopping, but sadly the show fails to realise its potential because it tries too hard to jump on the harem/comedy bandwagon, and this gets in the way of it being a true parody.

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