Sometimes we take for granted how fortunate we are to live in the industrialized modern world, where food is processed en masse and delivered right to our dining room tables through means of efficient and speedy transportation. Food production is at an all time high, giving rise to a society that’s more independent from farming and hunting than ever. But really, is this such a great thing?
Is there something lost in a world where crops are guaranteed longevity and greater growth through means of pesticides and genetic modification, and animals are raised specifically to be slaughtered in as impersonal a manner as possible? Undoubtedly, humans were designed to be hunters. We’re agile, speedy creatures with a large capacity to adapt, and we worked our way toward the top of the food chain using these gifts to their fullest. The ultimate irony is that it’s because of these traits that we have been able to let them deteriorate without ending up some big jungle predator’s feast.
Looking at the world of Ben-To, things have gone pretty much the same. This isn’t some kind of alternate reality where people are forced to fight in order to feed, or old men with half-price stickers are revered as givers of life. People enter the supermarkets, buy prepackaged lunches at regular price, make awkward looks at the cashier while paying for their bounty, and leave to gorge on their gains. It really couldn’t get any more normal than that. Yet after the dinner crowds grab their night’s grub and the bento are marked with the coveted half price sticker, a small group of people jump from the woodwork kicking and punching their way to reach their spoils.
Obviously, this is something that’s more than a bit over the top for half priced boxed meals. But to understand the logic behind this, and believe me it is there caked under the ecchi anime trappings, I’m going to point you to another example of people engaging in unnecessary violence that’s a hell of a lot more well known: Fight Club.
In the film, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt take up residence in a dank tenement and found a secret club for men to beat each other senseless. Not only does the dirty bloodshed unite them under a common banner of camaraderie, but it’s the only thing in their dull lives that makes them feel like they’re actually living. And really, despite how society’s been cultivated into a culture of punishment for violent actions, humans are still enamored with it.
I guess the point that I’m getting at here is that Ben-To bears quite a few resemblances to Fight Club, just without all the homoerotic undertones. Well… most of the homoerotic undertones, anyway. These people all gather in supermarkets the country-over for a single purpose, and it’s not to feed their bellies. Despite that being the stated goal, everyone enters into these brawls for half-priced food to take part in the brawls themselves, with the food being the secondary objective. Win or lose, they’re all determined to return the next day and fight off their fellow man for the purpose of reintroducing conflict in their daily routine. And when they win, victory is literally all the sweeter (and more savory!) as a result.
Of course, Ben-To has nowhere near the cultural impact of David Fincher’s adaptation, and will most likely wallow in the same territory that over the top anime comedy has occupied since its inception. Unlike the book and by extension the movie, there isn’t a theme of a carnal urge to fight being suffocated by modern excess. Ben-To is, at the end of the day, a slapstick comedy with ecchi elements that doesn’t aim to be anything but zany fun, and that’s what it’s surprisingly good at. As such, it isn’t the anime version of fight club past a superficial level.
But sometimes we all need a little mindless violence in our lives, whether a bento is involved or not. And like it or not, Ben-To is certainly one of the most memorable anime series to come about in a long time.