So, the tradition continues. 12 lists of 12 things. Some are ranked, others are not. One this year is not ranked but merely numerated.
Category Archives: Ben-to
There is something charming about watching crappy-looking animation about people struggling with lower-class living. I think Kaiji is a good example. Ben-to does the same kind of thing. I mean I laughed out loud when I saw this:
Just in case it isn’t obvious, it seems whoever was doing the background just went on the web and took images from supermarkets or something and shopped them in as sprite things. Which I guess is okay! I don’t know. And I’m going to assume shopping jpegs into your background without even smoothing out the artifacts, count as a cheap, time-saving thing to do. And it is the kind of thing a DVD/BD release will fix up for that audience (and as well, paying customers deserve better).
If we accept anime is animation made on the dirt cheap, invariably something like this is potentially a desirable thing to do…if things like visual integrity can be stretched a little for the sake of commercialization of disposable entertainment as expressive artworks, reflecting the reality of today’s increasingly commercialized cultural landscape. It probably gets ironic if I dig deep enough, so I’ll spare you that nonsense.
The thought I had was more along the lines of some praises for Akiyuki Shinbo’s cost-cutting stuff, how his slow transformation of anime from expressive motions to expressive slideshows, and more importantly the ability to appreciate the latter as some kind of entertainment, reflect some kind of conditioning. I mean it used to be the case (and still is in a way) that fans trash that sort of anime paradigm–did someone say something about Fate/Zero’s talking heads? Or better yet, Stand Alone Complex’s? I mean those are big-budget anime (as far as anime on TV goes). But there is some kind of directional design in the way the scenes progress. JP’s detailed it as well. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a slideshow made of quotes from a light novel or just some woman walking in circles.
[Damn it ufotable! Quit doing that.]
I wonder if there is some kind of information resolution thing at work. Acting via facial expression and the like; some of those things require paying some degree of attention and the ability to process information a little bit more than beyond the level of instinctively comprehending body language. I think anime and manga aren’t the sort of mediums best at expressing that sort of subtle expressions; or rather they make their marks by exaggerating those things.
The thought continues in the form of so-called inforgraphics. I generally despise them; preferring heavily in the form of xkcd’s hard work. I would probably state further that I have nothing against inforgraphics as an idea, except that most of the ones I’ve seen are undesirable in the sense that it is closer to numerology than expressing information in a way that is truthful. To use an analogy, it’s like trying to write rhymes with disregard of what the rhymes mean. Maybe it’s an outright example where truth and beauty can be 100% at odds, but it runs against the way I prefer to idealize the pursuit of both. It is also very database-animal-ish. I think for a lot of people it comes down to having an x% of content catering to the person while achieving a y% of entertaining value, and then it will pass the test. Even if in the end you get something neither beautiful nor truthful, what comes of it becomes interesting enough that it will sell DVDs and Blu-Rays.
It is in such context that I find something like Ben-to a lot more honest and despite its questionable production, much easier to enjoy.
PS. Did Sato wear…the anti-zettai ryouiki?
And by Popular Media I mean super niche late-night TV anime. Right.
But I do feel kind of guilty of doing:
- Eating a bento while watching Ben-to.
- Walking in circles while talking…and in general.
- During an engaging discussion, suddenly think of OTPs (and the discussion has nothing to do with that topic).
- Thinking the anime I watch is better than the anime you watch but I don’t watch.
- Being confused about Horizon.
- Thinking Haganai is actually funny.
- Trying to get people to stop using “bokutomo” as a shorthand. This honestly made me feel kind of bad about myself, but please don’t.
- Thinking Chihayafuru is more titillating than any anime this season. Maybe tied with Guilty Crown, maybe.
- For that matter, thinking about the poor passengers on the train having to deal with two loud teenagers. Even during those touching-sobbing scenes.
- Looking at a fanservice-y character’s boobs as the protagonist do the same, at the same time.
- Being confused about the characterization of Fam.
- Confusing Fam with Inga.
- Seeing shows like Persona and Last Exile getting their dues, but not feeling really warmed up to them.
- Making fun of Fractale.
Unfortunately, the list probably doesn’t stop there. What is actually unfortunate about that is I don’t even get a silly crown to go with!
Do I get it now? Was that bad enough?
I was going to talk about the nature of Ben-to and the underlying notion of glorifying those half-priced leftover dinner boxes that can be found in some Japanese supermarkets and convenient stores. But it isn’t something words can fully describe. Rather, I think during the coming-of-age of all healthy middle-class individuals, at some point you will experience something similar in person. And that is the tie that binds us to Ben-to as an intense, personal experience.
I mentioned it before, but Ben-to is an intense anime. It plays the jokes off intensely, and it is very much reminiscent of Air Master, which too had intense animation with intense jokes that don’t always make sense. (Only if Kanetomo-sensei will make an appearance!)
I think ultimately that intensity is magnified when the story can establish some kind of visceral connection with the viewer. For example, Initial D was able to do this with aplomb and those who can connect to its autocross and high school romance roots often find the experience rewarding and well-justified the silly animation production (at least in season 1). Ben-to does more or less the same, although it plays the competitive fighting aspect in a way that is probably most similarly described as some kind of pro wrestling thing. But unlike live acting, you can easily suspend your beliefs in an anime!
Perhaps also unlike pro wrestling, I think Ben-to carries a fundamentally sound and healthy message. Because it is with sincere gratitude that I thank and bless the hands that made my meals every morning and every evening (except mine I guess). This is the origin of giving thanks, regardless if you are Shinto or Catholic. I mean, yeah, food, water and oxygen, right? And I can talk about this because it is the central “joke” to Ben-to. It is almost like a self-suggestive way to hypnotize the way you taste food. And if that means my meals are more delicious and those who feed me are more blessed, why not?
So, to go back to the title of the post: I think there is something to be said when we create fun and enjoyable popular entertainment that help glorify the way we meet our needs. It’s like learning to cherish your janitor or dishwasher or some other forgotten, lower-class cog in the machine of modern, first-world society. They are a much harder sell than starving African children. They are burdened with political baggage. But they are no different than anyone, if we subscribe to the notion that all man are created equal. It’s easy to fish out all these semi-social/political messages from a show like Ben-to, and I believe that is where a particular sort dialog occurs under the current of popular culture. And sometimes it’s interesting to look into that.