So maybe it's counter intuitive that I now think maybe the Japanese aren't any weirder than any other group of people. It may be instead that they're simply given the chance to let their crazy out and wave it around for everyone to see, within clearly structured and socially acceptable avenues of course. The American entertainment industry is generally very risk averse. They tend to play it safe, which is why we get endless movie sequels and remakes upon remakes of films. In Japan, it seems that they're allowed to try a more scattershot approach and sometimes the craziest things end up on tv, or in their books/manga/etc. It's not like all of these attempts work by any means, but they seem to be more willing to take a risk on the strange or unusual.
All of this exposition brings me to an anime I watched recently that I really, to my surprise, enjoyed. It's called Ben-to and began as a light novel series which was eventually animated last year.
The basic storyline is that Satou Yo is an ordinary highschool student attempting a boarding highschool and is strapped for funds. One night, he goes to a local supermarket and sees that they're in the process of marking down the day's leftover bento (lunch boxes) with half price stickers. He goes to pick one of them up and everything goes black. Poor Satou has just inadvertently entered the crazed world of half-price bento brawling where wolves battle one another in a martial free-for-all with the winners marching out with their half-price meals and the losers crawling away bloody and bruised with only cup ramen to show for their efforts. Yes, I shit you not, this is the actual plot.
It takes a while for Satou's memory to return given the hellacious beating he received and he decides that he's not willing to remain a dog and will instead fight to become a wolf among wolves. Another unlucky loser from that first night commiserates with him. Oshiroi Hana was there not so much for the half-price bento as she was scouting material for her novel. It's only later you discover she has a thing for muscle men and hardcore yaoi. She uses the battles as inspiration basing all the characters on the various fighters and making slight changes like swapping a fist to the gut with a fist up the rectum.
Lucky for both of them, they're soon swept up into the half price bento club at school run by the ruling wolf in the area, Yarizui Sen, who is also known as the Ice Witch. It turns out all the really infamous wolves have nicknames their reputations have earned. The source of those nicknames aren't nearly as glamorous (Sen got hers by accidentally trying to buy an ice cold beer, thinking it was soda pop). She was also the one responsible for knocking Satou out cold that first night so maybe she felt some responsibility for kicking the dog and wanted to make amends.
So that's the basic plot of Ben-to. Everyone strives to claim half price bentos from the various supermarkets around the city. Since this is a shounen anime you just know there are gangs of other combatants and even a big bad or two to defeat. Sometimes you actually have to stop and remind yourself they're beating the snot out of one another so they can save $3.00 on a boxed lunch. For all the ridiculousness of the premise, it's a hell of a lot of fun. The anime doesn't take itself too seriously and there are parts that are simply laugh out loud hilarious.
One of my favorite characters, to my real surprise, was Shiraume Ume the class representative and yandere psycholesbian obsessed with Hana. She blames Satou for leading Hana astray and proceeds to pound on him at every instance. She's always calm about the abuse she dishes out, always speaking politely and even asking permission to get mad or slap or kick him (usually only after having just done so). The sad part about a series that wasn't very popular is that there tend to be few pictures and video clips. All I could find was this music video mostly consisting of Shiraume smacking Satou around. In case you're wondering...the character for Ume (plum) can also be read as 'Bai'. Since her name is ume ume, Satou asks the first time they meet if he can call her baibai. It goes downhill from there.
There are also some spiffy eyecatches for all of the episodes, mainly featuring the various characters stuck into the middle of a bento.
If you watched the video you'll have seen there's some generic fanservice to be found in this show. I'm always of two minds about fanservice and my reaction to it varies greatly. I love it when I feel it's done in a humorous way, which adds to my enjoyment of the show. I hate it when it's just everywhere and done for no seeming reason to either plot or humor. I guess you can think of it like toilet humor. When done right, it's really spiffy, but when done wrong it's like a bad stoner movie. In my opinion Ben-to did it right and none of the fanservice bothered me while I found some of the scenes hysterical.
I feel sort of the same way about moe and moe blobs. The latter being characters where the writers/artists just cram as many moe features into as possible in an attempt to capitalize on otakus. When it's done wrong, it makes part of you want to stomp the big-eyed, lip trembling, cute machine to death even if another part of you feels kind of bad about it. When done right, some characters are just so adorably endearing it just makes you want to squee. I haven't quite figured out what the magic formula to differentiate the two is quite frankly but I found Inoue Asebi, a bit character in Ben-to, absolutely adorable. You just want to squeeze her to bits, despite the fact she's a walking bad luck charm.
So while I know that YMMV greatly when it comes to shows like this, I really do recommend Ben-to. I liked it a lot and suggest people just take it for what it is. It's not supposed to be deep or be hugely plot driven. What it is, is generally hilarious and just entertaining all around.
Oh, and if you think this plot premise is weird, Ben-to doesn't even come close to unthroning the king. Take a look at my entry on Akikan if you really want to see weird. To be honest, I never did get around to watching Akikan though I have a copy of it. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Maybe I should give it a second look after this pleasant experience with Ben-to and whacky plots.