I don’t give much thought to anime studios. I recognize the names and I know that certain studios have a tendency to make certain types of series, but that’s about it. Most studios are far too uneven quality-wise for me to ever say “Hey, soandso is making a new series this season, I so gotta see it.” Madhouse may put out some cool stuff like Redline or whatever, but then they turn around and make something utterly banal like Chihayafuru or Kobato. Production IG is the same way. One second they’re doing Eden of the East or Ghost in the Shell, the next they’re making us suffer through Bunny Drop or Kimi ni Todoke.
But these David Production guys got my eye. They haven’t done much of anything, but the stuff they’ve done has my attention because it tends to drift away from popular trends.
I have no idea if it’s a conscious effort, but David Production seems to be making adaptations out of things that wouldn’t normally get adapted in the current anime climate. Book of Bantorra may be based on a series of light novels, but it’s a convoluted fantasy thriller that has little similarity to the usual fantasy stuff. Level E may have been published in Shounen Jump, but it’s from the 90′s. You hardly see peeps go back and make an anime out of something nearly 20 years old that isn’t a remake of a previously popular series.
They’re doing the same with this season’s Ben-To. Ben-To may have some “safe” fan service shit and the like, but it doesn’t really play like your usual lame duck lead + harem story. This is because Ben-To is about fighting over food first and pseudo-slice-of-life, clichéd anime tropes second.
The series has yet to lose focus. We may get some conveniently placed camera angles and otaku-centric gags, but the show hasn’t devolved into being about that sort of stuff. Each episode is fully centered around the “I like to beat the shit out of people for half-price food” lifestyle. Each episode shows us a new facet of this world, whether its delving into the code of honor the “wolves” have amongst each other, how said wolves react to peeps who don’t play by their rules, or the petty rivalries that blow up into larger conflicts.
Ben-To, thus far, is a fighting anime that hasn’t lost its focus on the fighting. It’s established its rules and shown what happens when someone tries to break these rules, and it’s also established a larger scope that grows out of these rules. It’s a true fighting anime that hasn’t gone off into powering-up tangents or drawn out fights to last more than a few minutes. It also hasn’t ignored its set-up in favor of focusing on high school hijinks and other shit you can get from any other anime. It really is an anime about people who fight over cheap bento boxes rather than your typical high school comedy that just happens to have a gimmick to slap on the cover to make it look different from everything else (Like, say, Maji de Watashi.).
It doesn’t hurt that the lead dude actually fights and is good at it. He doesn’t even need to go through some lengthy training process to become a wolf. He might be a punching bag for other characters’ antics, but he’s fully capable of doing what he’s supposed to do: punch people so he can afford a decent meal. He may have gotten the shit kicked out of him in the latest episode, but that was one of those “Yeah, this new villain is so powerful so let’s establish his power by having him whup the lead character” moments that’s entirely acceptable in this sort of show. The lead character and his buddies finally have a worthy opponent. Let’s just hope that things don’t devolve into “I gotta train to beat this guy!” But given everything else that’s happened in this series, I don’t think it’ll sink that low. Hell, the series only has, like, 6 or 7 more episodes. Most training arcs in shounen series take far longer than that. They don’t have time to suck that much.
Also: I love the way the series does its next episode previews. It isn’t just scenes from the next episode with some inane drivel spouted over the instrumental version of the opening song, it’s always a little scene in and of itself where the characters break the fourth wall and give their own impression on what’s coming up next. It’s good stuff.
Also Also: Digging the Sega references. It’s blatant advertising, but it’s cool that this dude still plays shit like the original Virtua Fighter. I’d make a comment about how this series seems to take place in the late 90′s or something, then go off on some conspiratorial tangent tying it into the Occult Academy and Level E or some shit, but the fact that peeps have modern-day phones ruins that. Damn. And do you see this, Future Diary (And almost every other anime out there.), high school anime characters can have smartphones. Get with it and quit giving them shitty flip phones.