Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi: Complete Collection
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi has long been on my anime menu. It's one of Studio GAINAX's more distinctive productions, the sort of shows they make when they aren't making Evangelion. It's visually explosive, conceptually out there, and the sort of show you have to have an open mind for to get the most out of it. Of course living in a country where anime doesn't exist on television, it isn't an easy thing to blind buy a series and just dive right in. You need to know if you're onto a good thing before you invest. That's something I was loath to do before I discovered the beauty of a broadband connection. Unfortunately, until very recently, all the anime available to view was of the shady, fansubbed variety, which, while technically illegal, companies often turn a blind eye to as it gets their product noticed. I tend to think of it as trying before buying, although my conscience has been a lot clearer since the legal online streaming options have opened up. With Abenobashi though, I came across the scummy side of fansubbers. The only source I could find wasn't a fansub at all. Someone had ripped the English version off the official DVDs and just put those episodes online. Ever game, I gave a few episodes a try regardless. And I hated it. I loathed it. It was horrible, awful, so bad that I simply had to buy the DVD collection!
There is madness to my method however. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is set in Osaka, and I may have mention in other reviews, that the people of Osaka have a distinctive Japanese dialect, one that I find quite charming to listen to. When it comes to dubbing anime with such characters, it becomes an issue of how to treat the English dub, and the choice is usually made to substitute a specific English accent. While the average anime character will get a neutral moderate American accent, people from Osaka and the general environs get a strong Southern accent. It's an accent that usually sets my teeth on edge, and I have a hard time watching any such English dub all the way through. With most of Abenobashi's characters from Osaka, the English dub quickly became an impossibility. But the show 'looked' very promising indeed, which is why I know have the DVDs, set permanently to the Japanese language track.
The shopping arcade in Abenobashi is a very special place, with history and import, centred on the Abeno Shrine at its heart. It was built with Onmyou mysticism in mind, perfectly aligned so that the four gods, Dragon, Tiger, Pelican, and Turtle were at its four cardinal points. This ensured the harmony of the four gods, and was a sure indicator of good luck. Except that good luck has now run out, and the dreaded urban redevelopment has enveloped the area. All the businesses are closing down, families moving to new homes, and friendships being sundered. This is especially true for twelve year olds Arumi and Sasshi. Sasshi's family Turtle bathhouse has already been razed, and he's moved out of his old home to a new apartment. Worse is to come, as best friend Arumi tells him that her family will be moving, all the way to Hokkaido. Her family's Pelican restaurant is the last symbol of the four gods, but when that final symbol goes, something weird happens with all that pent up mystical energy. Suddenly Arumi and Sasshi are jumping dimensions, hopping from one Abenobashi Shopping Arcade to the next, all wildly different, yet all containing the same people in different roles. They now have to figure out how to get back to their own world, pretty hard when they have no idea just why any of this is happening.
13 episodes of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi are presented across 4 discs, in this collection from ADV Films.
1. Mystery! Abenobashi Shopping Arcade
Life at Abenobashi Shopping Arcade may drawing to a close for friends Sasshi and Arumi, but Arumi's determined to look on the bright side of things, happy to have her health at least. Not so for Sasshi, whose glass may have been half empty, if all his prize possessions hadn't been destroyed when his house was demolished. Apparently there wasn't any room for all the geek stuff he had been collecting since childhood. He's stopped in his tracks when Arumi tells him that after her family's restaurant closes, they'll be moving to the other side of Japan. But not if her grandfather Masa has anything to do with it. Everyone else may have left, but he's determined that Abenobashi should continue as always. The pelican atop his restaurant is the last lucky symbol in the area, and he'll defend it against all who oppose him, including his son Tetsu, who dreams of opening a French restaurant in Hokkaido, and is getting a head start by speaking Japanese in a French accent. But Masa can't do anything about the neighbourhood moggy, and trying to chase the cat away from the Pelican statue causes the scaffolding to fall apart, his footing to slip and him plummet almost to the ground, and the statue to shatter as it goes all the way. That night, Sasshi sees dragons in the sky. Arumi doesn't believe him the next day, although the old people turning into mushrooms change her mind. The walls of reality collapse, and they are thrust through a gateway into another world.
2. Adventure! Abenobashi Sword and Sorcery Shopping Arcade
Dragons, a castle, a knight on horseback? Well, not exactly a night, it's actually Arumi's dad, and the princess is Abenobashi's resident crossdresser Ms. Aki, but Arumi and Sasshi are given 800 gold pieces to hunt down and defeat The Lord of Evil. It's a world that awakens Sasshi's inner RPG geek, and he's all ready to spend the 800 GP to up his stats and buy some cool weaponry. But Arumi's charmed by a passing blue-haired man named Eutus, who sells her an 800GP keyring. It's not the sort of weapon that works against their foe, a voluptuous red haired woman with glasses named Mune-mune, who keeps popping up and killing Sasshi. It's a good thing there are restore points in this world.
3. Hook Up! Abenobashi Great Milky Way Shopping Arcade
They're not home, but they do have a clue. They escaped the last world by finding a goblin that opened the portal. All they have to do is find a goblin in this world. But what's a goblin going to do in a world floating in space, populated with robots, and where Mune-mune is a member of the Abeno Angels crime-fighting team by day, and a space pirate by night. Well, a goblin is going to steal Arumi's panties for one thing, then transform into a giant mecha for another. It's up to Sasshi and Arumi to join forces in a mecha of their own to defeat the panty-thieving sneak.
4. Fire it Up! Abenobashi Hong Kong Combat Shopping Arcade
Abenobashi in China? The shops are suddenly selling counterfeit merchandise, and Sasshi's annoying a panda. Mune-mune thinks Sasshi is her brother returned to do battle with the Golden Claw (Arumi's dad) in a tournament. Sasshi has a training montage, followed by a Bruce Lee homage to look forward to.
5. Extinction! Abenobashi Ancient Dinosaur Shopping Arcade
They're in a prehistoric world, one of those ones from the movies, where people live side-by-side with dinosaurs. Sasshi's dinosaur geek is awakened, but all isn't right with these beasts. In the stone age Shopping Arcade, Queen big sis Sayaka, has read the omens and has decided that a red Triceratops baby needs to be sacrificed. The one that Arumi just rescued. Fortunately, there is a Tarzan like Mune-mune to come to the rescue. Now what to do about the impending Extinction Level Event?
6. In The Night Fog! Abenobashi Hard Boiled Shopping Arcade
Now they're in film noir! The Pelican Gang is looking to take over, and only the police stand in their way. Somehow, both Sasshi and Arumi have suddenly grown up, and Arumi is developed enough to fit in with Mune-mune and Sayaka as the Abeno Police Angels. Meanwhile Sasshi has been mistaken for the well-known sniper Rugolgo, and Pelicans boss Masa has put a hit out on Sasshi's grandpa. But the goblins haven't been working, and the latest appearance from Eutus gives Arumi a hint. Apparently one of the friends doesn't actually want to go home.
7. Flashback! Magical Shopping Arcade Birth
While we wait to see if Arumi and Sasshi's latest attempt to return to their own world works, we take a brief sojourn and find out how Grandpa Masa is recuperating in hospital. It turns out that with the final demolition of the Arcade, he's in reflective mood, as he harks back to the man he was, fifty years ago. Age 22, an up and coming entrepreneur with big ideas, Masayuki was the one who brought developer Abe from Tokyo to bring perfect harmony to the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade. He would have the biggest restaurant in the area, would be rich beyond his wildest dreams, and he would be able to woo the delectable Mune. Just one problem, Mune took one look at Abe and fell in love.
8. Set Your Heart Aflutter! Abenobashi Campus Shopping Arcade
They didn't get back to the real world in the end. It turns out that Sasshi, for it is he who keep throwing off the goblins' aim, has more perverted permutations of reality twisting about in his subconscious. This time he wants to explore the world of a dating simulation. Mune-mune is the school nurse, and it's full of cute teenaged girls who all want a piece of him. It's too much for Arumi, who just wants to find the goblin and go home. Except this time, she is the goblin!
9. It Cries! The Bush Warbler Heiankyo
Arumi's off sulking somewhere, but Eutus has turned up again, and spotted potential in Sasshi. Eutus offers to take Sasshi back to his place, and train him up as an Onmyou mystic, able to redefine the world at will. Eutus's home is 1000 years in the past, in the old Capital of Heiankyo. He is in fact the Abeno Seimei, although his sojourn through time and space has brought him a few mod cons in the past. But he loses interest when they get back, as suddenly Sasshi sprouts a horn and turns into a goblin. Sasshi gives him a nudge, but first Abeno has to give him some bad news about Mune-mune. Then he has to give Sasshi the really bad news about why they are jumping from world to world, unable to return home.
10. Fluffy, Bubbly Abenobashi Fairy Tale Shopping Arcade
All that is left of the Abenobashi Campus Shopping Arcade is the school building, and that is where Arumi is stuck, watching boring television, until Sasshi shows up on the screen. He's graduated from Onmyou school, or at least he has the user manual, and this time he's going to create a world that Arumi is sure to like. Welcome to Sasshiland, a fairytale world where all of Arumi's dreams will come true. The only problem is that Arumi doesn't want to play Cinderella to Sasshi's Prince Charming.
11. Resolution!! Abenobashi Battlefield Shopping Arcade
Arumi wants to go home, Sasshi keeps on delaying their return. It was inevitable that the two friends would fall out. But ending up in a War, with a capital W, with the Pelican Army fighting the Turtle Bath Army to the death, that was a little unexpected.
12. Huge Reversal?! Abenobashi Hollywood Shopping Arcade
It looks like home, it sounds like home. In fact the only odd thing about it is their arrival. Sasshi arrives like the Terminator, and Arumi like Kyle Reese. What do you do if you only have a couple of episodes left, and a tonne of in-jokes and references still to use? Put Abenobashi on a Hollywood backlot, that's what…
13. Return to Life! The Legendary Onmyou Mystic
Sasshi's dad shows up, and tells him to stop playing and to come home.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is as clear as you would expect, with the usual NTSC-PAL conversion issues taken into account. The only real flaw is some artefacting around really noisy moments, such as the opening sequence. I was going to make a note about the realism and detail, and then the second episode started. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is a show that gets a completely different animation style with each new episode, with a new look appropriate to each different world. There isn't even necessarily consistency in the character designs, with the protagonists suddenly grown up in film noir world, or midget goblins in another. It's all from the pens of the wizards at Studio GAINAX (think FLCL), and my notes for this show are really summed up with 'Freaky Animation A-Go-Go!'
You have a choice between DD 5.1 English and DD 2.0 Japanese, along with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. After my tirade at the beginning, you can bet I only clicked on the English track to check that it existed (it does), and cared to sample no more of the dub thereafter. Of course, this isn't a comment on the technical quality of the dub, it's just a personal preference, and I'm sure that if you can live with the accents, the surround track will envelop you in aural loveliness.
It was the Japanese stereo for me, and I appreciated the original language dub even more, with the Vidnotes popping up to point out the various cultural gags in the show. Megumi Hayashibara records two very catchy, and very different themes for the show, while Shiro Sagisu (of Evangelion fame), composes the soundtrack with some really unexpected jazz moments. It's a quirky and engaging soundtrack, and reflects the sheer variety of this animation with style.
Abenobashi's four discs are presented in an m-lock case, with in my opinion pretty dull and unrepresentative artwork. Each of the discs gets animated menus, as well as a comedy voiceover on the copyright warnings. Note that the booklets that were in the single volumes aren't in this collection.
All the episodes get the AD Vidnotes treatment. AD Vidnotes are an extra subtitle track which pops up little bits of info and trivia pertaining to the episode, essential in Abenobashi where there are a lot of references and tie ins. You'll find two extra subtitle tracks on the discs for the English and Japanese, and you also get two extra audio soundtracks, as the captions require a discreet popping sound to announce their presence. Prepare to be quick on the pause button in both versions, but this, as in Excel Saga, is an essential extra feature.
You'll get the clean credits sequences, and trailers for Slayers Gorgeous, Last Exile, Final Fantasy Unlimited, Azumanga Daioh, and Kino's Journey.
The big extra on the disc is the episode 3 commentary with Luci Christian (Sasshi), and Jessica Boone (Arumi). It's an appropriately giggly track, not too concerned with trivia (you have the vidnotes for that), but approaching the episode from an ADR viewpoint.
The clean credits once more, and this time there are trailers for Mahoromatic, Mazinkaizer, Full Metal Panic, and Azumanga Daioh
You'll also find 4 minutes of Outtakes, and they aren't scripted in anyway at all, no sir! Sarcasm aside, some of them are even funny.
Again with the clean credits and the trailers, this time for Last Exile, Chrono Crusade, New Fist Of The North Star, and Gad Guard.
And again with the outtakes, three minutes of them.
For the final disc, we have the clean credits once more, and trailers for Mezzo DSA, and Chrono Crusade.
There are five minutes of outtakes on this disc, and it looks as if one of them isn't even scripted.
The commentary on this disc features Jessica Boone (Arumi), Luci Christian (Sasshi), and John Gremillion (Kohei), and accompanies episode 12. It's a nice friendly gossip, with plenty of pointing out the in-jokes that suffuse this Hollywood parody episode.
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is something of a strange fruit, in a 'jack of all trades' sort of way. Naturally, the demented Sliders format is a big part of it, with the parody of the week allowing for far greater latitude in story, world design and even animation styles than most shows could ever dream of. It's just what you would expect from the people behind FLCL. But the flavour and texture of Abenobashi changes as you view it. After an introductory episode set in the real world, it goes straight for the comedy jugular, as it lampoons its way through various anime genres. But as the show progresses, it introduces something of a serious edge, with a mystery in Abenobashi's past to be resolved, and the meaning behind the dimension jumping having quite ominous overtones. By the time the final episode comes along, it's as if the comedy has been left by the wayside, and we're in distinctly philosophical and reflective territory. If you start Abenobashi with giggles and hi-jinks in mind, then this eventual turn of events may pall, and then there is the final twist… Well it ensures that anime forums aren't bereft of talking points. The bottom line is that Abenobashi may not be to all tastes. That said, I think it's pretty cool.
Abenobashi is all about growing up, and trying, despite the inevitable, to avoid doing so. I'm sure that everyone has the experience of an idyllic age, usually childhood, where cares are small, family is constant, all the days are sunny, and all your friends are best friends for life. You wanted those days to last forever, but the clock continued its ponderous ticking, and before you knew it, you grew up. Sasshi and Arumi are at that age, an innocent and fresh twelve, and the world seems perfect. But their growth to adulthood proves to be more traumatic, when their homes are torn down for redeveloping, their businesses taken away, and with their families moving apart, that eternal friendship seems doomed. You don't want to know that change is a part of life at that age, but this is a pretty harsh way to learn it. And it gets even more brutal when the scaffolding falls at the Grill Pelican, and the magic totem falls, sending Sasshi and Arumi hurtling through the dimensions.
But it doesn't seem to be the sort of event that would spark such a journey, and there is more than meets the eye to this odyssey. It slowly becomes clear, as the children travel from world to world, that Arumi is determined to return home, but Sasshi is reluctant. All the worlds that they visit are constructed from his own perverted 12 year-old imagination, and each world is like one big playtime to him, especially with someone like the voluptuous Mune-mune bouncing in and out of his life. It's easy to see why Arumi would quickly lose patience with him. This dimension hopping, always looking for the next Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, may be fun and frolics, but it also may be a twelve year old boy's desperate attempt to avoid change, to keep things just the way they are, to not lose his best friend. And as the show progresses, this avoidance of change becomes more and more desperate, as reality keeps on barging in, and painfully reminding them that you can't stop the clock, you can't stop change, and the real world just can't be denied.
Except there is that ending, and it's one worthy of debate. It could be a work of genius, a total cop out, evidence of a higher power… I tend to think that it's the show's creators having their own collective Sasshi moment, and trying to cling desperately to the hope that, maybe some things can be changed, maybe the relentless wheels of time, if not stopped, can at least be slowed for a while, and maybe, just maybe, there is magic in the world. It's the one moment in the show that I'm ambivalent about, and it does diminish it ever so slightly in my estimation.
But all of that psychological doo-dah is just 10% of the show. The real reason that you want to watch this show is for the comedy. GAINAX provide the laughs at a relentless pace, with 'zany' being their watchword. Each successive episode is like a box of delights, a new homage to entertain and enchant, full of pop culture references and fast-paced gags, and the Vidnotes kindly inform you that Sasshi and Arumi's byplay is delivered in classic Osaka comedy style, which is why the poor boy keeps being battered by a paper fan wielded by the vengeful Arumi. There's something here for all the anime otaku, and if you've seen even half the shows referenced here, you'll be giggling relentlessly. It's not just anime that gets lampooned though, as there are more than enough pre-teen geek traits to pick on, as well as plenty of classic movie references to savour.
You'll be bound to have your favourites, I'm partial to the sci-fi parody, the Hong Kong movie pastiche, and the Hollywood episode, but there is something for everyone in all of the episodes. Around episode 7, the flashback episode, things start to get more serious, as the reason behind all this jumping around starts to be explored, and thereafter the shows get something of a bittersweet tinge. There are unexpected 'lump in the throat' moments amidst all the comedy carnage, but the spectre of Mune-mune and her fan service breasts is never too far away. As befits a twelve-year-old male protagonist, the comedy is often of the lowest common denominator, fart gags and big boobs, and who can argue with that. It's just that Abenobashi manages to have its cake and eat it, catering for the minds wallowing in the gutter, while offering something of substance for the forebrain to chew on.
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is genuine GAINAX weirdness, for which we must all give thanks. But being GAINAX weird, it's uncompromising about the story directions it chooses, and the way that story pans out may not be to all tastes. I'm not sure it was to mine. But with a wealth of comedy episodes to giggle at like a demented lunatic, you can pretend that Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi never ends. Which is the whole point I guess… Or not…