Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi Vol. #1 (also w/box) (of 4) (

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, December 15, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2003

What They Say
"Bein' human, havin' your health...that's the most important thing." -Arumi Asahina

Try telling that to twelve-year-old Sasshi Imamiya. He's lost his home, lost the toy collection that defined his very geekdom, and he's about to lose his best friend, Arumi. Reality is closing in on him.

That is, until they discover that their neighborhood shopping district is actually a portal to a series of parallel existences. Reality decides to take a vacation-an extended vacation-as Arumi and Sasshi suddenly find themselves in a world like their own... only not. And as they try to fight their way back to the real world, they'll face menacing mushrooms, big-breasted space pirates, killer kung-fu fighters, a tripped-out transvestite, a sorcerer who seems to be in some sort of midlife crisis... and that's just the beginning!

They say there's no place like home, but this ain't exactly Oz, and it sure as heck ain't Kansas! Put the kids to bed, leave Toto with the neighbors and get ready to dive into the madcap, whacked-out world of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi!

The Review!
Gainax does their version of Excel Saga with a twist.

With this series having such a heavy slant on Osaka dialect and puns, so much so that they even have a credit for an Osaka Dialect Comedy Rewrite position, we decided to go with the Japanese language for this series. The track is a fairly standard stereo mix that has some good movement across the forward soundstage at a few times, usually when the characters go zooming across the screen. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2002, Abenobashi is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is encoded for anamorphic playback. The transfer for the show is very clean looking and free of most of the usual problems, though there is a bit of aliasing in a few areas during some of the digital panning, but it?s very minimal. The series has a wide variety of color palettes used; the first episode is done very real world styled for a lot of it from backgrounds to character animation, but once things kick in there?s a lot of vibrancy used, such as in the third episode.

The first volume to the series goes with images from the third and fourth episodes with the two leads in their science fiction outfits while the background is mostly made up of the obligatory buxom woman in a Chinese style dress and glasses. The color scheme and artwork look great and there?s some eye-catching elements to it, but it doesn?t seem like the best choice for a first volume. The back cover provides some varied shots from the show along a strip on the side while also going through a couple of paragraphs of summary. The discs features are clearly listed and the technical side is well listed in the box block along the bottom. The insert included for this release is a great piece, it?s done up as a weekly magazine for the District where inside you have all sorts of shots from the episodes and jokes relating to them as well as informational pieces. It?s in full color and looks fantastic and something that adds great charm to the release. With this release being in a clear keepcase, the reverse side cover has a mixed shot from both the fantasy and SF episodes with Sasshi in SF mode while the women try to deal with him. It?s a fully reversible cover, but the back side of it is straight artwork as opposed to a reworking of the original back cover, so you get one wraparound image with a proper spine.

A disc + box release was also done at the same time, and the box is of the soft medium thick variety. Done with white background, The panels are one wraparound image of character artwork with Mune-mune in the background in various incarnations while the ?front? panel of the box includes standard shots of the two lead characters above the logo. It?s a good looking box once you sit down and go over it and the front panel is attractive with Mune-mune in her Chinese outfit again. The spine works well also, with a good sized logo and some of the character artwork visible underneath it.

The menu layout features something of the frantic nature of the show with the solid shot of Sasshi and Arumi from the front cover that?s laid over four sections of running animation from the show, most of them either twitchy bits or some of the faster action sequences. All of this is set to a brief part of the opening song and the menus are anamorphic as well. Access times are decent though there?s a lag in the load with some transitional animations that play with English dialogue, something we continue to dislike.

Some good extras are included with this release. The ADV Vid-Notes make their return with this show, providing numerous cultural and visual in-joke references and puns to life. The vid-notes work in the same style as Excel Saga, though with a small demon face used as the icon this time. I don?t think the vid-notes worked as well this time though; it seemed like there was the inclusion of more (attempted) funny bits within the vid-notes rather than explaining what the jokes were ? though they do perform that feature most of the time. It just felt like there were more superfluous notes included that filled the screen more than needed. The notes in general felt more intrusive on the show, particularly the first episode and less so in later ones, that I got the feeling that the show may have worked better in watching it without the notes first and then re-watching it with the notes on again afterwards.

A commentary track with the two lead actresses, Luci Christian and Jessica Boone, is also included. The provide their comments and comedy during the third episode of the series, though they had to restart at one point due to one of them giving away supposed major plot developments later in the show and having to have them edited out. There?s some amusing anecdotes about the shows production and other actors, but the commentary track feels more like the two of them are sitting on the couch with you and joking about the shows jokes with you than anything else.

And rounding it all out, there are clean versions of the shows opening and ending sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When I write reviews of shows, I try to make a conscious effort to not reference other shows in them unless its part of a series or something, since I want to look at each show on its own basis and merits and not make it a comparison of different programs. With a show like Abenobashi, which is so strongly influenced by something like Excel Saga, it?s very hard to not make comparisons. With a show like Abenobashi, where it brings in so many parodies, other things will end up being brought up.

The series starts off simply enough as we follow two young kids, geeky Satoshi (usually called Sasshi) and his near-girlfriend Arumi, a short tempered girl. Sasshi has just returned home from summer camp only to find that his family has not only moved, but their old building has been torn down and all his ?fruits of geekdom? have been destroyed. Arumi doesn?t feel too much sympathy, partly because she reveals that her family is getting ready to move in a few weeks from Osaka to Hokkaido since her father wants to flex his French culinary cooking skills someplace better. Sasshi reacts like any young boy who doesn?t know how to express himself at this time and just stares at the ground.

The two come across nicely as a good set of friends who would otherwise grow into something more as they get older, but the fates look set to tear them apart before it can really get anywhere. Their exchanges and dialect are rife not only with jokes about each other but numerous local puns and other trademarks of the region like Sasshi being smacked by a fan as he acts goofy. The two of them walk around the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade while talking about what?s going on with how their lives are about to change and as they go to the various shops and stores, allowing us to meet the various residents.

The residents are an interesting mix, from Arumi?s father who mixes in French with his Osaka dialect much to her grandfathers chagrin, or the cross dressing guy who knows all the secrets of the Arcade. The families as we meet them are just slightly over the top versions of otherwise normal families, giving them something more rooted in the real world than being outright crazy, much as most of the residents of the Arcade are as well. There?s a feel that some people are just plain strange, but nothing that you don?t see in your own area as well.

The Arcade itself has that rundown feeling, which isn?t surprising since the entire area is being redeveloped. This is said perfectly by Arumi?s grandfather who complains that it doesn?t need to be done since ?It was all developed fifty years ago!? That puts the Arcade into nice perspective. But as Arumi and Sasshi work through some minor mystery about their families, they realize that the Arcade?s guardian gods are disappearing, with Arumi?s grandfathers shop being the last one to have one of the Four Gods left as all the other shops have closed. Of course, their discovery times with her grandfather accidentally breaking the guardian object. Though it doesn?t happen right away, this sets into motion certain events.

The Arcade begins to change at one point before Arumi and Sasshi?s eyes, and as they race around trying to figure it out, the entire town falls away and they find themselves outside a fantasy version of Abenobashi. The same looking people, family and all, inhabit this other Arcade, but they?re not the same as where they just came from. The two have stepped into a parallel world, one where they have to defeat the boss (as they quickly find themselves in a variant of numerous video games) before they can go home. Or be transported to the next parallel world, such as the Science Fiction one or the Hong Kong Fighting Tournament one or?

Well, you get the point. Each episode brings the two characters to a new world where they have to understand the rules to get by and then defeat a demon somewhere within it so that it will grant their wish of sending them ?home?, though the demon invariably sends them to something similar to home. Each of the genres or styles that get worked over have numerous puns, parodies and homages applied, such as lots of 2001 brought into the SF episode or Sasshi training so hard he looks like Kenshiro from Fist of the Northstar. There are a number of amusing parodies and jokes throughout the episodes that work well.

But even with a number of good chuckles in the SF episode, the series just feels very weak. The opening episode, which sets up what the basic Arcade is like and gives you a feel for the real-world relationships of the cast, is very slow and only starts the weirdness during the last two minutes of the show. The characters are decent and as interesting as they can be, but there?s just something in how the first episode plays out that had me checking the countdown timer more than anything else.

The episodes after that, much like Excel Saga, will definitely vary depending on what kind of comedy you like. The fantasy episode had a couple of good moments, but a lot of it just didn?t make us laugh. One of the elements introduced into the show only from when they start universe jumping is a red headed woman named Mune-mune, who serves either as a foil or a friend depending on the situation. Mune-mune is almost a variation on Ms. Shikijo from Mahoromatic in that her massive mammaries are the bulk of her jokes and appeal. Sasshi finds himself drawn to them and he?s often being smothered by them when she?s a friend, and when she?s an enemy they?re almost moving independently of each other as she chases after them in her various skimpy outfits. With the same director between the two shows, it?s not surprising but I really expected better of Yamaga than to bring that over into this so soon after finishing Mahoromatic.

I will say I enjoyed the various Evangelion parodies, as well as the ?food chart? pyramid of Science Fiction series and where a number of notable ones showed up.

In Summary:
Abenobashi got some chuckles out of us but no outright laughs. I like the look of the show and the actual presentation of the show in general is fantastic, but there?s just something about these early episodes that simply didn?t click right with us. Sasshi and Arumi travel between parallel worlds and try to defeat demons so that they can get home again, so there?s a lot of things to parody and homage, but much of it just falls flat for me.

Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,AD Vid-Notes(tm),Clean opening and closing animation

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: C+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 17 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi