Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi Vol. #1 (of 4) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, December 13, 2004
Release Date: Monday, November 15, 2004
What They Say
"Sasshi, I don't think we're in Osaka anymore!"
Whoa! Hold on to your hats and get ready for one wildly wacky, frenetically funny ride as reality takes an extended vacation in 'Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi'!
Arumi Asahina and Sasshi Imamiya seem to be normal 12-year-old kids living in Osaka. But in 'Abenobashi' nothing is what it seems! Suddenly, Arumi and Sasshi 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,i 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! So put the kids to bed, leave Toto with the neighbors and get ready to dive into their madcap, whacked-out world of 'Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi'!
Includes 4 complete episodes.
It's more parody and laughs in the same vein as Excel Saga, but this time from ADV and the twisted creators of Evangelion.
I listened to the Japanese stereo track while watching this disc for my review, and noticed no distortions or dropouts. The track itself sounds good with both the dialogue and background music coming across really well. The manic action scenes sound particularly good. I really enjoyed the performances from the cast, with the actors for Sasshi and Arumi being particularly fun and fast paced. The characters tend to talk in Osaka dialect, which is basically slang, so it can't have been that easy at times but they all pull it off really well.
I spot-checked the English language track, which is presented in 5.1, and I noticed no technical problems, though it didn't really seem a great deal different to the stereo track. Luci Christian was an interesting casting choice for Sasshi, but she seemed to be getting along really well from what I heard, so I'll look forward to listening to this in full at some point.
Being a relatively new show, it has the shiny digital look to it and, as has become typical of ADV, a very nice, crisp and sharp anamorphic widescreen transfer. I noticed no artefacts, aliasing or other problems during regular playback, and could just sit back and enjoy it with no distractions. Subtitles are in a clear, yellow font.
Packaged in a clear keepcase, the cover features a bit of a fan-service pose of Arumi as Sasshi is carrying her under his arm. Mune Mune is in the background, in a surprisingly tame shot considering her character. The show's logo is at the bottom, along with the volume number. One thing I'm not too fond of is captions, and there's one here that says "Sasshi, I don't think we're in Osaka anymore!", though thankfully it blends in with the cover and doesn't look too out of place. The back cover features four screenshots, along with a description of the show, a list of special features and the cast list. Technical information is presented clearly at the bottom of the back cover, which is great as always.
The reverse side of the cover features a wrap-around image of Sasshi in his hero's outfit from fantasy land, along with several of the girls from the show including Arumi and Mune Mune in her dragon outfit.
For this release, ADV also put together a series of booklet inserts, and ADV UK have kindly brought them over to the UK as well. They feature a few insights on the characters and happenings in the episodes, and also a couple of really good pieces from Tetsuya Tanaka, who was in charge of the Osaka dialect and comedy rewriting on the series. It's all presented as "Weekly AbenoSpoiler", in a newspaper format that really fits the show well.
The main menu is done up in an almost comic book style, with four panels featuring scenes from the show, and the image of Sasshi and Arumi from the cover on the left hand side. You can pick from the individual episodes, or the languages and special features menu. The two sub-menus are similarly crazy, with a scene from the show playing in a panel on each. Music from the soundtrack also appears on each menu. One thing I'm not too fond of, which ADV do a lot, is that there's no scene select menu. I love being able to jump to individual episodes, but I think a scene select menu is somewhat fundamental to a menu. By biggest complaint about the menus is the transitions when you select an episode. You get a random scene from the show, in English. I'm not bothered that they are dubbed (though I'm sure some will be), but what does is that they are too long. When you're trying to get to the show, you want to get to it quickly without such a long wait.
There's plenty of extras on this first volume. The big draw here is the AD Vid-notes, which are a pop-up video style selection of facts about the show and many of its references that plays along with the on-screen action. There's also a commentary on episode three from voice actors Luci Christian (Sasshi) and Jessica Boone (Arumi), which is quite good fun, especially for fans of English dubs. The two don't really give any great insight into the show, but then that's not really the point of this particular commentary. We also get the obligatory clean opening and clean ending, as well as ADV previews.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I feel like I've been reviewing a lot of comedy lately. With the likes of Slayers and Rune Soldier currently on ADV's release slate, there's plenty of fun for those wanting some laughs. But there comes a time when the comedy becomes a bit much and you feel like you're being overloaded, and things often unintentionally feel forced. It just doesn't seem to fit together. And that's kind of how I feel after watching the first volume of Abenobashi. It's actually a very funny series in places, with a lot of wit and an imaginative style of humour that drives the show. And yet it kind of feels a bit too much at times, almost like the jokes are being thrown in there for good measure.
But it's not all bad, quite the contrary. A lot of this series is actually really good. And when you consider it's from the guys and gals that bought us the mind trip that was Evangelion and the wackiness of FLCL, well, it's in good hands. The series is essentially a parody series, with each episode after the first taking a single theme and running with it, at the same time parodying several different parts of the genre in attempts to make you fall on the floor in a fit of laughter. For the most part, it works really well, and is genuinely funny in a lot of places. It only becomes a bit tiresome on occasion when the humour feels a bit forced.
The first episode introduces us to the main protagonists, a young boy called Sasshi and a girl called Arumi. They lived in Osaka and are good friends, hanging out together all the time. The area they live in, Abenobashi, has a big street lined with shops, where their parents work. But on the day we watch them, Arumi has a bit of bad news. Sasshi has just returned from camp to find that his parents have closed up shop and move away, but not that far. Arumi's parents also want to move as her dad wants a better job, but they will be going to the other side of the country, though her grandfather is resisting. She will be gone at the end of summer, so this is their last one together. As they wander the streets, they meet the amusing cast of characters, including Arumi's dad, who has a habit of injecting French into his sentences (and the characters all tend to speak in Osaka dialogue anyway), to which her grandfather doesn't approve at all, and an amusing transvestite. But as they wander around asking about the history of the Shopping Arcade to take their minds off things, they're told that a store was built on four points to invoke good fortune, with each housing a different statue. There's only one of those shops that remains though, and its statue sits atop Arumi's grandfather's shop. Naturally, he breaks the last one while busy on his roof. From then on, things get weird, as they find themselves in a fantasy land!
As an opener, this episode works quite well. The characters all get a decent introduction and come across quite well. Sasshi and Arumi are only 12, and so have great exuberant personalities, going around the place like they own it, and everyone seems to know who the two are. You get the feeling Sasshi is always causing mischief, while Arumi isn't afraid to stick up for herself. They're both pretty downbeat about moving away, yet they move on like kids that age do, knowing they can't really do much about it. Arumi's father and grandfather cracked me up at times, especially the dad's French habits, and there are some other good characters in there to. They play off each other well and the comedy really comes across in a fun way. The episode also leaves you with a great sense of intrigue at what exactly is going on.
With the introductions over, episode 2 focuses on the pair's adventure in a land of swords and sorcery. The premise gives the creators the chance to parody everything from a few fantasy movie moments, to a number of role-playing game take-offs. Yes, the pair both have hit points and Sasshi frequently ends up dead. They even go and buy some armour and other RPG items. Not to mention that Sasshi is told he's a hero and has to defeat a great Evil Lord - he has a quest! This episode also introduces Mune Mune, an interesting character who takes on a different role in each different "world". But then, that's not unlike everyone else, as we soon find out that this world is not unlike their own, with all the characters (Arumi's dad, Aki, and so on) in different, usually amusing, roles. It ends up being a pretty funny outing for the most part, with the RPG rip-offs in particular invoking a lot of laughs. The atmosphere is perfect, really matching the flavour of your favourite RPG, but the only downside is that a few of the jokes are a little on the repetitious side.
The third episode goes the science fiction route, and was a highlight of the disc for me. Having been sent here instead of home by the fantasy world's goblin, Sasshi and Arumi attempt to hunt the goblin in this world to get back to the real Abenobashi. They manage to find it after Arumi does a pee, but it steals her underwear so it's down to Sasshi to chase the goblin and get it back. It's really funny to watch Sasshi as he goes on the chase, and all sorts of hilarious sci-fi parodies come up. You have giant robots from the likes of Mazinger and Gundam, an absolutely magnificent moment in which Gainax poke fun of themselves and parody the entry sequence from Evangelion. Of course, there's the obligatory reference to Star Wars in a great Death Star parody sequence, and they even sneak some 2001 in. Another great aspect of this episode is the Abeno Angels, three girls who sound suspiciously like the Galaxy Angels, but often look like their outfits are out of a sentai series (the original series that Power Rangers was based off).
The final episode is also pretty enjoyable, this time seeing the pair in a Hong Kong version of the shopping arcade. It's a world rooted with all sorts of eastern culture references, and sees Sasshi forced into competing in a very dangerous martial arts competition in order to get back the Golden Claw for Mune Mune. There's all sorts of funny things going on here, paying homage to Street Fighter and all sorts of martial arts movies, but also two particularly amusing aspects are the way Sasshi ends up becoming a beefcake in the style of Fist of the North Star, and the Dragonball Z moment in the final fight. While this episode is fun, the comedy had begun to feel a little bit of a retread for me by the time it rolled around, which is probably a disservice because it's definitely enjoyable. This is probably a series that is best watched with a bit of a break between episodes and it'll probably do well having one less episode on subsequent volumes, because it does end up like a bit of a comedy overload.
The characters are a lot of fun and really service the stories well. There's the usual Gainax extravagance present in each of them, particularly the likes of Mune Mune, Aki and Arumi's father. But really all of them have their amusing quirks and play off each other well, with Sasshi and Arumi being a great pair that fit well as the leads of the series.
As you'd expect from Gainax, the series is also rife with fan service. Mune Mune is one of the most obvious exhibits, and her obsession with young Sasshi is very amusing at the best of times, especially with the reactions that it invokes in Arumi. But she is also one of the characters that forms a bit of the mystery around the Arcade and its history, and helps provide the hook of the series. Because there's also an old man in each of the parallel lands (who likes to be called "boy"), and he seems to be a key part of Abenobashi Shopping Arcade. There's not really much outside those two intriguing characters that provide much of a hint at an ongoing plot, but it should be fun to see how it pans out (though knowing how Gainax likes to take their series, who knows how it'll end up!).
While there are elements of the comedy that don't work quite as well as the rest, overall Abenobashi hits a lot of the right marks and provides a lot of laughs and plenty of entertainment. It's easy to get sick of comedies when you see so many of them, especially parodies, but with a high energy level and some interesting characters this series pulls it off. While I didn't enjoy it perhaps as much as I might have done had I watched it a bit more spread out, I look forward to the next volume to see what Gainax decide to parody next.
Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (5.1),English Subtitles,AD Vid-Notes,Commentary with Luci Christian (Sasshi) and Jessica Boone (Arumi),Clean Opening & Closing
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: ADV Films UK
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