Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi Perfect Collection (Tin) (of 1) (

By:Martin Thom
Review Date: Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What They Say
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 and Sasshi seem to be normal, 12 year old kids living in Osaka, but we soon find out that 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, 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 the madcap, whacked out world of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi!

The Review!
For my primary viewings, I listened to the Japanese 2.0 stereo language track. It was mixed fairly well throughout, so that voices, music, and sound effects all came through on the correct channels to make it sound realistic. The audio on the discs was very clear with virtually no noticeable hiss or glitches. For the English language version, the remixed 5.1 audio was fairly good, although the difference was most prominently noticeable during heavy action scenes when the series had shooting, explosions, or a dozen or more characters on screen at once (all talking). For the audio commentary tracks, the sound was crisp and easy to understand. For the dubbed track, Sasshi’s and Arumi’s voices became rather annoying very quickly, as they used a thick Southern drawl in lieu of the heavy Osaka dialect spoken in the Japanese version. However, the actors did a very good job portraying the characters. While not necessarily trying to directly imitate the Japanese voices, they gave a different touch to it overall.

Being digitally animated in 2002, the video transfer was very clean. It especially stood out for a series so prominent in vibrant colors and contrast with exceptional attention to detail. Gainax provided exquisite detail to the shopping arcade; main focal points were almost always easy to spot, despite the often distracting backgrounds, due to the contrast in lucidity. Some of the subtleties present in the backgrounds still stood out more than the scenery itself, such as rust on poles (which would later become very important) and the ever-present references and parodies.

For the “perfect collection” edition of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, ADV chose to put four thinpak-style cases inside a metal tin with the show’s English logo embossed on the top. The cases themselves contain the artwork used for the original single DVD release on the outside (except for a few minor differences with the description box at the bottom on the back, such as the change in rating from “recommended 17+” to “TV MA”) but, unfortunately, do not have any of the reversible cover artwork. Also, while the discs contain the same digital extras as were included with the single volume releases, they did not reprint the “Weekly AbenoSpoiler” newspaper inserts. The tin itself is very plain, the text on the top being the only enhancement from a generic silver metallic box. While it could look nice if you were to display it facing forward and horizontally, it doesn’t look very nice on a shelf. Also, not having anything on the spine, it’s impossible to tell what it is without pulling it out to look at it (assuming you have one or more of the other Gainax perfect collection series). The discs themselves are screen printed with the same images used on the original single volume releases except for the copyright date around the edge.

Each of the four volumes have different menus, and definitely deserve credit for their creativity. Expanding upon themes from the show, each volume’s menu is distinctly different, yet still easy to navigate. While using various layouts, such as a video game dialog selection box, all of the options are still lined up nicely vertically and horizontally. Also, there is virtually no load time, as none of the menus have elaborate animation sequences associated with them.

The extras for this series are definitely above-average for most, containing full-length episode commentaries, bloopers and outtakes from the dubbing, and clean opening and ending sequences. However, all of these are blown away by the essential ADVid Notes which can be activated here. Even for those with an extensive knowledge of anime, Japanese culture and history, American cinema, military paraphernalia, dinosaurs, etc., the show has so many references to other things that it’s virtually impossible for anyone to catch all of them, especially watching through only once. Since the Notes pop up on the screen throughout the episodes, it can be incredibly difficult to follow everything that’s happening, especially if you’re watching it subtitled. To fully appreciate them, you will either have to pause frequently, or watch the episodes more than once.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Nothing is sacred. Not since Excel Saga have I seen a series so intent on making a mockery of all things otaku. The initial episode of the series – which is also, by far, the most normal – has very little in the way of references to other things. Focusing on introducing all of the main cast, you get a feel for how the family of the Turtle Bath (Sasshi’s family) and that of the Pelican Grill (Arumi’s family) interact with each other and amongst themselves. The local drag queen, Aki-san, also introduces herself quite flirtatiously which is, quite honestly, horrific and hysterical at the same time. Her antics through the series provide some incredibly amusing if not distasteful jokes. We also see at the end of the first episode that Sasshi’s life’s dream is to do a next episode preview, although Arumi manages to interject so frequently that he’s unable to do anything but answer her retorts.

The first main arc of the series begins with episode 2. Having seen people turn into giant mushrooms performing morning calisthenics, Sasshi and Arumi run like mad from the temple only to find themselves ultimately on a lone island in a sea of nothingness, with only a door leading to a rainbow connecting it to a medieval French castle. For poor Arumi everything goes downhill from here. For each episode, Sasshi realizes that they must complete a task or reach a certain goal in order to defeat a goblin hiding in each of the worlds. Upon defeat, the goblin agrees to grant them one wish, which is always to be sent back to their original world, but which never seems to work out. While somewhat frustrated with these strange events, Sasshi is elated to be able to show off his knowledge of all things otaku. Each “world” they visit is populated by the people we met in episode 1, but they’re not the same people, per se. Instead, they are characters who fit in that world, be it a king, an underworld mafia boss, or a scantily-clad policewoman. Two mystery figures also appear, though: the well-endowed and over-the-top flamboyant Miss Mune-Mune, and the enigmatic Eutus. Neither one is ever around when the other is, although Mune-Mune expresses a strong desire to find a certain man. While the writing is very clever and the series is hysterical in many places, it does contain a certain amount of toilet humor.

Slightly past the mid-point of the series, the plot shifts slightly. Still being thrown from one level of insanity to another in the form of various Abenobashis, both the mystic symbol used for the transportations and the pentacle are both revealed as an advanced science. Unmasked as part of the ancient art of onmyou mystics, Sasshi decides that the best way to find a way back to their own world is to become an onmyou mystic himself. While Arumi continues to desire nothing more than to return to reality, Sasshi continues to show a reluctance to leave the madcap worlds they’ve been going through. He also learns a startling truth as to what triggered these events in the first place. With a strong resolve to shield Arumi from a painful reality of which she is unaware, Sasshi uses his newfound abilities as an onmyou mystic to create a world in which he believes Arumi will be happy. Things escalate into a war between them (both figuratively and literally) as she becomes exceedingly more frustrated with Sasshi’s inability to get them back to their own world. Coinciding with these antics, Mune-Mune continues to inexplicably appear and interfere (interact?) with the other characters in the worlds. One thing for which I was grateful, though, was that they abridged the Drag-on Ball Z parody.

More information about the past surfaces, removing slowly the veils of mystery hiding the true nature and identity of both Mune-Mune and Eutus, as well as Sasshi himself. The series now takes a turn for the serious from time to time, if only briefly. Even Arumi agrees that one of the previous episodes was downright depressing at times!

When everything finally becomes clear to Sasshi, he must make a decision which would be difficult for any adult, much less a child: is it better to live happily in eternal fantasies, or face reality? Will Sasshi and Arumi ever get home again? And will poor Sasshi EVER get to fulfill his life’s dream of doing a next episode preview?!

In Summary:
The series is quite good, but caters heavily to the hardcore fan. It is definitely not for everyone, especially those who prefer a storyline with greater overall meaning. I also do not consider this to be one of Gainax’s greater works. While excelling in comedic value plus incorporating parodies, allusions (and illusions) to other series, and obscure references, I was slightly displeased with the fairly abrupt ending. The series builds on a very serious theme which looms in the background of the latter half, but fails to address it fully. Overall, I would recommend this show primarily to long-time anime fans and/or Gainax fanatics, although gamers will definitely appreciate some of the worlds as well. If you liked FLCL, you will probably like Abenobashi as well.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,All extras from single volume releases

Review Equipment
Panasonic 30” CRT TV, Philips DVP5140 progressive-scan code-free DVD player via composite video cables, Pioneer VSX-D400 receiver with 5.1 channel speaker system.

Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: A
Extras Rating: A-
Age Rating: TV MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi