Review: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (2002)

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This series is cool! Hmm… let me expand on that a little.

It’s insane! No, let’s try that again.

OK, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi contains the sort of insane, inexplicable, nonsensical humour that I find appealing and… erm… comforting [at least for me!]. Y’know, like a good dose of Stephen Chow on anime? Abenobashi is a coming of age story disguised under layers of zany gags and pop culture references with a subplot of family secrets and religious mysticism thrown in for good measure. It has been compared to FLCL so if you enjoyed those, read on.

The sedate and sombre tone of the first episode is actually a little deceptive: 12 year old Sasshi Imamiya discovers the hard way many important things happen when you go away for summer camp — like your prized collection of papercraft figurines gets bulldozed away, along with the family shop you grew up in. More importantly, your best friend tells you she’s moving away to Hokkaido. What a bummer of a summer for the boy!

This premise with an undercurrent of imminent farewell only serves to heighten the emotions of similar dramas occurring around Sasshi and Arumi, our protagonists. The Abenobashi Shopping Arcade — where Sasshi’s and Arumi’s families ran the Turtle Bath House and the Grill Pelican restaurant respectively — is an old run-down arcade, and ripe for redevelopment. So Sasshi and Arumi are not only bidding farewell to each other but to their childhood playground and the colourful characters in the arcade.

But the nostalgia and seriousness don’t last long and certainly not before they embark on the biggest, rip-roaring adventure of their lives!!! [yes, it's that big] All pretences are dropped with a mighty thud when giant dancing mushrooms and flying dragons appear during the last 10 minutes of episode 1. Ah, Toto, we are *so* not in Kansas anymore! From that point, there is no, and I mean zilch, chance of turning back for Arumi and Sasshi or for us, the viewers.

Each episode is like a big non-stop slippery-dip ride and sees the two kids landing in *a* Abenobashi Arcade, but not the one they know of. Cue the many jokes and visual slapstick and crikey do they travel at the speed of light! Some may require a few viewings to grasp, some may never be fully comprehended, perhaps because they are truly obscure but I suspect it’s because they are explicable only to the tripped out brains that spawned them and not for mere anime-viewing mortals such as myself. However if you’ve been around the anime/asian cinema block a few times, you will laugh heartily at spoofs of Ranma 1/2, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, RPGs, Ultraman, Virtua Fighter, Fist of the North Star and even a very good stab at Gainax’s own hit series, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Thanks to the talented, creative and most definitely whacked-out brains at Gainax, Abenobashi is not just a running set of gags. The series never loses sight of the persistent narrative of Sasshi and Arumi’s wanting to get home. As they battle their way to get back to their own world, their crazy adventures reveals the central mystery puzzle a bit more and the roles their grandparents played in it.

The series also pays close attention to such details as the Osaka dialect and its quirks. To fully appreciate Abenobashi one has to appreciate the significance [and the stigma] of its location-Osaka, and that most Tokyo residents think Osaka is a different world altogether and its locals thoroughly bizarre. If it sounds like I’m down with the ins and outs of the Osaka-Tokyo history it’s because I read the little magazine that came with the DVD.

Which brings me to the features of the DVD. Other than the Abenobashi Weekly magazine which contains such gems as “Panty Thief on the loose?”, “The Outlandish World Called Osaka?[parts 1 and 2]” written by Tetsuya Tanaka (the Osaka Dialect and Comedy Rewriter of the series); the DVD itself has commentary by the voice actors for the English dub and AD Vid-notes ?pop-up notes that explain the in-jokes, items of cultural significance and language puns which certainly helps with understanding the series. The English dub is also quite good, the producers settling for a Texan drawl for the characters due to the cultural similarity of Texas and Osaka. Together with the reversible cover, it makes for a good little package indeed.

So to finish off the review: can I please review Volume 2?!

9 panty-wearing goblins out of 10.
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