Reviewby Allen Divers, Dec 29th 2003
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
DVD 1: Volume 1
Having been away at camp for most of the summer, Sasshi comes home to find his family's bath house torn down and the rest of the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade slowly fading from the town of Osaka. As the summer comes to a close, Sasshi and his longtime friend Arumi set out to discover the secrets shared by their grandparents, as well a way to gain back what they've lost.
Of course, the dancing mushrooms seem a bit strange, and Sasshi and Arumi quickly find they ain't in Osaka anymore! Now they find themselves trapped in a world that's almost like home, with familiar faces, but things still aren't quite right. Just who are the mysterious blue haired sorcerer and the big-breasted red-head that keep chasing them around? And will Sasshi and Arumi ever find a demon that can just send them home?
When they're not busy wringing money out of the Evangelion franchise, Gainax has a habit of creating some of the most unique series in existence. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, sounding a bit like a soap opera, starts off as a simple coming of age story that evolves into a manic adventure. To make things even more interesting, Gainax throws in plenty of self-referential humor as well as friendly jabs at the many different genres of anime and pop-culture, both Japanese and American, which inspired some of Gainax's greatest works. While searching to describe this series, names such as FLCL and Excel Saga come to mind. While some may get stuck on comparing this series to those works, Abenobashi goes out on its on as a rip-roaring adventure that grabs then strangles the very medium that spawned it.
Featuring the first four episodes of the series, volume one starts as a standard example of an ADV DVD release. Digging out a feature from their release of Excel Saga, ADV uses AD Vid-Notes to pass on tidbits about cultural references as well as pointing out many of Abenobashi's references to other pop-culture icons. Another nice touch is the actor commentary from the English leads. While they share little insight into the depth of Abenobashi's story, they still have quite a bit of fun laughing at the show.
Really mixing things up is the amount of random zaniness entrenched within the disc. Starting up the disc can bring up any one of the different FBI warnings it contains. Each plays off a theme from each of the episodes of the series using the various voice actors in character. This is probably one of the few times viewers will be starting and stopping a disc repeatedly to see each one. The menus of the disc also feature different transitions depending on what episode you are watching, bouncing mushrooms and various music clips from the show. There's nothing quite like listening to the Eva fight music while turning the vid-notes on and off. Many of the visual jokes in the menus play out from the animation of the series.
While Gainax was the main producer of this series, they farmed out the animation to Madhouse. Madhouse, known for Trigun and many of the CLAMP titles, dives right in, creating a very vivid world. The artwork and animation for this show mixes in a lot of different styles, working their way through the various worlds that the main characters find themselves in. What's fascinating about the entire visual look is how the character designs and animation style are constantly changing depending on the situation and action on the screen. Madhouse does a great job of keeping the transitions smooth, helping to add to the overall comedic affect the show is trying to achieve.
For the English soundtrack, ADV relied on Industrial Smoke and Mirrors to get the job done. Directing duties went to Don Rush, whose work on Full Metal Panic and Neo-Ranga probably didn't prepare him for this show. Don put together a strong cast, with Luci Christian taking on the role of Sasshi and Jessica Boone as Arumi. The rest of the recurring characters are the standard array of the ADV stable, with Chris Patton playing a mature sorcerer going through a bit of a midlife crisis (Call me Bro!) and Jason Douglas, of Ilpallazzo fame, playing the role of a male cross dresser named Ms. Aki. To capture the feel of the Osaka accent heavily portrayed in the Japanese soundtrack, many of the English portrayals adopt the use of a slight Texas drawl. Depending on how close to Texas you may live, your own interpretation of slight may not cover how this sounds. At first, the accent grates on the nerves, but after a while, its use falls into a sense of normalcy.
Whichever language the viewer may prefer, Abenobashi starts off slow, establishing the world Sasshi and Arumi live in, then drops any chance of normalcy with a night filled with dragons and a group of exercising mushrooms. From there, things really go insane as Sasshi and Arumi find themselves trapped in different versions of the shopping arcade they both grew up in. The show quickly moves from its rather dramatic start of a doomed way of life to a series of continuous parodies on RPG video games, Big Robot and Sci-Fi stories and a bit of Hong Kong action flick to round out the disc. Abenobashi relies on a simple premise, but it's what happens on the way to the end of each episode that makes the trip enjoyable.
Volume one of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi delivers what the folks at Gainax have built their reputation on. Starting a bit slow, Abenobashi quickly evolves into a non-stop joke-laden parody series that pulls no punches as it pokes fun at everything. While newbies may have to rely hard on the AD Vid-Notes, longtime anime fans will be giggling themselves silly as Abenobashi rampages through each episode building on obscure reference after obscure reference. Fans looking for the next funny thing shouldn't go any further than this great series. A bit late for one of the best series of 2003, Abenobashi is sure to be a big series for 2004.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Hilarious send up of the very medium that spawned it
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