Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi Vol. 2
Call me a sucker for comedies...and crossworld fantasies...and characters with huge breasts that are named Mune Mune, but I can't get enough of Abenobashi. The worst thing about it is the fact that each DVD only has three episodes (so far), and that it's only destined to have 4 discs in the whole series.
GAINAX has become notorious for its relatively far-out series of late. Evangelion is still pretty controversial (even if the controversy is between people who claim it's controversial and people who say it isn't) ten years after its initial run, and FLCL bent the minds of a whole new generation when it appeared on the Cartoon Network's lineup last year.
Abenobashi is by no means tame, but for the most part, unlike FLCL and even Eva to some degree, it is quite possible to follow what's going on.
Luckily for those of us who respect GAINAX because they make weird stuff, knowing what's going on does not make this series any less bizarre, or less enjoyable, for that matter.
Sasshi and Arumi are two average kids living in what's left of the once-popular Abenobashi shopping arcade. Redeveloped in the aftermath of World War II to be a consumer's dream, the area was filled with shops, restaurants, and other attractions. It became the center of the lives of a town's worth of people, but as times have changed in Japan, it is no longer as active as it once was.
What few people know, however, was that much of the success of the arcade was due to the mystical considerations that went into the area's design. In the second disc, we finally learn more about Abe-sensei, the brilliant man who helped to make Abenobashi a reality.
Four areas of the district were set as karmic lynchpins in the cardinal directions. Each area was guarded by a sacred animal - the turtle, bird, dragon, and tiger (Fushigi Yugi fans should know their Japanese names), and four individual shops housed these holy beasts.
However, by the time the story begins, only one animal remains in place. The other three shops have closed. And then, in the first episode, the final statue representing the bird is accidentally destroyed.
Thus begins the madness.
The next day, Arumi and Sasshi realize that Abenobashi has changed...into a medieval kingdom. From then on, episode after episode, the two kids must find a goblin in each new world and force it to use its magic to send them home. After repeated failed attempts, perhaps the children's journey is not entirely the fault of these strange little creatures.
Arumi and Sasshi are Osakan, and so many of the jokes are standard comedic fare for that region. There's a lot of slapstick, and more parody than most viewers will be able to appreciate. From Evangelion to Jurassic Park, this show pokes lighthearted fun at everything any respectable otaku could love, and while it's fast-paced, it never gets to be too much.
The animation is excellent, with Mad House helping out with the production. The look and feel of the show varies from episode to episode, from overly cartoonish to sophisticated realism, and it's rather impressive. There's a limited use of CG, which blends in with the rest of Abenobashi quite seamlessly. As the art box for the series suggests, this is a bright and colorful show more often than not, and your eyes will love you for watching it. Well, if they were sentient and could love, that is.
As a guy who focuses on the original language soundtrack, the potential controversy surrounding the English dub doesn't affect me too much. Since Arumi and Sasshi are from Osaka, they have a very distinct accent noticeable in Japanese. To reflect this dialect, dub studios usually give such characters an accent in English. Sometimes, it's a Brooklyn accent, and other times, it's a heavy Chicago (gangster-esque) inflection. This time, in a nod to the stereotypical backwater status of most Osakans, Sasshi and Arumi have a Southern accent.
Personally, I don't like to hear exaggerated Southern accents in anime. I love them in real life, but in this show, for me, it was a little annoying. However, many people out there consider this to be a fine dub. So, this is more a matter of personal taste than anything. It's certainly not for me, but perhaps it will enhance your own enjoyment of this excellent show. It's your choice. Ah, the power of DVD.
The most significant extra on this disc is the inclusion of the fan-favorite ADV Vid-Notes. For those of us who aren't perfectly versed in Japanese culture, handy informative windows pop up to explain the more obscure references in the show. Honestly, I doubt even a native Japanese person would get all of the in-jokes, so this is a useful feature indeed. The insert is a very high quality full color booklet printed on nice paper stock and is well worth reading. It's so good, it's almost like another bonus feature, really.
This is easily the funniest series to come along since Excel Saga. It actually has an interesting and surprisingly bittersweet background story that is only hinted at in the show's beginning, but gets revealed by the time the sixth episode comes along. The content is solid, the jokes are fast and frequent, and even the music entertains - this is a great series to get into. The sometimes juvenile humor might offend some viewers out there, so consider yourself warned if you avoid shows with a slight fixation on panties and frequent nosebleed-inducing situations. Otherwise, enjoy!