Abenobashi: Magical Shopping Arcade Vol. 1
I'm not sure if I am the only one who feels this way (perhaps I'm more ecchi than I thought), but Abenobashi is one of the funniest manga series released in a long time. It is completely unpredictable -- even if you've seen the anime series -- and appeals to the otaku in me.
And then there's the blatant self-mocking fanservice that any Satoru Akahori creation must have, as required by law. At least, I think it's a law.
If not, it should be.
This series runs parallel to the animated version, and while the general idea and events are similar, the way everything plays out is slightly different. The manga is certainly more raunchy than the anime, but it's -- undeniably -- every bit as hilarious.
Sasshi and Arumi are childhood friends about to be separated by the steady economic degradation of their neighborhood, the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade. Sasshi's family ran a once-bustling bathhouse (his grandmother was quite a looker in her prime, attracting plenty of clients), and Arumi's household ran a popular restaurant.
Over the years, the floundering Japanese market and general disinterest in traditional shopping venues has led to Abenobashi's decay, though Sasshi never thought it would experience a spiritual failure in addition to its physical breakdown.
The Arcade was designed by a mysterious Onmyoji (mystic) who used Sasshi's bathhouse, Arumi's restaurant, and two other buildings as locations for four sacred anchors. At each site, one of the four revered animals -- a bird, dragon, turtle, and tiger -- was placed, forming the lynchpins that tied Abenobashi to reality. When the final binding artifact was destroyed inadvertently, Sasshi and Arumi found themselves in a strange alternate version of their hometown.
In that way, this series is similar to Quantum Leap; each short episode finds the two jumping into a new scenario. Rather than leaping into a situation requiring the aid of the heroes, however, Sasshi and Arumi keep arriving in fanboy fantasies.
If one examines the creators behind Abenobashi, then it's easy to see how it got to be so odd, funny, and ultimately entertaining.
First of all, it was concocted by GAINAX, which explains the weirdness. It's somewhat convenient that GAINAX can refer to its own shows when trying to exhibit extreme otakuism. If an episode needs to refer to giant robot anime, then how could they not toss in an Eva reference?
In addition to GAINAX's wacky touch, the story was written by Satoru Akahori. Akahori is the mastermind behind some of the holy grails (if there was more than one grail, that is) of entertaining fanservice series, such as Sorcerer Hunters, Mouse, and Saber Marionette.
One key to making a series such as Abenobashi work is to ensure the end goal of the creators. Their aim shouldn't be to produce something simply funny or sexually appealing. Abenobashi is a manga series that has a surprisingly solid story and an impressive theme lurking underneath the gratuitous boob and panty shots. In this tale, the creators give the impression of never taking anything seriously, and then suddenly throw in a sobering plot twist that justifies all of the strangeness.
It takes admirably talented writers to present a show that appears to be handcrafted for teenage fanboys and then turn it on its head, making it a thoughtful, touching story.
This is only the first book (of two), and the plot is bound to feature more twists and turns in the concluding manga.
TOKYOPOP's adaptation is good, with honorifics staying in place. I also appreciate the fact that the Osakan accents of Sasshi and Arumi weren't overblown to annoying proportions, as they often are when dubbed into English. To my dismay, there's a big, ugly "explicit content" warning label on the cover, blocking some cute artwork. I wish it could have been a sticker or wrapped in plastic like Del Rey's version of Negima.
As far as censorship goes, I can't tell that anything has been removed - there's plenty of naughty innuendo and comedic nudity (yes, nudity can be funny), so it's not for kids. Regardless, Abenobashi is not designed in any way to be erotic.
When a giant female warrior pummels a dragon to death with her naked breasts, it's somewhat clear that comedy is a little more important than sexuality.
The character designs are attractive - Arumi is particularly cute, and Sasshi's cowboy hat is a great touch to make him more than just a Shinji (of Eva fame) from Osaka.
Artwork ranges from renderings of dinosaurs to spaceships to ninjas, and it's all done rather well. Parodies are easily spotted, and I particularly enjoyed the "Banangelion" giant robot chapter.
Abenobashi has managed to supplant Excel Saga as my favorite comedy. It's consistently funny, but boasts an unusually strong and sensitive core storyline that will surprise fans. You'll be impressed and entertained at the same time - a feat which is none too common. And if you like the manga, you should really check out the anime version.
GAINAX always makes me happy, and Abenobashi is no exception.