It was with bated breath that I approached Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi; despite being another hyped up series from the Ã¼ber-creative minds at GAINAX, I didn’t have a clue about what to expect. 100 minutes later and I am still unsure about what the heck I had just seen- ‘slice of life’ drama, parody, science fiction, dancing mushrooms- how can I sum that up?
If anything, Abenobashi is an anime brimming with unbounded imagination. The basic framework of a simple pointA to pointB journey is put in place before even an episode begins, allowing the Abenobashi writers to fully unleash their jagged enthusiasm and be as creative as possible. We somehow reach the end of each episode and wonder what the feck just happened- the story moves at such a break-neck speed that everything becomes a blur; Abenobashi is funny but also exciting- to attempt to pigeonhole it any more than that, especially within a specific genre, would frankly be futile.
For a story that quickly becomes so off-kilter and weird, Abenobashi begins with a rather jarring coming of age episode.
Arumi (girl) and Sasshi (boy), both 12 years old, have been friends since time began. Having lived in Osaka all their short lives, both their families have been running old-fashioned stores in the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, but with business becoming thin, the time is coming for these two friends to separate and go their different ways. Sasshi’s family has already moved out of the shopping arcade, but to his amazement, Arumi’s father has plans to relocate his family all the way out to France!
On the brink of separation and at a loose end, Arumi and Sasshi are wandering the streets of Osaka and getting into all kinds of trouble. As they take a break on a street corner, you get the impression that life couldn’t be anymore relaxed and simple for these kids. But then suddenly something weird happens; people start turning into man-sized, dancing mushrooms! Startled, running for their lives and wondering what the heck has just happened, Arumi and Sasshi turn a familiar street corner home but somehow end up bang in front of a medieval-looking castle. This isn’t their familiar old shopping arcade? What the heck has just happened?
And so begins the zany adventures in Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi; from amusing parodies of Final Fantasy and Neon Genesis Evangelion to the increasingly weird settings and characters, it’s all delivered to the viewer with a knowing wink and a ton of completely random fan-service (big boobs). While some will no doubt be worried that such parodies will rely too much on previous knowledge of the source material, the jokes are never too insular to understand and carry such a raw enthusiasm that you can’t help but be swept away by the extreme character reactions and facial expressions.
Anime is not the only genre to be put though the Abenobashi treatment either, there are send-ups and homages of many classic movies; from the sci-fi landmark ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ to Bruce Lee’s ‘Game of Death’.
Every episode, like a video game, begins in a different world (or level) and requires Arumi and Sasshi to defeat a big magical goblin (or boss) before being able to attempt to get home.
Each world is as fantastically visualized as the next (by artists obviously revelling in their creative freedom), ranging from a bizarre future utopia to a distant medieval land, it’s just great fun to see all the over-the-top comedy and vivid action carried out inside such colourful and exciting landscapes.
The two main characters; Arumi (up tight) and Sasshi (laid-back) bounce off each other well and add to the situational humour with their constant clashes of personality. Similarly, the supporting characters are equally as funny– just look out for a gross old-age (and unshaven!) transvestite. The only real weak-link is the typical fan-service (big boobs) template called ‘Mune-mune’; her mundane and cliché presence seems rather uneventful when compared with the other larger-than-life personalities.
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi #1 was a really fun experience. Despite sending up classic anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion as well as cult favourites like Fist of the North Star, there will no doubt be a few jokes and parodies that pass you by – but do not worry, Abenobashi has something for everyone and is worth catching if just to witness an anime studio like GAINAX again reaching their creative top form. Similarly, Abenobashi is visually striking; so brilliantly coloured and full of life that you are immediately drawn into the wonderful parallel worlds that inhabit the Abenobashi universe.