As the final episodes of Arumi and Saashi’s manic journey draw to a close their disagreement as to whether they should return to their home world manifests itself in the most dramatic possible way: the Shopping Arcade literally becomes a war zone! Our young heroes find themselves enlisted in opposing armies that are fighting for control of the Arcade, yet Saashi still can’t bring himself to tell Arumi about why he doesn’t want to go home. After dodging bullets and bombing each other to smithereens they find themselves in an Abenobashi that seems closer to the one they knew and loved”¦is it finally the end of the road?
As always, the source of humour is as much the parodies of everything from WWII military dramas to Hollywood action flicks as the interactions between Arumi and Saashi. The parody side takes no prisoners: the humour in the penultimate episode makes the leap from Japanese to Western culture effortlessly thanks to the countless Hollywood film references and visual gags; the Battlefield episode, with its chillingly authentic bomb crater-ridden buildings as a backdrop, falls into typical Abenobashi hilarity with the over-the-top weaponry and ruthless mockery of straight-faced military films. Unfortunately Saashi’s repeated failures at getting them home start to become almost annoying, and he hasn’t seemed to have learned from his mistakes.
It is at this point that the story falls down. Right from the start there’s no way of guessing how the series could possibly end, but when the closing credits roll for the last time the final impression is almost disappointing. Of course, it’s not just the destination but the getting there that’s important but I personally was left a little unsatisfied at how the story was wrapped up. The opening episode and the more serious parts of others suggested that there was more to Abenobashi than sharp parodies and zany humour: perhaps a deeper and more serious message about ways of dealing with loss and change that go with the natural process of growing up, for instance. Gainax have a reputation of delivering a powerful message or two in their work, however off-the-wall it may seem with the first viewing (even FLCL had method in its madness) but by the end of Abenobashi I wondered what message the series was trying to leave us with.
With two episodes that maintained the standard of what went before, it is easier to forgive the creators for an ending that is something of a let-down. It is testament to Gainax’s skills in producing high-quality comedy that offbeat humour can be found even on a battlefield; the penultimate episode gives a view of Hollywood from a Japanese perspective that manages to be both very funny and very clever. Sadly, the final episode doesn’t quite meet expectations.
Considering the fact that this series takes on so many different styles and themes during its thirteen episode duration, the quality of the content is of a high standard overall and the ever-helpful AD-Vidnotes DVD extra helps viewers keep up with the endless cultural references and other jokes that might have been lost in translation. The two central characters work well together onscreen, and their age allows for the childlike ability to adapt to situations, no matter how bizarre, without romantic tension complicating their friendship.
What is clear is the level of creativity displayed by the show’s writers. The first episode sets the story up as a slice-of life comedy drama, before taking a sharp turn for the weird very early on and allowing for what is probably the most varied and imaginative series I have ever seen. The episode count is spot-on: it keeps the viewer solidly entertained without the pattern of dimension-jumping outstaying its welcome.
There is one problem that refuses to go away, however. Because of the fact that it’s Gainax, it’s tempting to compare Abenobashi with previous efforts such as the piece of twisted brilliance that is FLCL and look for a deeper meaning; this only heightens the feeling that the final minutes could have achieved so much more. That said, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is sharp, daring, inventive and most of all thoroughly entertaining, which is what really matters.