ADV Films // 2002 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // June 10th, 2004
Sasshi, I don't think we're in Osaka anymore!
One of the problems with reviewing comedy is that it's so subjective. The good news is that Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi has enough stuff crammed in that pretty much anyone will laugh a few times. This is a problem for the series as well, but more about that later. This volume has four episodes:
* "Mystery! Abenobashi Shopping Arcade"
Sasshi and Arumi are two teenagers living in the Abenobashi neighborhood in Osaka. Shopping arcades are falling out of fashion, though, and the small stores in the neighborhood are moving away to be part of modern shopping centers. Arumi has just learned that she will be moving away with her family. With the future of the area looking grim, the two of them look into the past and find a mystery surrounding the shopping arcade. When they discover more about this mystery, they are magically cast into another dimension. This first episode is actually quite slow, taking quite a bit of time to set up the characters as well as the neighborhood.
* "Adventure! Abenobashi Sword and Sorcery Shopping Arcade"
Sasshi and Arumi find themselves in a fantasy world, modeled after a variety of video games and films. They are sent on a quest to battle an evil lord, but Arumi spends all of their funds on a little trinket, so Sasshi keeps getting killed by a large breasted woman named Mune-mune in a variety of costumes. This episode is the one that really sets the tone for the series. Jokes fly at an insane pace, the humor is bawdy and silly, and none of it makes any sense. Some of the gags work quite well, but just as many fall flat or feel horribly out of place.
* "Hook Up! Abenobashi Great Milky Way Shopping Arcade"
In this third episode, our two young heroes have found themselves in a futuristic version of the shopping arcade. A goblin steals Arumi's panties (don't ask) and she spends the rest of the episode trying to get them back. Sasshi, beginning to realize that they will need to learn the rules of each dimension to defeat it, finds himself right at home and begins a battle with the goblin that keeps getting more silly by the minute. This is the weakest episode on the volume, mostly because too much time is spent on the panties subplot and fan service and not enough time is spent on the space battle.
* "Fire it Up! Abenobashi Hong Kong Combat Shopping Arcade"
In this last episode on the volume, Sasshi and Arumi are transported to a Hong Kong action version of the shopping arcade. Sasshi is talked into joining a combat tournament by Mune-mune (well, I'm not sure it's what she says that convinces him, but you know what I mean). The plot sort of follows his training and the actual fight. Because it's slightly more focused on plot than the previous episode, it works somewhat better overall.
Unfortunately, there are a number of things that prevent the start of this show from being what it could be. The first of these is the similarity between all of these episodes. Because each of them exists as a parody of a different genre, each episode should take on the trappings of that genre. It would be cool if the animation, pacing, and style changed slightly each time, but that doesn't seem to happen. Instead, all that really changes are the backgrounds and Mune-mune's costumes. The actual combat tournament in the last episode takes up about three minutes, even though that's where most of the humor of the parody comes from. Instead, so much time is wasted on the same couple gags and shots of Mune-mune's breasts. The formula of the show is actually quite good, with a premise that should make each episode feel exciting and fresh.
Another one of the problems is the disparity between the ideal audience and the target audience. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi certainly deserves the 17+ rating that ADV has plastered on the back. There are more sexual innuendoes than on a fan fiction site and less clothing than a fan art site. At the same time, the pacing of the show and the nature of the jokes seems to be aimed at a much younger audience, perhaps between the ages of ten and fourteen. The audience the show will appeal to most shouldn't be watching it, and the audience that should be allowed to watch the show could have handled a lot more subtlety and sophistication.
The concept of changing urban environments and what impact they have on areas like Abenobashi is an interesting concept for the series to explore. There is a rich sense of tradition in the neighborhood, one that will probably be lost very soon. It's also a chance for Sasshi and Arumi to have a last summer of imagination before settling into their adult lives. These themes are introduced in the first episode, but they are completely forgotten once the two characters start getting warped into different dimensions.
Despite all my complaints, there are a number of extremely funny parts in Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. Most of the humor is visual, and whether it gets repetitive or not, it's pretty darn funny. This is a series that fans of the Scary Movie franchise need to check out, because it's an example of that type of humor done right. There is also a complex web of cultural references that North American audiences will not get at all. Although this is a problem, initially, ADV has included optional on-screen video notes that explain a number of these references. Many of these are helpful, though I found they sometimes comment on the action rather than explain things, which just made things more cluttered and confusing. Still, after a run through the series with these notes on, subsequent viewings are much more entertaining.
The animation throughout the series is never less than stunning. Gainax has a great reputation for animation, and they continue to impress here. The characters look great, and the backdrops are complex and detailed. ADV has done justice to this animation with a beautiful widescreen transfer, definitely among the best technical transfers I have seen from them. The sound is good as well. The original Japanese track is better than the dub track (as always), but this film is so full of things that a run through dubbed helps to catch all the visuals.
This volume is fairly light on special features. There is a commentary track on the third episode with the two lead voice actresses, which should be avoided at all costs. It seems that someone got them drunk one night, then dropped them unprepared into a voice studio and showed them the episode and got them to talk about it. They spend half the time pointing out obvious things on the screen, and the other half of the time talking about where they came from and what other roles they have played recently. In the end, the two voice actresses just come off looking dumb.
Also included is a nice twelve-page booklet with newspaper articles commenting on the events of the episodes. It's actually pretty interesting, but I don't recommend reading it before you watch the episodes.
It's hard to know how to recommend this series. Fans of loud, crazy anime and great animation should definitely check it out. Other anime fans should give it a rent to see if this brand of humor works for them. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is not a bad show, but I feel that the incredible potential of it hasn't been anywhere near realized in this first collection. Hopefully further volumes will start to be interested more in plot and less in fan service.
Because it looks nice and has plenty of laughs, the first volume of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is fully acquitted of all charges. ADV is allowed to go as well, except the two voice actresses who are not allowed to be involved in a commentary track again. Dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2004 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* AD Vid-Notes
* Voice Actress Commentary