Judge Brett Cullum is in the market for a contractor who can install a magical shopping breezeway at his vacation cottage—in case you folks have any good references...
Sasshi, I don't think we're in Osaka anymore.
Anime can be an expensive vice for any DVD collector. Titles often come in volumes priced between twenty and forty dollars for one three- or four-episode volume. And then you have to wait months for the next edition to come out. It can be daunting for all but the true believers in the genre. So a big thumbs up to ADV for putting out a lower price point box set of one of their hit shows, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. You get the entire series all in one shot, on three discs in slimline cases, housed inside a very nice cardboard box. The only catch is they've pared down the extras a little. But who can protest too much when the show is such amiable, goofy fun? Anime maniacs everywhere, this one's for you. (Unless you own all the other previously released volumes—in which case, scoff at us newbies to the series.)
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is the touching tale of how modernization and urban development affects two young kids, Sasshi and Arumi, whose worlds are being torn apart by the march of progress. Their families will be forced to move, and they will no longer be the close best friends they have been all their lives. The shopping arcade in Osaka where their families have worked and lived is being torn down in order to build a more modern strip mall. Sasshi has just returned from summer camp, and is reunited with Arumi, who tells her friend she will be moving up North with her French chef father. Both kids plan to just spend some time together before they have to go their separate ways. But then an accident happens: Sasshi's grandfather falls, and a guardian statue of the arcade is broken. That's when the dancing mushrooms come in.
Sasshi and Arumi are suddenly thrust into several madcap worlds that look familiar in some ways, but hold surprising twists at every turn. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi quickly turns into a silly spoof of quick-paced anime and pop culture references, and all sentiment is thrust aside for gut-busting laughs and frequent giggles. The worlds the pair visit include send-ups of a Medieval video game quest, a giant "mecha" show in space, film noir, Hong Kong action, and other variations of pop culture. Each genre's "rules" apply in these worlds, and all the familiar faces from home are in new, surprising roles. It's quite clever that way. Fans of anime will love the references to Pokemon and Voltron; film fans will eat up the movie sections.
Technically, the show is a joy on DVD. Gainax originally produced the series, and together with a production house called Madhouse, they have created a vibrant series with animation that at times looks as good as Disney standards. ADV allows the transfer to sparkle and shine in all the right ways. There are few problems with the treatment of the show, and it has a lot of visual flair to recommend it. As usual, ADV has provided a full surround treatment for their English dub, and left the Japanese track in simple stereo. The sound mixes are both strong, but obviously the English one is more punchy and delivers more power to your speaker system.
The performances on the English dub are strong, but there is one odd choice: they make both leads sport a heavy Southern accent. They were trying to approximate a regional accent found in the original Japanese track, but the people of Osaka are urban and not rural. It would have been more appropriate (and maybe funnier) if Sasshi and Arumi spoke with Bronx accents, or something more distinctly "city." Jessica Boone (Arumi) and Luci Christian do an admirable job even with their decidedly hick accents. Chris Patton and Jason Douglas get to do fun work with their decidedly silly roles as a sorcerer and a transvestite, respectively. The vocal cast from ADV is strong—but I did prefer the original Japanese, if only because it sounded a little more outrageous.
Without all the bells and whistles, this box set of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is still a great buy. Most of the extras in the original releases were just fluffy fun. The only ones missed in any great measure are the video facts, which often pointed out obscure cultural jokes American audiences would miss. I hope ADV decides to release more box sets like this one in the future. It's nice to have everything all at once, and the slim packaging makes it easier to file in with the rest of your collection. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is a lot of fun if you like silly spoofs. Personally, I'm a sucker for them.
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