What They Say:
Arumi and Sasshi seem to be normal, twelve-year-old kids living in Osaka, but things are not what they seem. Suddenly, Arumi and Sasshi find themselves in a world like their own… only not! As they try to fight their way back to the real world, they’ll face menacing mushrooms, big-breasted space pirates, killer kung-fu fighters, a tripped-out transvestite, and a sorcerer who seems to be in a mid-life crisis. And that’s just the beginning. They say there’s no place like home, but this ain’t exactly Oz, and it sure as heck ain’t Kansas! So, hold on to your hats and get ready for one wildly wacky, frenetically funny ride as reality takes an extended vacation in the madcap, spaced-out world of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi.
The audio presentation for this series is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps and the English language mix done at 448kbps for its 5.1 mix. The series has a pretty dynamic forward soundstage mix because of the hyperactive nature of what’s going on and the show pulls it off pretty well. With fast paced dialogue and lots of sound effects hitting all over the place, there’s some good placement throughout and some fun moments where depth is there as well. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2002, the transfer for this thirteen episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is spread across three discs in a four/four/five format to accommodate the minor extras and commentary tracks. With Gainax behind the show, it has a pretty good look to it with lots of colors and detail and the transfer captures it quite well. There are some areas where the backgrounds have a bit of noise and some of the CG effects aren’t as clear as they could be, which is part of the source and the time it was made, but in general the overall look of the show through the transfer here holds up well. With no visible problems when it comes to line noise or cross coloration, this is an easy pick-up if you missed it before.
The packaging for this release is presented in a single sized keepcase that holds all three discs. The front cover has a lot of white space to it as it uses some of the symbols from the show in gray along the back while the front has even more white with Arumi’s outfit. The show has some good color to it, particularly the red stripe for the logo, and the character artwork brings a few more colors to the table as well. It’s not a standout cover but it has a good look overall and definitely catches your eye with the color mix. The back cover works with the same colors while having a bit more overall due to the character artwork and the shots from the show that cover parts of it. With the white background it has a very clean look though and an easy to read show summary. The discs features are all listed clearly and the bottom rounds things out with the well done production credits and technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu layout features something of the frantic nature of the show each disc using varied pieces of artwork from the previous editions of the show as the main static image. The colors have a lot of pop and the detail looks good and it’s all set to a brief part of the opening song and the menus are anamorphic as well. Submenus load quickly and without any problems while the discs default to the English language with sign/song subtitles..
This edition of the release looks to have all the extras we had on the original discs as we get the very fun and helpful Vid-Notes which provide numerous cultural and visual in-joke references and puns to life. The Vid-notes work in a fun way with a small demon face used as the icon this time. I don’t think the Vid-notes worked as well this time though; it seemed like there was the inclusion of more (attempted) funny bits within the Vid-notes rather than explaining what the jokes were – though they do perform that feature most of the time. It just felt like there were more superfluous notes included that filled the screen more than needed. The notes in general felt more intrusive on the show, particularly the first episode and less so in later ones, that I got the feeling that the show may have worked better in watching it without the notes first and then re-watching it with the notes on again afterward.
There’s also a few minutes worth of dub outtakes. These are done pretty well, with the section done properly showing up first and then the outtake itself following it. A commentary track with the two lead actresses, Luci Christian and Jessica Boone, is also included. The provide their comments and comedy during the third episode of the series, though they had to restart at one point due to one of them giving away supposed major plot developments later in the show and having to have them edited out. There’s some amusing anecdotes about the shows production and other actors, but the commentary track feels more like the two of them are sitting on the couch with you and joking about the shows jokes with you than anything else.
And rounding it all out, there are clean versions of the shows opening and ending sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
During the Gainax revival period of the early part of the last decade, we got some interesting shows that have, for the most part, not held up too well in comparison to what they did in the years before them. Abenobashi in its original viewing left me fairly cold, partially because of the four disc format it was released in which stretched things out and you didn’t see the connective tissue all that easy. There were a lot of things to like if you enjoyed shows that play parodies and satires of other genres and specific properties, especially when they run through their whole Hollywood segment, but that can carry a show only so far. And with Abenobashi, Gainax took its time in really making it clear what it wanted to be about..
The series starts off simply enough as we follow two young kids, geeky Satoshi (usually called Sasshi) and his near-girlfriend Arumi, a short tempered girl. Sasshi has just returned home from summer camp only to find that his family has not only moved, but their old building has been torn down and all his ‘fruits of geekdom’ have been destroyed. Arumi doesn’t feel too much sympathy, partly because she reveals that her family is getting ready to move in a few weeks from Osaka to Hokkaido since her father wants to flex his French culinary cooking skills someplace better. Sasshi reacts like any young boy who doesn’t know how to express himself at this time and just stares at the ground.
The two come across nicely as a good set of friends who would otherwise grow into something more as they get older, but the fates look set to tear them apart before it can really get anywhere. Their exchanges and dialect are rife not only with jokes about each other but numerous local puns and other trademarks of the region like Sasshi being smacked by a fan as he acts goofy. The two of them walk around the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade while talking about what’s going on with how their lives are about to change and as they go to the various shops and stores, allowing us to meet the various residents.
The residents are an interesting mix, from Arumi’s father who mixes in French with his Osaka dialect much to her grandfathers chagrin, or the cross dressing guy who knows all the secrets of the Arcade. The families as we meet them are just slightly over the top versions of otherwise normal families, giving them something more rooted in the real world than being outright crazy, much as most of the residents of the Arcade are as well. There’s a feel that some people are just plain strange, but nothing that you don’t see in your own area as well.
The Arcade itself has that rundown feeling, which isn’t surprising since the entire area is being redeveloped. This is said perfectly by Arumi’s grandfather who complains that it doesn’t need to be done since ‘It was all developed fifty years ago!’ That puts the Arcade into nice perspective. But as Arumi and Sasshi work through some minor mystery about their families, they realize that the Arcade’s guardian gods are disappearing, with Arumi’s grandfathers shop being the last one to have one of the Four Gods left as all the other shops have closed. Of course, their discovery times with her grandfather accidentally breaking the guardian object. Though it doesn’t happen right away, this sets into motion certain events.
The Arcade begins to change at one point before Arumi and Sasshi’s eyes, and as they race around trying to figure it out, the entire town falls away and they find themselves outside a fantasy version of Abenobashi. The same looking people, family and all, inhabit this other Arcade, but they’re not the same as where they just came from. The two have stepped into a parallel world, one where they have to defeat the boss (as they quickly find themselves in a variant of numerous video games) before they can go home. Or be transported to the next parallel world, such as the Science Fiction one or the Hong Kong Fighting Tournament one or’
Well, you get the point. Each episode brings the two characters to a new world where they have to understand the rules to get by and then defeat a demon somewhere within it so that it will grant their wish of sending them ‘home’, though the demon invariably sends them to something similar to home. Each of the genres or styles that get worked over have numerous puns, parodies and homages applied, such as lots of 2001 brought into the SF episode or Sasshi training so hard he looks like Kenshiro from Fist of the Northstar. There are a number of amusing parodies and jokes throughout the episodes that work well.
As it goes on, we do get more serious back story that goes beyond just the theme episodes and it has a more balanced feel and didn’t give the impression of going on for far too long. And we even laughed more during it. There’s the hints of larger elements at work during this with Abe and how he operates, talking of things long past and more. The slower pace to the episode, the lack of any true wackiness and the passion of Masa’s character is great. This helps humanize the Arcade even more, even though it’s little more than a concept for much of the episode. It lets us see the kind of passion and effort went into these areas back when the country was being rebuilt. While they don’t do a complete progression throughout the fifty years, there’s some advancement and payoff in Masa’s reflections on this period of his life.
The show does start to do more about how the worlds are created as it goes on and we even see a world that’s tailor made for Sasshi. As they arrive, he suddenly realizes that he’s by himself and Arumi is not to be found. The world looks normal to him with girls going to school before he realizes that they’re all beautiful girls (after one particularly great segment that plays with the last Evangelion episode, which I had seen just a few hours prior). Going down the dating sim route with lots of Tokimeki thrown in, Sasshi is apparently the only real male in the world and all these women are his to go after – and several of them are actively interested in him. He plays the world out like the game it is, even after he finds out that Arumi is here as well but has taken on the role of the goblin, complete with horn.
While Arumi is both repeatedly abused (by the chicken from Hamtaro no less) and repeatedly abuses Sasshi, she finally hits her breaking point and heads off into the sunset. It’s at this point that Eutus arrives and finally decides that there must be a reason he keeps running into these two. He’s particularly taken with how vivid the worlds that Sasshi envisions are and invites him over to his place so that the two can talk. Their journey is a strange one across the dimensions and to a place where Abenobashi is actually just Abeno, back in the Heian era. Of course, it’s not completely Heian since Eutus also has his own personal helicopter he uses to get around and his normal looking residence actually looks like a typical middle-aged mans apartment in present day Japan.
As we learn, Eutus is actually the ancient Omnyou named Abeno Seimei, long revered in Japanese culture and yearly festivals. He explains to Sasshi how he came to that position, what fostered his desires to cross the worlds and why he’s the way he is. It’s all quite amusing in some regards, and parts of his past are told in a very uniquely way of animating it that was very intriguing. What this all allows for is that reasoning behind why Sasshi is able to make these journeys to new worlds and why they’re all basically coming from his own imagination.
So with understanding comes mastery, and Eutus gives Sasshi something of a crash course on becoming an Omnyou. With being able to consciously manipulate things, he tries to make up for the past with Arumi by taking her to a world where she’ll be happy, or so he thinks, which brings us to Fluffy, Bubbly! This world is an insane Candyland on crack kind of place where what Sasshi thinks girls like are all important and Arumi finds herself becoming something of a magical girl. This all plays out while Sasshi continues to be overly cocky in his newfound abilities, which causes plenty of trouble in itself.
While we get a little more of the worlds that get created, things do have to start dealing with reality once more, as much as Sasshi doesn’t want to. It’s an amusing return as Sasshi’s father chastises him for being a kid and not living in the reality. He goes on about how Eutus dealt with him in his past as well but he gave all that “kids stuff” up long ago and lives in the real world now and pushes Sasshi towards it as well, especially since Arumi needs to be getting back to help deal with the vigil for Masa. Sasshi tries to keep everything secret from Arumi but there’s some hint of her remembering their last trip as well. Sasshi tries to leap again and ends up in the kind of world you know Anno would come up with that’s just got some simple crayon drawings since Sasshi can’t think of where to go.
This sequence provides a number of revelations about the nature of things and the why of the show to some extent as well. As the show starts getting to the core of its point, it really hits things in the straightforward obvious manner. It all comes down to that you have to face reality and grow up and not run away from the things that scare you. It’s a simple thing really and it’s launched an uneven series, depending on your point of view. Arumi’s growing quicker into adulthood, which is typically normal for girls, than Sasshi is and she’s got plans for her life. When she starts talking about how going to Hokkaido is something she’s looking forward to since it’s the first stop on where she wants to go with her life around the world, this is something that Sasshi has a hard time understanding. His life has revolved around the Arcade and Arumi for so long that he hasn’t really thought of anything else and sees his abilities as an Omnyou as the best way to keep things like he wants.
Unfortunately, instead of having things move forward like it should, the story cops out in the end. We get a bit of foolery with Eutus after Sasshi makes an impassioned summoning for him where Eutus realizes just who Sasshi really is when he ages him into an adult and lets him use the full extent of his powers. Sasshi’s problems prior to this was that nobody took him seriously since he was a kid, and that was because he IS a kid who has unrealistic expectations of the world. Through Eutus’ involvement, he lets him age briefly into an adult with his full powers but with the desires of his younger self. So that means no dead Masa, no Hokkaido and a revitalization project for the Arcade instead.
Abenobashi was a hard sell for me during its original run with all the wacky material, the lack of a coherent plot at first and the way it seemingly wanted to just do themed parody episodes for a lot of its run. It was made worse in a way by the need for the extensive vid-notes which just meant there was a lot more to take in in order to understand all of it. Watching it in this form definitely made me appreciate it a bit more, as the themes were more apparent considering I’ve seen it once since that original run and knew the gist of it. The parodies do work well and the more that you know the more enjoyment you’ll get out of it. I still find the show a mixed bag at best overall, especially with the way it ends since it felt like such a cheat. There’s enjoyment to be hard with this wave of Gainax shows but they long life just isn’t there.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Vid-Notes, Audio Commentary with Luci Christian, Jessica Boone & John Gremillion, Outtakes, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A-
Released By: Aesir Holdings
Release Date: December 11th, 2012
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.