Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Complete Collection (anime TV series)

I saw the first two episodes of this show on TV ages ago and wanted to see the rest of it ever since. Now that I've seen it all, I'm not quite sure what to think. It had more serious moments than I expected, it wasn't as consistently funny as I expected it to be, and the ending felt a bit like a cop out.

For your information, my copy of this is the complete collection available in a tin. The tin has four DVDs contained in four thinpak cases, which are kind of annoying to get out of the tin if you just want to get one case out at a time. I ended up dumping all four out and just leaving them out while I watched the show. I don't usually get anime in tins, but, if you can believe it, of the on sale options I was looking at, the one with the tin was the cheapest. The tin is just plain silver with the title of the show on it, so the image I used for my post is actually the image that's on the bit of paper that was stuck to the back of the tin.

Synopsis:

Arumi and Sasshi are two kids who have lived their whole lives in the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade area in Osaka. However, times are changing, and all the shops in the area are closing up for good. One of the only ones left is Arumi's grandfather's restaurant, and that one may not be open much longer because Arumi's father, the cook there, wants to go off and try his skills in a bigger, better place in Hokkaido. Arumi is pretty adaptable and is actually kind of looking forward to moving to a new place, but Sasshi isn't so happy about the idea of her moving away. The two are briefly distracted, however, by a mystery involving oddly placed animal statues/signs in the shopping arcade and the possible romance Sasshi's grandmother had with the designer of the shopping arcade before it was built and before she married Sasshi's grandfather. Also, apparently Arumi's grandfather was in love with Sasshi's grandmother way back when. Filled with questions only Grandpa Masa (Arumi's grandfather) may know the answers to, they rush to the restaurant to talk to him, only to see him fall off the roof.

Luckily, Grandpa Masa gets caught on some ropes and doesn't fall to the ground, but the pelican statue that was on the roof gets broken. From that point on, weird things start happening. Arumi and Sasshi get transported to a strange version of the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade that's like something out of an RPG. They escape that, only to end up in a world like a sci-fi anime. Then it's off to a world like a fighting- and action-filled world. Their next world is filled with dinosaurs, and the world after that is like some kind of gritty old gangster movie.

By this point, Arumi is thoroughly tired of all of these worlds and just wants to go home. Although even Sasshi doesn't necessarily completely like these worlds either, at least they've been filled with things he likes - and that turns out to be part of the secret of their traveling. Eutus, a mysterious guy the two of them keep meeting in each world, tells Arumi that their attempts to go home keep failing because one of them must not want to go home. Arumi figures out that Sasshi doesn't want to go home because he doesn't want Arumi to move away, but she gets him to promise to concentrate on going home anyway.

Unfortunately, things still don't work out, and they end up in a world that Arumi hates even more than all the other worlds they've been in, a world like a dating sim. Poor Arumi is stuck in the body of an ineffectual goblin, while Sasshi gets to be all lovey dovey with sickeningly sweet girls. Eventually Arumi runs off, and Sasshi is found by Eutus, who offers to train him to travel to better, more logical worlds. Surprisingly, Eutus is from the Heian Period and is actually the legendary onmyoji Abe no Seimei.

A flashback shows what things were like just before the shopping arcade was built. Young Grandpa Masa, Masayuki, had grand dreams about owning a huge French restaurant and marrying Mune (Sasshi's grandmother, and the strange, scantily-dressed woman Arumi and Sasshi keep seeing in each version of the shopping arcade they travel to). Unfortunately for him, Mune falls head over heels in love with the guy Masayuki is helping out, the genius who's designing the shopping arcade, Eutus. In the "past," when he was Abe no Seimei, he fell in love with his friend Masayuki's wife Mune. When Masayuki found out about Mune's infidelity, he killed her and then himself. In an effort to fix things, Abe no Seimei resurrected them both and found himself in the "present" just prior to the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade being built. He figured that, since Mune and Masayuki weren't together, he could be with Mune, but history began to repeat itself. In order to avoid losing people again, Abe no Seimei/Eutus left without a trace.

Sasshi trains hard to be an onmyoji, because he's learned that, if he and Arumi go back to their own Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, Grandpa Masa will be dead - this whole mess started because Sasshi was unconsciously trying to take himself and Arumi to a place where Grandpa Masa was still alive. Now, Sasshi wants to create the perfect world for Arumi, a place she'll never want to leave. Unfortunately, he's a newbie and he kind of sucks. Also, he doesn't have a clue about what Arumi might find fun. The world he creates for her is like an over-the-top warped shojo anime with a dash of fan service for teenage boys thrown in.

Arumi tries to get Sasshi to take them back to their own world, and they end up in a war world instead, fighting each other. After that it's off to a Hollywood world, but then Sasshi's father (!) tries to drag them back to their real world. It turns out that Sasshi's father had the same onmyoji training Sasshi had, because Sasshi's father is really Eutus and Mune's illegitimate child. As Arumi starts to remember what really happened to Grandpa Masa, Sasshi tries to make one last effort to take her someplace else to keep her happy, but he's completely out of ideas. In the end, Sasshi summons Eutus and makes him turn him into an adult - and his adult form just happens to be an experienced onmyoji mystic who doesn't just take himself and Arumi to a different world, but apparently completely rearranges the world so that Grandpa Masa really survives. Everything is back to normal, only Sasshi remembers all the traveling, Arumi's family isn't going to Hokkaido any more, and Eutus and Mune have come, saying they're part of a group that's going to renovate and improve the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade.

Commentary:

My favorite worlds were the ones that used references I had the most experience with - the RPG world, the fighting world, the dating sim world, and the Hollywood world. I also loved the Cardcaptor Sakura reference in the world Sasshi made for Arumi - oh my, it's inbred Cerberus! Of all of them, I thought the RPG world was the funniest, so I was a little disappointed that the stuff I saw on TV was actually about as funny as the show got. Still it was nice to finally get to see the rest of the show.

One thing I should warn potential viewers of this show about - there are quite a few crude jokes, lots and lots of nudity (penises, breasts), and a transvestite. The "outtakes" (which are mostly just scenes dubbed with various alternate jokey lines) included in the extras can get a bit sexual in nature too, and there's an ongoing Michael Jackson joke involving Eutus and Sasshi. If none of that sounds like a problem to you, than feel free to hunt this show down.

This is one of those shows that made me really wish I could understand Japanese - not only that, I'd want to be able to understand multiple dialects. That's one of the reasons I watched this show for the first time with the English dub - I know some people hate it when voice actors fake Southern (or other) accents, but I didn't think they did too badly and at least with the English dub I had a better chance of catching some of the nuances indicated by shifts in the way people spoke. Plus, in a show this joke- and pun-heavy, it really helps to understand what's going on. In the extras section of the DVDs, you can choose to turn on AD Vid-Notes (which are best watched while the Japanese language track is selected) - these are excellent and informative notes that pop up on screen as you watch the show, and they do a good job of indicating when the Japanese actors switched dialects, but they're not something I'd recommend you concentrate on while watching the show for the first time. English dub first, for basic comprehension, Japanese dub with AD Vid-Notes next, for more detailed comprehension.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I thought the ending of this show was a cop out. I know the creators of this show probably figured that a mostly comedic show like this one should probably end happily, but I had gotten to the point near the end of this show where I was seeing it all as a desperate attempt by Sasshi and Arumi to avoid having to deal with Grandpa Masa's death, something that could only be resolved by going back to their own world and back to reality. Instead, the show twists right near the end, and suddenly Arumi and Sasshi aren't having to deal with anything - Sasshi just changes a few details to that everything's just the way he thinks it needs to be again.

In some ways, that's sadder than it would have been if it had ended with Grandpa Masa's death, because, to me, it's like Sasshi chose to continue not growing up. Not only that, his way of remaking things gave Eutus and Mune what they wanted, and left things as they were with Grandpa Masa - I never really thought it was fair that Eutus not only stole Mune from Masayuki when the two were married, but that Eutus's main goal when he brought them both back was to have his cake and eat it, too. He wanted to be able to both have his friend Masayuki around and be with Mune, and I'm thinking the "be with Mune" part was probably the primary goal. There was Masayuki, thinking that Eutus was only thinking of others as he designed the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade, when really all he wanted was to get and keep the girl without any guilt or pain.

I also felt bad for Arumi. I mean, at one point, she tells Sasshi that she's not too upset about the future move to Hokkaido, because it's awakened in her a desire to see more of the world. After Sasshi remakes things, will that dream just die? Will Arumi be like Mune and Masayuki and just stay in the shopping arcade, minding her own shop until she's an old woman? That may be what Sasshi wants, but, just like when he designed that unsuitable shojo world for Arumi, what he wants and thinks is best for Arumi may not really be what's best for her. I found myself hoping that Arumi would somehow find a way to do a little traveling at some time in her future.

I also kind of felt sad for Mune, who seemed like a fairly nice young woman in the flashback scene. She fell for some clean-cut guy who got her pregnant and then mysteriously left without a word - I don't know what it was like for young Japanese women then, but a young American woman would have had serious social problems because of that, and possibly faced ostracism. I'm guessing it was the same for Mune, or she wouldn't have married the guy everyone thought was Sasshi's grandfather and kept up the fiction that he was the child's father. She goes from that, to being a pinup model in Sasshi's worlds, parading around in skimpy outfits and underwear - I wonder, is that all due to Sasshi's hormones, or does she give herself those outfits in the hope of attracting Eutus and keeping him by her side? So sad...

Overall, I did like this show, I just didn't find it as funny as I remembered and I didn't really like the ending. I'd recommend it, but only if you can get it on the cheap.

Extras:

Outtakes (which are mostly just scenes redone with joke dialogue), AD Vid-Notes (essential for people who want to be able to follow everything that's going on), English voice actor commentary for two episodes (I love these kinds of things), and "clean" (no credits) opening and closing animations. The extras make it worth it to buy this legally, so buy it legally if you do buy it!

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Excel Saga (manga) by Koushi Rikudou; Excel Saga (anime TV series) - If you'd like more parody- and joke-filled insanity, you might want to try this out.  I've only read the manga, which does get a bit old after a while (there's really no plot, beyond the characters trying, and failing, to take over a single city), but it's still pretty funny.
  • Sliders (live action TV series) - Ok, so I kept thinking of Sliders whenever Sasshi and Arumi moved to different worlds.  Unlike Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, though, this show is intended to be taken more seriously, and the worlds are supposed to be places that could actually have happened if certain things in history had gone a little differently.
  • FLCL (anime OVA) - This one is bizarre, really, really bizarre.  It starts out kind of normal, except several of the character obviously have some severe issues, and then devolves into off-the-wall insanity.  Like Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, it has some serious moments, but mainly it's just fast-paced strangeness.
  • Azumanga Daioh (anime TV series); Azumanga Daioh (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma - This one is much more sedate in its pacing than Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, and more grounded in the real world, but it still has some truly bizarre moments, lots of jokes and puns, and a generally light tone that ends on a note of slight seriousness.  It's a good and occasionally strange slice-of-life series focusing on a bunch of students and their teachers. 

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