A Review of “Abenobashi Mahō Shōtengai” [Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi] – Out of this Orbit Osaka Oddities

Cover of "Abenobashi Maho Shotengai OST"

“Being human, having your health is what’s most important.” – Arumi Asahina

Hey guys, Samurai here. And you know, I’ve reviewed several Gainax anime over the last few years, and if there’s one thing that I can say about them all is that you NEVER know what to expect…for better or worse. This selection is no exception. “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” is the answer to the question “I wonder what FLCL would look like if the creators made it 13 episodes instead of 6…and if said creators were on some sort of mind altering potentially illegal substance.” This is an anime that gives you little time to catch your breath—either with all the action or from laughter at the sheer absurdity. And yet, at it’s core, is a very solid, well thought out story that, while it may require repeat viewing, you’re never going to complain. I’m Cajun Samurai, and this is my review of Abenobashi Mahō Shōtengai or “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi”.

Warnings and Other Objectionable Content:
Hoo, boy. Yeah, this show is rated TV-17+, and I will be inclined to agree. Just about every taboo that you can think of is broken in this show. There’s nudity, some sexuality, crass conversations, a little religious undercurrent [but mostly focusing on the Shinto faith…], and some foul language, especially in a few of the latter episodes when the “F-Bomb” is dropped rather liberally. So, yeah, please keep this one way from the kiddies.

The Tin Box Release of "Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi"Series Availability:

There are a few versions of “Abenobashi” floating around out there, as is expected from a product of then-ADV Films. The first release was a four-volume set which is packed with extras including a reversible DVD Sleeve, a pamphlet explaining certain aspects of the show, Commentary Tracks for some key episodes, and the infamous “AD-Vid Notes” which pop-up information on the screen for the viewer. The second iteration of the set is a Complete Collection volume which contains all 4 disks in one set with all the extras. The third iteration is a steel-box set which has all four volumes in one steel box, a’la “Evangelion” and “Nadia”. And the fourth iteration is a non-ADV release, which is a Complete Collection, minus the AD-Vid Notes. That being said, here’s where you can find it.

Wal-Mart

The fourth iteration of the series [Non-ADV with no AD-Vid Notes…] is available from Wally World online, but not in Brick-and-Mortar Stores at the time of this printing. Of course, you would want to check the website to be certain.

Best Buy

Once again, only the Complete Collection set is available online. No evidence that it’s available in brick-and-mortar stores at the time of this printing. Hit the site and search the shelves.

F.Y.E [For Your Entertainment]

Affirmative for in-store and online purchase. Though store availability may vary depending on location. Check the website and search the shelves. If you find the old-school ADV release, grab it if you can, but if not, the non-ADV version will still give you the insanity you crave…you just might not understand it all…

Target

Negative for online or offline purchase. I’m learning that Target is pretty selective about the anime series it decides to carry.

Other Purchasing Sites

To be honest, it’s kind of hard not to stumble across this show on other popular online shopping sites. In fact, at the time of this printing, The Right Stuf International has the original Steel-Box Complete Collection for just under $30. Not a bad price. Of course, as I’ve always said, when it comes to buying from sites like ebay, exercise caution.

Online Streaming

Haven’t come across this show on any commercial streaming sites, so you might have to go through the underground if you wanna watch this one. As per usual, use your own discretion about what sites you decide to watch your anime on. I’m not hating, I’m just saying…

Story Premise: “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” is a 13 episode series created by Studios Gainax and Madhouse. This show takes place in Osaka, Japan and focuses on the adventures of two young kids, Satoshi Imamiya [Nicknamed “Sasshi”…] and Arumi Asahina who live and play in the Abenobashi shopping arcade, a long stretch of shops and businesses ran by local townsfolk. Arumi and Sasshi have been friends for as long as they’ve been alive, so it comes as no surprise that the Arumi’s announcement of her upcoming move from Osaka to Hokkaido is not very welcome news for Sasshi. One night, after a particularly stressful day which involved Arumi’s Grandpa being severely injured after a fall from a scaffold, Sasshi wakes up to see what looks like a Pterodactyl flying outside his window as clear as day. So, of course he does what any other teenage boy would do—Arumi Encountering Mune-Mune and Miss Aki in one of several random worlds...note Sasshi in the background bartering...gawk at it for a minute, and then go back to sleep. The next day, he tells Arumi what he saw and of course, she doesn’t believe him…that is until some of the townsfolk gathered for morning exercises suddenly turn into mushrooms and the whole of their city collapses to reveal a videogame world complete with castle. You see, the Abenobashi shopping arcade was built with four linchpin stores to necessitate the flow of “Chi” or energy through the area with each linchpin having a statue marking it as such. One of the linchpins was a pelican that served as a mascot for the restaurant Arumi and her family runs. Said pelican was one of the last linchpins in the arcade and was summarily shattered when Arumi’s grandpa had his accident, thus throwing everything into chaos and sending Arumi and Sasshi hurtling through different worlds. And so “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” goes on, with our intrepid duo going through each oddly-themed world, with Arumi just trying to get by and Sasshi, oddly enough, in hog heaven. “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” is not just an anime—it’s an experience. You don’t just WATCH it, you almost interact with it, if that makes any sense. It’s also a show that requires a bit of brain power to understand as it leans on the complex side of the map. It might take two or three viewings to truly get a grip on what’s going on…much like OTHER Gainax productions. The ending is surprisingly gentle and calm, considering the havoc that went down for the last 12 episodes. It’s like a train going at 500 MPH with no sign of stopping until finally the engineer decides to ease on the breaks and glide in to a perfect stop. Granted it is a “Hit the Reset Button” esque ending, but for this show, it works. [24/25]

Favorite Scene/Episode:
Wow…difficult…hmm…I love the scene during the first episode towards the end when Sasshi is talking to Arumi about her moving away to Hokkaido. He looks dead ahead and suddenly sees these mushrooms where there were once people standing. As the two kids run away in panic, Arumi asks “What in hell are they, Sasshi?!” Sasshi then says “From the left…” and then begins to provide the name of each and every single mushroom with comical poses. I also enjoyed episode 12…but I won’t spoil it for you—this is something you MUST experience on your own.

Characters:

Satoshi “Sasshi” Imamiya Our male lead character. Sasshi is what you would call your typical teenage boy; he loves all things geeky: anime, manga, video games, action movies, you name it. He’s also a little pervert as well, not ashamed to gawk or grope a pretty girl [or woman…] who walks past…except, it should be noted, his best friend Arumi. So it’s no surprise that with each jump they make into a different world, Sasshi seems to acclimate himself to it rather quickly and with boyish exuberance. I have to say, out of all Gainax male leads we’ve encountered since this blog has been around [Shinji from “Evangelion”, Arima from “Kare Kano”, Naota from “FLCL” and Jean from “Nadia”] Sasshi has to be one of the realistic ones. I mean, he’s not an emotional sack of sadness like Shinji, nor is he a mental case like Arima, he’s not an emo oddball like Naota and he’s not a nerd like Jean. He’s just a normal kid in a freakish circumstance.
Arumi Asahina Our female lead character. [And no, before you ask, TWWK, she’s not related to THAT Asahina. Though she might be on the same level with regards to her density to matters of the heart…] She’s the straight-man of the group, acting as the voice of semi-reason in an otherwise crazy mixed up world. Honestly, if there’s one failing about this show that I could point out, it’s Arumi. I mean, I just don’t think we get enough from her personality wise like we do with Sasshi. I mean, I get that she’s the straight man of the group and that she acts as a sort of primer for the whole series, but I feel that she needs maybe one more little layer to her personality or to her backstory in order for her to be a more likeable character. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great character
Mune-Mune Mune-Mune is a rather busty female character who appears in each world Sasshi and Arumi travel through, either getting them into trouble or helping them out if needed. Often the subject of Sasshi’s perverted desires; Mune-Mune has her own backstory as she travels through each world looking for the mysterious man known as Eutus. Mune-Mune is…well…I’m not a fan. I mean, she does have an interesting backstory, but I just can’t really take her seriously as a character. There’s just too much there to take in.
Eutus A person wondering through the different worlds mysteriously tied to Sasshi, Mune-Mune, and the creation of the Abenobashi shopping arcade. I can’t say too much more about him because it would wind up spoiling the plot, but suffice it to say, Eutus is an interesting character in this series, if not a touch on the boring side.

So there you have it, an eclectic story pushed along by equally ecletic characters. There are LOADS more that I could go into detail about like the cross-dressing Miss Aki, Sasshi’s trendy older sister Sayaka, and Arumi’s grandpa “Grandpa Masa”, but I’ll just leave you guys to discover these kooks for yourselves. Suffice it to say “Abenobashi” has some of the strangest citizenry I’ve ever seen. [23/25]

The Main Cast of "Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi"Animation: You know…I honestly don’t know what to say about the animation in this one, guys. I’m left speechless. Normally, I would make a comment here about how good the character designs are or how detailed the animation is, but dawg gone it, I’m at a loss. “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” has left me at a loss for words. All I can honestly say is that, for me, it’s real good, but there are times when I just have to wonder what mind-altering hallucinogens the animation staff was on when they drew this one up. There’s this one scene in episode 12 when…and heaven KNOWS I’m not kidding; they do a parody of “Knight Rider” and the car has breasts and nipples. You read that right. Someone had fun with that design, and dawg gone it, it shows. Creepy? Yes. Disturbing? Oh heck yes. Entertaining? You better believe it. [11/12.5]


Sasshi and Arumi in the Superhero World...Music: The opening theme for this one, “Treat or Goblins” by Megumi Hayashibara & Mamie D. Lee is THE hippest opening theme I’ve ever heard in an anime. The English/Japanese mixture is awesome and it goes very well with the opening animation sequence. The ending theme, “Anata no Kokoro Ni”, also by Megumi Hayashibara, is a gentle and somewhat nostalgic closing theme as it plays over shots of a real shopping arcade. It’s very well done. With regards to incidental music, everything is done well, and I love the fact that with each world the kids travel through, there’s a change to the overall incidental music theme. It’s a nice touch. [12.5/12.5]

Performances and Production: “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” was directed by Masayuki Kojima in Japan. He’s had his hand in quite a few projects as a storyboard artist including a few episodes of “Mysterious Girlfriend X” [Nazo no Kanojo X…], “My Little Monster” [Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun…] and…tragically…”Reign: The Conqueror” [yeah, we can’t all be perfect…]. Here in the US, the project was dubbed by then-ADV Films with director Don Rush at the helm. His direction record is a bit short, but there are two major projects he worked on that give him plenty of cred: do the names “Azumanga Daioh” or “Full Metal Panic!” ring any bells? He’s been at the helm of both of those projects to critical success. Here’s the cast breakdown:

Characters

Japanese Voice Actor/Actress

English Voice Actor/Actress

Satoshi Imamiya

Tomo Saeki

Luci Christian

Arumi Asahina

Yuki Matsuoka

Jessica Boone

Mune-Mune

Aya Hisakawa

Kaytha Coker

Eutus

Rikiya Koyama

Chris Patton

Overall, the English dub for “Abenobashi” is a very well done and well-acted, keeping the feeling of the original while adding a flavor all its own. A big round of applause should be given to Luci Christian as Sasshi as she not only had to use a thick American Southern accent; she also had to adjust her voice to sound like a teenage boy. You wanna talk about skill? She has it and then some. [25/25]

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 24/25
Characters – 23/25
Animation – 11/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25

Final Score – 95.5/100 = 95.5% – (A)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra) –

  • This show contains numerous references or callbacks to other anime series, including but not limited to “His and Her Circumstances”, “Sister Princess” [::shudders deeply:: I don’t even wanna think about it now…], “Kanon”, “Goldenboy”, “DragonBall Z” and, of course, “Neon Genesis Evangelion”.
  • In episode 5, the gag with the shrinking dinosaur is a call back to old-school Tex Avery cartoons.
  • The real Abenobashi in Osaka, Japan is one of 24 wards in Osaka. Located towards the south of Osaka, Abenobashi is a commercial area with a lot of movie theatres and department stores. Sharp Electronics is also headquartered there.
  • It should also be noted that Sasshi follows a long tradition of male Gainax teenage characters of recent that have blue eyes. If you recall, Shinji from “Evangelion”, Jean from “Nadia”, Arima from “His and Her Circumstances” and Naota from “FLCL” all had blue eyes.
  • Much like the American South, residents of Osaka speak with a different dialect, known as Kansai dialect, which is an off-shoot of what we would think of as Standard Japanese. This is why a southern accent is used in many dubs that feature Osakan characters, or characters that imitate an Osakan. [Funny story—I was in DC a month ago, and I went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I picked out my souviners and was at the checkout counter having a light conversation with the cashier about a model of the USS Enterprise they had on display. The cashier laughed at me and said “You must not be from around here, huh?” I laughed at her and asked “Huh? What do you mean?” “I could tell by your accent,” she said “And because you’re so nice and polite.” Now, granted, I always make an attempt to be polite to people and to be nice to people, but because I lived with my semi-southern drawl all my life, I never could figure out what “accent” people were talking about…still can’t, actually!]
  • Luci Christian has actually played quite a few young male voices in her career including Shinra in the premiere episode of “Mushi-Shi”, “Wrath” in “Fullmetal Alchemist” and “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, and Mitsukuni “Honey” Haninozuka from “Ouran High School Host Club”. I know I’m missing some, but dawg gone it, that’s what Anime News Network is for!
  • This isn’t exactly Lagniappe, but it’s actually a correction to a previous statement I made in another post. I originally thought that “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” came BEFORE “FLCL”, but upon further examination, I discovered that “Abenobashi” actually came AFTER “FLCL”. Whoops!

So, where does that leave us? Well, simply put, “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” is pretty much “FLCL” re-imagined. With it’s out of this world yet entertaining story lines, entertaining and endearing characters, active animation, hip music and a vocal cast that makes you wonder why people hate dubs in the first place, “Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi” is a show is small in episode count, yet large in heart and entertainment…so long as you’re over 17 years old.

And that’s it for my breakdown of “Abenobashi”! As I already announced, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Akira”, I’ll be reviewing that movie next, but after that, I’m finally…FINALLY going to get the chance to review a show that I’ve wanted to review for quite a long time. I’ve been salivating to give this one the once over, and now that it’s released and it’s English dub is locked down, I get to lick my chops and dive right into it. So come on back, will you, for my review of, what has to be, the most bizarre romantic anime to come out of Japan in a long time…

Mikoto Urabe and Akira Tsubaki from "Mysterious Girlfriend X"

“Nazo no Kanojo X” or “Mysterious Girlfriend X”

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