Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi

November 3, 2005 on 1:37 pm | In Abenobashi | 2 Comments

GAINAX strikes again! A group of amazing anime bandits, they travel the land leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is one of their more excellent offerings, but seems to have fallen under the radar by comparison to FLCL, which is in a similar vein.

Yet Abenobashi is so full of metaphors about modern life and character that it is more than some super-kinetic nonsense: finding deep meaning in this work is some of the more highly rewarding anime viewing I’ve done lately.

Abenobashi tells the tale of two grade school students from Osaka. Sasshi and Arumi live in a shopping district that has, as most of these places have, been bought out so that they may be replaced by apartment blocks. Sasshi has moved into a new, smaller apartment, but Arumi is going to move to Hokkaido.
One day, after Arumi’s Grandpa Masa falls from the roof of his restaurant, dragons begin to appear in the sky. Sasshi and Arumi begin to worry when the townspeople turn into mushrooms, and they run until they find themselves in the Abenobashi Swords and Sorcery Arcade.
There they find themselves having to journey through this RPG world until they can defeat a demon and escape – but they end up in the sci-fi arcade! With each episode, for the first half of the series at least, they end up in a differently themed world, full of genre jokes.

One might say that this set-up is very similar to Excel Saga, but it’s less haphazard and much easier to watch. ADV probably licensed this series with that series in mind, and they ended up with something much nicer on their hands. The difference between Abenobashi and charmingly dubbed “crack” anime like FLCL and Excel Saga is that this series has a strong sense of self and of heart.

The first few episodes are almost pure madness, but boiling beneath it is a tragic subtext that spans decades and waits for the right moment to unveil itself. Abenobashi does not decide to grow a story at the last second, but naturally develops itself over the course of its thirteen episodes. The ending makes sense for the most part but for the very final solution something is pulled out of nowhere that assumes the viewers have an intense knowledge of the way of the onmyou. It’s not exactly surprising, as this is GAiNAX we’re talking about here, and it’s not disappointing, but it’s a hell of a way to avert disaster.

It would be easy to compare this to other GAINAX series, not least of which being that Abenobashi, Nadia and Evangelion share the same character designers and music composers. This fact is made reference to several times, with two of the most hilarious Evangelion jokes that I have ever seen. The “Misato style preview” and the “launch” scenes were pure excellence. Abenobashi is good enough to stand on its own after a fashion, and it does.

Director Yamaga Hiroyuki, who also handled Wings of Honneamise, one of my favourite movies, knows precisely how to treat this material; for this reason I am glad that his comrade, Tsurumaki Kazuya, did not approach Abenobashi. The differences in their approach are as night and day. FLCL had the potential for profundity but squandered it; Abenobashi, on the other hand, runs with it.
Again I sense the romantic Japan, the “shopping arcade of my youth”, if you will, that catches so many writers. Abenobashi is an interesting tug-of-war that compares commercial development to the realities of growing older. Sasshi and Arumi are only 11 years old, but by the end of it all Sasshi has come a long way to understanding the vagaries of the universe.

The anime is genuinely Osaka accented, going so far as to have had the script written in standard Japanese and then “translated” into the regional version. For this reason, you get all sorts of g drops in the subs for “authenticity”, and if you wander into the dub you get a strong hit of Texas courtesy of ADV to approximate that flavour. The cast is generally excellent, with Hisakawa Aya standing out as Mune Mune, one of the best fan service girls I’ve seen for a while.
Better even than that are Hayashibara Megumi’s OP and ED. The first, “Treat or Goblins” has delightfully silly lyrics along the lines of “Chut chut with someone hot, like a hidden luminary … and will-o’-the-wisp too!”, while the ED is this wonderfully nostalgic piece set to shots of a real shopping district.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is an excellent anime that can not only tackle genre cliché, but also the ideas of development, progress, and growing up. It almost turns tragic, and lesser studios might have collapsed under its heaviness; GAINAX and Yamaga are more than up to the task and make something that, while not for everyone, is pretty damned superlative.


  1. > Abenobashi does not decide to grow a story at the last second, but naturally develops itself over the course of its thirteen episodes.

    Really? Meh, I couldn’t understand what was going on at the end. -_- All that onmyouji stuff. To me it did feel like a random turn to nowhere and an ending that made no sense. But maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention.

    Comment by Annie — November 3, 2005 #

  2. That feeling that you had only applied to me after the whole “Sasshi digging” bit.
    The stuff that developed from the episode that looked into the past on, though, was fairly well greatski.

    Comment by Alex Doenau — November 3, 2005 #

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