Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai
Released Year : April 4, 2002 to June 27, 2002
No of Episodes : 13
Genre : Comedy,Ecchi,Fantasy,Parody
Plot : Imamiya Satoshi, "Sasshi" to his friends, has grown up in the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade in Osaka, along with his childhood friend, Asahina Arumi. Now, all that was stable in his life is in ruins. His family's bath house has closed and been torn down, and Arumi's family is moving to Hokkaido - and taking her with them. In the midst of all this, something happens to the framework of reality, and Sasshi and Arumi slip into a weird parallel world. It's still Abenobashi, but not their Abenobashi. Strange things are afoot, and Sasshi must find out their meaning, in order to reach a goal that he barely understands.
Our Review : Take Quantum Leap (or Sliders, your preference) and cross it with Excel Saga. That, in a nutshell, is Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade. A couple of kids, a bright but otherwise unexceptional girl and her male otaku neigbour and long-term friend, find themselves tumbling from one lunatic parallel world to another in what begins as simply an attempt to return to normality but becomes an attempt to make things in their own mundane yet beloved reality right. The presence of recurring characters, not only versions of people they know but people they don't, begin to clue them in to the method behind the madness.
The debt this series owes to Excel Saga is obvious and considerable, and wile I love both series, to me this has the edge in my affections. Sasshi and Arumi's efforts take them from one genre parody to another week by week, but unlike Excel Saga's scattergun "just because I said so" approach, the whole affair has a coherent and moderately serious storyline running through it, tying everything together. That one can maintain a single overarching plot through an RPG world, a kung fu world, a scifi world, a gangster world, a warfare world and so on is impressive enough.
But the fact that you needn't follow the plot, if you don't want to, is also pretty smart. If you prefer, you can generally ignore the overarching plot and concentrate on the humour, of which there is lots, and it doesn't really let up; none of excel's recycling here, no "cute animal anime skit number three". The exceptions are a couple of episodes that in fact aren't all that funny and are mostly concerned with the overarching plot, a bit of a weakness. Perhaps with a little more polish this element could have been spread across the whole spread of episodes, and as it is, it does require some concentration to fully 'get' the plot. No matter, I found myself laughing my ass off most of the time anyhow.
Graphically, Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade has nothing very special about it - but it's a rare comedy that dazzles the eyes too. Everything is however perfectly unobjectionable, with character design probably the most impressive aspect. All the supporting cast, the familiar faces from around the Shotengai, appear in a new form for every episode; it's easy to take for granted the way they all fit straight in to whatever setting, yet are instantly recogniseable, no small feat in actuality.
There's a mostly jazz-flavoured soundtrack, the BGM nothing incredible, generic but pleasing, and far from seeming out of kilter; like character design it is easy to take for granted its modification to fit the setting of each episode. The opening theme is infectiously catchy and great fun, one of my favourites among Hayashibara Megumi's many, many happy songs. The ending theme is also one of hers, and is gentle and lovely, the sort of music that makes you think of summer sunshine.
Basically, Abenobashi Magical Shopping Arcade is one of those rare things that is as complicated as you want it to be. It can be just a parody humour show, or a more complicated tale with serious points to make about urban decline and the loss of community feeling, and also about genre cliches, if you like, on top of simply being funny as hell. You gets more than you pays for, for once.