#1 Not introducing characters
An antiquated shopping arcade is slowly falling apart as businesses move out and customers stay away. Arumi Asahina’s family runs a French restaurant there and they have their sights set on moving across the country to a more lively location. A move that would separate Arumi from her childhood friend Satoshi Imamiya. However, as the Asahina family prepares to move out, a bizarre accident sends Arumi and Satoshi to a different version of the shopping center: a medieval fantasy one that runs on video game logic.
Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is a very episodic show. Each new episode sees Arumi and Satoshi arrive in a new world that parodies some genre of popular media, like a sci-fi setting where they get to pilot mechs or a mafia town complete with noir-style film grain. Each time, familiar characters from the shopping arcade are recast to play a variety of different roles. An idea that would have been effective if we had an understanding of how these characters are meant to be before witnessing their comedic transformations.
Arumi and Satoshi are on a quest to return home and constantly have to deal with alternate-world versions of their family members and friends, but many of these made only brief appearances without any meaningful dialogue at all. It took me until episode 4 to register that a recurring villainess was meant to be Satoshi’s sister, for example. Likewise, I don’t even really know if they had the recurring salesman appear in episode 1 at all. If they did, I completely forgot about him.
The characters that are familiar really aren’t worth the spotlight. Arumi’s father is a chef who speaks in gratuitous French, her grandfather is an obstinate old man who gets angry all the time, they aren’t exactly top tier archetypes. The only character that stands out is Ms. Aki, a male cross-dresser whose only significant contribution in episode 1 entails creeping on the underage Satoshi.
#2 Loud, obnoxious, random
There is so much fucking screaming in this anime.
Abenobashi is a parody of various popular media, much like Excel Saga was some years prior. And, you know, Excel Saga wasn’t exactly perfect. It could be too on the nose with its jokes and it could be too loud, but it comes nowhere close to how incessantly annoying Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is.
Its comedy is as obvious as it comes and goes accompanied by frantic animation and lots, and lots of yelling. I think the point where I gave up on enjoying the show was a shout-heavy martial arts tournament filled with goofy expressions meant to mimic Fist of the North Star, before transitioning into a straight-faced Dragon Ball Z gag.
Between all the screaming and obvious parodies, the show is also vulgar. Episode 1 is already full of burping and fart humor, episode 2 adds in an uncomfortable gag about inflation, and episode 3 doubles down on that by having Arumi wet herself while Satoshi runs around peeing on everything else.
The show does have its moments and a few jokes were on point, but the lows dip so far that the show completely lost me.
#3 Sexualizing Arumi
To harp on that point about Arumi wetting herself a bit longer, I felt uncomfortable with the show’s attempts to sexualize her. This is a classic Gainax production and while their library around this time was filled with fan-service and sexual comedy, I don’t remember their shows ever going so far with such a young girl.
Arumi is 12, yet episode 3 is entirely about her panties being stolen and a chase across a shopping center spaceship to get them back, filled with many near-misses where she just barely manages to cover-up or we only get to see her naked behind. Similar jokes pop up throughout the show and all of them I found iffy.
I am generally fine with fan-service, but one would think that the cast of older characters would have filled that role well enough without having to involve a literal grade-schooler.
#4 No language will do
I have watched episodes of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi in every language available to me and none of the versions were ideal. The Japanese audio track is serviceable, but painfully generic with especially Satoshi’s annoying qualities being amplified by Tomo Saeki’s voice and pitch.
A dub usually offers an outcome for me, but the Osaka setting was interpreted by the licensing company as translating well into a Texas one. All kudos to Jessica Boone and Luci Christian, the voices are well done and it lends the dub a lot of personality; it just loses that novelty value after a while and then you still have to listen to it for 8 more episodes.
This led me, in desperation, to the German dub. It’s nowhere near as competently put together as either of the other options, but at least I could tolerate listening to whoever Julius Jellinek is.
#5 The Ending
Spoilers ahead, obviously
For all its flaws, I would still say that I kind of liked the overall story of Abenobashi once it starts unpacking. It soon turns out that the random worlds are formed from Satoshi’s imagination and act as an escape mechanism so the kids don’t have to come to terms with an ugly truth: it wasn’t the holy statue that hit the pavement and broke into pieces, but Grandpa Masa’s skull.
Satoshi becomes increasingly desperate to entertain Arumi and keep her grandfather’s death a secret, frantically searching for a way to go back to a world where he still lives. It’s good drama and forces Satoshi to come to terms with his own childishness. Even when Arumi is ready to face the truth, he still clings to fantasies and “protects” her, while trying to downplay his fears about her moving away. This is the good coming of age stuff.
This makes it incomprehensible to me that series writers Satoru Akahori chose to high-speed backpedal through all that development and shoot for a wish-fulfillment ending anyway. A last-minute development suddenly allows Satoshi to rewrite the past anyway, saving Arumi’s grandfather and then also the entire shopping arcade while he’s at it, meaning Arumi never moves away. All that talk about overcoming grief and accepting change in your life? Outta the window with it! Arumi’s own ambitions? Discard that!
Abenobashi pretends like it will be confrontational and have meaning, before shooting for the most generic happy-go-lucky ending anyway.