Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai
I'd seen images of the lead characters, nice artwork rich with personality, I knew it was by Gainax with animation by Madhouse. It promised to be full of energy, comedy, originality and variety. How could such a combination go wrong...
The series begins with a somewhat melancholy environment. A shopping district, full of weird characters and long histories, is in the final throes of collapse. Stores are closing, families are moving on and buildings that had stood for decades are being reduced to rubble. The two leads, for whom the district represented the world in which they grew up, get to watch everything they've known fade away. The young male Sasshi feels the loss of memories. His friend Arumi, who is moving to Hokkaido with her family, is also subdued but willing to move forward.
And then an event happens, an unexpected but permanent loss that brings it all to a fine point. And somehow Sasshi and Arumi, at this moment, part company with the real world. Was it because of the strange magic on which Abenobashi was built and which has now been disturbed? Or perhaps it is due to the strange man who wove it, or some secret in the past of these youths. Either way they are now in worlds shaped only by fantasy and imagination... what will they find, and will they ever want to return to a real world that has lost so much?
No less than the luminaries at the MIT anime club have called me "a bit humorless". And I'm willing to concede they might be partially right. I would rather say I respect wit, cleverness and character and can't abide slapstick and fart jokes. I like comedy with a brain. I'll also mention that this review was constructed without the advantage of seeing episode 4-6 which I haven't been able to track down. Perhaps these episodes would change my mind, but I really strongly doubt it.
I'll also note that this tape has a commercial release, that it has received some high praise on the net including 80% from THEM (although I don't recognize the reviewer) and that it has a fine heritage. Who would want to put their credibility (stop laughing) at risk by going against the flow? ... oh yeah, that would be me.
This is one of the most mindless, shallow and self-indulgent wastes of time I've ever seen. It is so moronic that I could literally feel my brain melting as it tried to work out why I was using precious minutes of my life to watch something with so little value or entertainment. The comedy bits, which fill out the bulk of the show, are just incredibly dire. They're full of repeating, but stupid, characters because that represents a lazy way to connect them. They are chock full of little media references primarily because there is nothing else there. In order to fill up the gaping creative void they have just made up any old shit and stolen any idea that came to hand. Even with my brain running on idle mode this was incredibly dumb and just plain not that funny.
Now parody I like, ripping off ideas from other genres and shows and re-interpreting them in novel ways. Likewise insane energy and chaos can be fun. Something like Elf Princess Rane, or Excel Saga, which I enjoyed. But there still has to be some sort of core logic to make it all hang together, some sort of contribution to make the show more than just a mass of strange events and obscure references. In short there has to be some sort of meaning.
I can see how this show was meant to work. There are serious bits, which are rather well done actually, in which a foundation is made. They deal with loss and the attempt to escape reality through fantasy. However they don't merge with the stupid, and frequently tasteless, comedy at all. The fantasies are not logical given the premise, Sasshi would not come up with such things at this time, nor would they be filled with such odd perversions which frequently act against him. It's exactly as if two different teams worked on it, one built the foundation and the other was told to fill in the blanks with "crazy stuff". And since this is a co-production perhaps that is what actually happened. Gainax built the shell, the characters show their touch, but far less talented people filled in the gaps with any old rubbish that came to mind.
It's a shame in many ways, the foundation had such promise, and I really was intrigued by the characters. But taken as a whole the show represents a monumental failure for people who should have been able to do a hell of a lot better. I honestly can't imagine anyone enjoying this enough to want to own it. There will be such people of course, and good luck to them, I almost wish I could share their enjoyment.
The production has the same schizoid personality as the rest. If you visit a commercial page for this tape you'll see some wonderful artwork of the main characters. They look energetic, interesting and skillfully rendered and indeed they are. Sasshi's withdrawn dreamy nature, and Arumi's alternation between grim realism and violent power are very cool. However the comedy sections have a lot of animation that is unbelievably bad, really badly drawn, badly animated, and often quite crude. You won't be seeing this on the advertising material because it is rubbish. Nor is it just short interludes, often the whole episode is rendered without the slightest sign of skill. The image I have chosen to represent the show is somewhere in the middle of the two. The voices of the mains are good, the disposable comedy characters less so (so corny) and the music is lightweight but decent enough that it feels wasted on this. I will also warn there's quite a bit of fan-service, ecchi humor and even some expletives (in english interestingly).
Gainax decide to do a short series of comedy parodies and write a skilled foundation to allow it. Specifically following two young children who escape a crumbling reality into worlds full of fantasy. However at this point the creator lost interest and handed it over to a work experience student or a contractor to fill in with whatever rubbish they could come up with. The result is a tragic mess in which a good start is wasted on some of the stupidest, and most badly animated, comedy ever to be inflicted on the anime market.