Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I first started watching this13-episode anime series, but I was certainly surprised by what I got. Made by anime studio Gainax, this is an odd little fantasy series that, over its run, morphs into an interesting fable of both the necessity and the pain of growing up. However, despite its comparatively serious message, the series also manages to be uproariously funny and silly, and to be incredibly watchable.
The series revolves around two 12-year old kids, Arumi and Sasshi, who have grown up in the Abenobashi shopping district in Osaka. However, Abenobashi has seen better days, and much of it is facing the developer's bulldozer. There used to be statues of the 4 directional animals of Chinese geomancy at the four directional edges of the arcade; now only the bird atop the Pelican Cafe remains. To make matters worse, Arumi's family, who own the Pelican Cafe, are planning to move away to Hokkaido to start up a hotel at the faraway Lake Akan, so soon the twosome will be broken up. When, through a mishap, Arumi's grandfather accidentally causes the bird statue to smash to the ground, something odd happens to Arumi and Sasshi.
They discover themselves to have been transported to another world, completely different and yet somehow...familiar. They find themselves in a world much like a fantasy RPG, but everyone that they meet looks and behaves like someone they knew from Abenobashi. Everyone, that is, but two people: a red-haired, large-breasted girl named Mune-Mune, and a mysterious middle aged blue-haired man named Eutus that Mune-Mune seems obsessed to find.
In each world is a goblin, as well: a tiny creature that, if they can catch it, can theoretically send them back to their own original world. But each one seems to screw up the proper incantation and our two heroes seem to end up in stranger and stranger Abenobashis: a space Abenobashi, a prehistoric Abenobashi, a film noir Abenobashi, and many others. Will our two protagonists ever get home?
Arumi and Sasshi work well as foils to one another. Arumi is hot tempered and impatient with the ridiculous worlds she keeps on being sent to: to her, it's like being trapped inside the fantasies of some ridiculous nerd. Sasshi, on the other hand, is having the time of his life, loving to figure out the "rules" of each world they encounter and anxiously wondering where they'll end up next. When what is actually causing them to be sent to these different worlds, as well as where these worlds come from, is revealed, it only heightens the tension, as it really brings to a head this central conflict between our two heroes (that Arumi wants to go home and Sasshi does not), which drives the latter half of the series.
As I said before, there's a message to the anime both about the need for dreams as well as the need to grow up. Although it gets kind of muddled at the end (depending on your point of view, it is possible to view the ending as grossly undercutting the whole theme of growing up), it works well, particularly allowing the somewhat childlike Sasshi to develop as he is forced to confront his childishness.
All in all, I really liked this anime. It is very silly and very funny, but that doesn't keep it from being genuinely moving in parts and featuring two very interesting lead characters. Look for it.