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If I had to describe "Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi," it would be simple: "Fooly Cooly" as written by Lewis Carroll.

That's only a glimpse of the explosive weirdness and insanely cracked-out madness that fills every episode of this wacky anime series. And while "Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi: Volumes 1-3" starts off a bit slowly, this brilliant series soon blossom into an acid-tripping flower filled with constant spoofs, genre cliches, and lots of fanservicey breasts.

Sasshi is unhappy -- the Abenobashi Shopping Arcade is being bought out for demolition, and his friend Arumi is going to be moving away. Fortunately they are distracted from their impending separation by a series of mysterious animal statues all throughout the Arcade.

But when Arumi's grandfather is badly injured and the bird statue is smashed, Arumi and Sasshi find themselves sucked into a freaky D&D-video-game-esque fantasy land, where they are called upon to defeat the stereotypically Evil Lord. Unfortunately, Arumi spends all their money on a mysterious charm by a blue-haired sorcerer, and Sasshi keeps getting killed by the insane, scantily-clad Mune Mune.

Each attempt to get back home sends Sasshi and Arumi to another cracked-out variant of Abenobashi -- a mecha space station with a hulking mecha, a Chinese martial-arts competition, a Flintstonesy dinosaur age, a noir gangster story, a dating sim, the ultimate girl fantasy land (or so Sasshi thinks!), a deranged warzone, and a frenetic mishmash of every movie Sasshi has ever seen.

But where did all these crazy worlds come from? Who are Mune Mune and the grumpy sorcerer Eutus, and what is their connection to Sasshi? The secrets of the shopping arcade are revealed even as Sasshi comes face-to-face with a tragedy that keeps him from letting Arumi go home...

"Neon Genesis Evangelion," martial-arts, "Dragonball Z," medieval S&S fantasy, hard-boiled noir, "Monty Python" ("My old wound from the WAR!"), war movies, "Indiana Jones," and even "2001: A Space Odyssey." All of these get spoofed and/or lovingly homaged -- not to mention minor tropes such as shouting anime attack names, or the little details ("But it's standard BGM").

The first half or so of the series is pretty much a steady stream of wacky spoof mayhem, peppered with endless fanservice (Mune Mune's mostly-nude getups), repeated deaths ("I saw the beginnin' and the end of the UNIVERSE!"), and plots full of random and inexplicable twists ("I don't understand! Why am I a dumpling?" Sasshi moans after getting encased in a dumpling and sent off the top of a skyscraper).

But about halfway through, the insanity is threaded with an elaborate and rather sad subplot, involving the death of a much-loved family member, a legendary Omnyoji, and a centuries-old love triangle.

Sasshi makes a good hero for this series -- he's a die-hard geek who enjoys all the weirdness (including repeated deaths) and acquires some world-changing new powers. But the core of his personality turns out to be his desire to save Arumi from heartbreak. Arumi herself is a good counterpoint -- down to earth, steady, and a bit crazy by the end ("Let Sasshi know the torments of HEEEEEEEEELLLLLLL...").

And it has a pretty fun supporting cast, with the same family members playing out different roles in every world. The only exceptions are Mune-Mune (a loopy half-naked redhead whose true identity is a shock) and Eutus (a sorcerer having a midlife crisis).

"Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi" is a wild, tripped-out ride that mingles a fantastical coming-of-age story with chaotic spoofery. Delightful all the way through... but definitely not for kids.
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