- Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life, Surrealism, Romane, Fish
- Episodes: 13
- Studio: Shaft
Kou Ichinomiya is a man who knows his place in the world. Namely on top of it! He fully intends to stand tall atop of the heap because that’s where an Ichinomiya man belongs. A lifetime of hardship effort and dedication have paved the road for his inevitable success. And he owes it all to his unwavering discipline and dedication to his family’s doctrine. Never owe anyone. An Ichinomiya always pays his debts! But what if someone just helps you out of the blue when you didn’t even ask for it? And what if they lived under a bridge and refused to leave? What if they told you not only that they were an alien from Venus but also that all they wanted in return was true and eternal love? Worst of all, what if that wasn’t such a bad deal?
I actually watched this show for the first time quite some years ago. I had a vague positive feeling about it but had forgotten most of the details, so I decided a refresher was in order before I could actually hazard anything resembling a review. To my own surprise, I was really quite thrilled to see that a second season had been made in the meantime. (Maybe it had already been made at the time as well, I just didn’t know about it). Point is, even though this wasn’t the type of series I remembered in minute detail, it left enough of a good impression that the discovery of a second season was cause for minor celebration. Take what you may from that!
One thing I did remember is that Arakawa is a very visually interesting show. A lot of different art styles and techniques are used throughout. Stylized backgrounds and unusually prevalent use of foregrounds really makes it a striking anime. In my second time around, I found out the series had actually been produced by Shaft which came as absolutely no surprise. Shaft has always been adventurous with their animations and as far as I’m concerned the risks they take generally pay off.
However, compared to a lot of the studio’s other offerings, there is a complete lack of pretense in Arakawa that comes out in the show’s appearance. What I mean is that Arakawa does not present itself as highly artistic or metaphorical a tale, preferring to rely on quirky oddball humour and in accordance, the images are colourful, light and have a certain picture book quality to them. The collection of costumed weirdos that make up the cas also allowed for lighthearted character design.
I have to admit I didn’t pay much attention to the soundtrack but I noticed the voice acting. By this, I don’t mean any particular actor, they were all decent, I mean the delivery, most likely heavily influenced by the director, was a lot like stand up comedians acting in a scripted show. That cadance that sounds like they are talking at each other instead of to each other. It was obviously a conscious decision and it worked in my opinion. It also gave the entire show a particular fast paced cadence even when nothing much was happening.
Full disclosure, even after rewatching parts of the first season (I fully intend on watching season 2, I just haven’t gotten around to it) I still don’t quite know how to review this show. Not much happens and yet a whole lot happens as well. Every episode is divided into about 10 chapters, giving the entire thing the feel of a short program (like Saiki – actually the delivery is also a lot like Saiki but not quite as fast) but there are several longer story arcs that I can only get into if I spend several paragraphs explaining the story.
Of course, there’s the entire romance aspect, which, as with all the best romances, isn’t really obvious in any way. Tiny moments from episode to episode slowly build up to what amounts to a rather sweet and endearing relationship. There’s not much in way of grand gestures, no jealousy, love triangle (sorry Hoshi, you were never a contender) or forced breakup and only one very casual kiss. Yet, you truly get to understand and share Kou and Nino’s feelings for each other.
Depending on your mood and sensibilities, I’m guessing Arakawa Under the Bridge can be taken in two very different ways. Essentially, it’s the story of an affluent young man, who’s had a hard but privileged life being confronted with an aspect of society (i.e. a group of socially disconnected misfits having formed a homeless community) he had previously only known in theory. It should be noted that the series steers away from morality jugements or lessons. The dissonance between Kou’s experience and the people of Arakawa is played strictly for laughs. And that’s where it could get divisive.
If you happen to be in that type of mood, you could see Arakawa as fetishizng or even trivializing the plight of the poor and mentally ill. The citizens of Arakawa often seem disconnected from reality, adopt stage personas and live in costumes without a permanent residence, yet their lives are happy and fulfilled. Nevermind how they survive the winters. On the other hand, you could take the show as a bit of escapist magic realism preaching spiritual fulfillment above material gain and emphasising the importance of connecting with each other regardless of our walks in life.
I went with the latter. I can see the tricky terrain Arakawa Under the Bridge ventures onto but it seems so innocent and well meaning that I can’t ascribe it any bad intentions. Also it really reminds me of one of my favourite movies: Castaway of the Moon. If you like offbeat romantic comedies, I recommend it. This is probably the last time you will see me recommending a romantic comedy!
So what’s the final verdict here? Arakawa is a fun, fast paced irreverent comedy that’s a lot of fun in the moment but doesn’t have that much staying power. It is easy to watch and quite beautiful. I look forward to the second season.
Favorite character: I’m divided between Sister and Maria…Ohhh both… Together!
What this anime taught me: love is bonkers, it’s the best part of it
In alcohol’s defense, I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff while completely sober too
Suggested drink: Water Under the Bridge
- Every time Nino looks over her shoulder – take a sip
- Every time Kou explains anything – take notes
- Every time Kou ends up agreeing to something insane – take a sip
- Every time Nino’s hair blows in the wind – take a sip
- Every time we see Ko’s dad – take a gulp
- Every time we see a fish – get a snack
- Every time anyone takes a dislike to Kou – take a sip
- every time anyone other than Nino likes Kou – finish your drink
- Every time there’s a change of art style – admire
- Every time Sister’s scar opens – take a sip
- Every time Kou gets hurt – take a sip
- Every time anyone jumps/falls in the river – take a sip