Arakawa under the Bridge may look like an anime for potheads (what with the kappa costume, star mask, and nun with a gun, among other things), but truthfully it’s just a thirteen-episode-long plate of sashimi: it takes a little getting used to, but ends up being absolutely delicious. Especially for me, having just watched the sour Serial Experiments Lain, this land of perpetual sunshine under the bridge was a joy to behold.
The anime follows business prodigy Kou Ichinomiya as he attempts to live with an eccentric community under the Arakawa Bridge. As far as story goes, that’s pretty much it; it’s a narrative progression that the viewer reacts to rather than follows. Episodes range from decent to nearly brilliant, but one’s enjoyment for the show will not wane if he remembers this cardinal rule of episodic anime: Watch, don’t wait. Here is a train ride through a park, but look elsewhere if you’re waiting to take off on a jet plane.
And under the bridge lies a very weird park indeed. This embankment of overgrown grass, with Tokyo skyscrapers floating in the backdrop as if on a different plane of existence, becomes the universe. People walk among the grass in their various costumes and with their ignorance and ridiculous quirks, living totally in the present. Kou, choked by the expectations of society, lands into this enclave untainted by time and ambition, and weird things happen. Indeed, the humor of this show is what fresh raw fish would be to an incubated Coloradoan: It flails around and goes crazy, and we aren't quite sure whether to burst into laughter or gape in WTF-ery. Watching Kou trying to deal with these people becomes a deliciously mindboggling affair; we surface from an episode and the world is suddenly a stranger place.
But amidst Kou's numerous face-palms and exasperated tantrums, he begins to change. His driven, independent, withered heart begins to realize that there are things in this world that are meant to be shared. Here lies the beautiful continuity that gives the anime its shape. Each episode is broken into few-minute segments, but one still feels a sense of overall direction as Kou starts coming to terms with not only the community but with what the community represents. Hidden among the moments of hilarity and bemusement are moments of bejeweled self-reflection. One line could leave you giggling like a madman and then the show takes something out of its sleeve that silences you instantly with its truth. Alternately, a line could make your heart ache and then someone pulls out a zinger that has you double-taking in delighted disbelief. No scene is wasted. It is a bipolarity that the anime has managed to synthesize into a palatable whole.
Unfortunately Arakawa under the Bridge does not succeed as well with Kou and Nino's romantic subplot. It makes obvious attempts to romanticize their relationship, and while the attempts are not tasteless in and of themselves, they fail to form the same kind of continuity that the show achieves with Kou’s personal development. In the end, one finds Kou and Nino’s bond charming but not arresting.
The visuals are safe, appealing, and pleasantly variegated: There are some shots that could work as prints and others with a slight avant-garde tinge. The main reason the animation does so well is its ability to give the impression that it’s sleeker than it is. Still frames are used frequently, yet they shuffle past so quickly, not allowing anything to become sluggish. The show also employs the technique of perspective to its advantage, where an open sky looks like it could swallow you up and an angry girl-giant in a cute dress could barely be moving and you could still feel her palpitating presence.
The soundtrack reveals a similar kind of bipolarity that accompanies the narrative, as buoyant jazz intermingles with tender symphonic sweeps. It’s astonishing how quickly and seamlessly the music is able to shift moods and establish atmospheres.
In addition, Hiroshi Kamiya and Maaya Sakamoto deliver impeccable performances for their respective leads, Kou and Nino. As Kamiya infuses a choleric, boyish energy into Kou’s voice, Sakamoto tempers it with her gentle drawl in Nino’s. I had been previously acquainted with Sakamoto as Akashi in the radiant Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, and comparing the roles gives me a newfound respect for the actress. I had recognized her timbre from Yojouhan, yet she supplies Nino with an altogether different personality. The seiyuu for the rest of the cast deserves praise as well for their spirited if not creative performances, with Maria’s venomous purrs and Stella’s comical monster-roars being particularly effective.
The characters will certainly pull raw laughs out of you, but no matter how much each of them shines individually, they cannot bind themselves into a cohesive cast. Arakawa under the Bridge aims for the viewer to fall in love with the residents of Arakawa Bridge as a conception, in order for camaraderie to bloom when trouble comes (in the form of Kou’s father). However, for all the characters' eccentricities, they have been planted too far apart from each other to form a convincing garden. White-san and Piko do hold interesting personalities, but their impact could have increased dramatically if they had been allowed to collide with the rest of the cast. Maria and Sister’s destructive relationship carries a ton of potential but never explodes. Kou and Nino lack chemistry. I have rarely come across characters with so many possibilities, but perhaps the possibilities were too great that the cast cracked slightly under their pressure.
On another hand, the anime constructs an interesting progression with Kou’s father, an intimidating, reptilian magnate with ideals directly opposite those under the bridge. As he exerts his power at the bridge community’s expense, his convoluted relationship with his son is brought to light. His parting words in the second-to-last episode remain one of the most perplexing statements in the anime, an indication of a part of him he doesn’t let even himself see.
This review covers both seasons of the show. I’m too bored to write two different ones about something that is practically the same.
Many tend to group all SHAFT comedies at the same shelf, and I am no exception. Having the same production company, the same director, the same main voice actor, the same protagonist archetype, the same artsy animation, and the same wacky type of comedy tends to do that, especially if you are a comparison freak like I am. So yeah, I call this the Sayonara Zetsubo of 2010. The similarities are simply too many.
ART SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
If you take into account what I wrote in my previous SHAFT comedy reviews (that’s right you suckers, go read those too) you will pretty much see there is little to talk about visuals, other than being artistic, full of fast panel switches, weird use of colors and shapes, throwing in real photographs and bizarre imagery from a myriad symbolisms and allusions to social and mental status of each situation. It is a fine way to help the viewer visualize how awkward and troubled the minds of the characters are, and to spice up the jokes. They even try to change the formula as the episodes move on, from slightly changing the gimmicks to even adding more info about one’s inner self. Still, each SHAFT comedy has its specific trademark gimmick; where Sayonara Zetsubo had the “I’m in despair” clip, Arakawa has the “blinking eye” clip. Lots of zooming to eyes that blink and sweat drops thrown around. Nice stuff to attract the eye (sic) but it got tiresome early on. Still, I must say that the flying fish or the other bizarre stuff that are shown in this comedy are not as extreme or as memorable as the ones in Sayonara Zetsubo’s walls of texts or Bakemonogatari’s dark cardboard sceneries. It feels more mainstream and for a 2010 production even average and low-budgeted.
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 2/4, Sound Effects 3/3
Something similar can be said about the music. The music score is not nearly as interesting as in the previous two comedies and the dialogues are to the most part not as complicating or smart. From a point on they even feel tedious and tiresome. They have enough text to laugh or get to know the characters but still of NOT those heights. Plus, most of the talking ends up being lukewarm jokes so it loses points even from that. But at least the sound effects are used in their usual smart way to elevate the jokes and thus you get something interesting to pay attension to.
STORY SECTION: 3/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 0/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 0/2
The story … yeah, typical SHAFT. They bait us with a spicy premise, this case being the romantic relationship between an orthological rich pragmatist and an absent-minded poor girl who claims to be an alien. And some episodes later, throws all of that away for random gags and stand alone weirdness around a bunch of nut-jobs who live under a bridge. I must say it sure packs more plot that the previous comedies as from time to time has some plot development, like the father of the protagonist trying to ruin his new life or the alien origin being looked upon a bit. All that are still greatly overlooked for comedy. And of course, there is no ending to it.
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Presence 2/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 0/2, Catharsis 0/2
The characters are the usual “unusual” bunch of misfits SHAFT is so famous of making all the time. Most of the humor is based on their total lack of common sense that helps the jokes to work better and the characters to be memorable. As usual, their appeal is mostly based on quirks and bizarre personality and not character development but again, for a SHAFT comedy the cast is colorized and developed more and beyond just the few episodes they appear in. So yeah, I must say that they are funny, memorable and given more attention than usual, making them better as overall. As usual, SHAFT baits you with lots of cute girls and then throws in some creepy males to even it out. It worked for me and it’s too bad nothing substantial occurred to them that changed them in overall.
VALUE & ENJOYMENT SECTIONS: 4/10
Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 2/4
Now as far as Enjoyment and Replay Value goes, I’m afraid the news are bad. The type of humor it implements starts to wear off rather fast and the succession of gags slows down more and more to the point you lose interest until the next joke comes up or you are even given the time to figure out the joke before it even occurs. My laughing meter was dropping with each episode, to the point it was bellow average in the last episodes of the second season. To be more precise, the scores I give to Enjoyment if this is considered a 26 episode comedy are 10 in episodes 1-3, 8 in 4-6, 6 in 7-20, and 4 in 61-26. It is a rather subjective thing how much others will like or dislike the humor but for me the jokes were getting old too fast and their quality dropped significantly, plus the storyless plot was getting to my nerves after awhile.
In all, this year’s Sayonara Zetsubo packed a bit more story and character development but at the same time had less interesting animation, music, and successful humor.
Damn you SHAFT; you refuse to outdo yourself!
This review is a combined review of the first and the second season, if you haven't watched them both, be careful. There may be spoilers. I'll mark the chapters with possible spoilers with the *.
I really should stop picking animes based on their synopsis. When I stumbled across Arakawa, I was looking for a romantic comedy (with the emphasis on Romance) and the synopsis made Arakawa sound something totally different. I realized my mistake from the first 5 minutes (to be specific I think it happened at the 3 minute and 32 second mark), but by then it was too late for me. I knew I could not stop anymore, so instead of trying to find another ROMANCE-comedy I decided to keep watching Arakawa. What ensued was a lot of WTF's and more laughter than any sane person can produce.
Arakawa Under the Bridge is a spiritual successor to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei series (What solidifies this thought even more is the fact that the main character in Arakawa is voiced by the same actor who voiced dear Mr. Despair). Some may disagree on this, but I firmly believe that these two shows are the two sides of a coin. One is a generalized view of society by an individual and his despair at being unable to affect it. The other is the flipside - society's (represented by Ichinomiya Ko) view of the individual; the outcasts of society. Yet, since the object of the observation is an individual, we can see the true character beneath the surface. Something that society refuses to do.
After that little mindboggle, lets delve into the actual review.
Arakawa Under the Bridge starts as the synopsis tells us. Boy meets girl, girl saves boy, boy wants to return the favor, girl turns out to be insane, boy moves in, hillarity ensues. The plot is rather irrelevant as the show is somewhat episodic like Zetsubou Sensei, but plot does occasionally resurface for a few episodes. Especially, when the main characters go through some development. This is not really a plot driven anime, but rather a character driven one. One might even consider this a Slice-of-Life anime.
* The only plot point in the first season is Ichinomiya Ko's relationship with his father and how he decides to buy the land under the bridge in order to drive the inhabitants out. This problem solves on its own (sort of) as some of the inhabitants are more powerful than they would seem.
* The second season continues the insanity by throwing new characters into the mess. There is even less plot this time around (if that were even possible). The only plotpoint that I noticed was the going to Venus part, which for some reason never got finished. There are a lot of episodes where they are preparing for the journey, but then suddenly they decide to have a tournament instead. Just another WTF to add in to the mix I assume.
Characters and character development:
Just like Zetsubou Sensei, Arakawa Under the Bridge hosts a variety of characters; or rather, character caricatures. Each one has a signature peculiarity that gets overexaggerated to the point that the characters themselves become the running gag of the show. There is a alien from Venus, a kappa, star masked musician, ex-military maniac, paranoid kids who think they have super powers and a bunch more. The caricatures are not as clear that they are in Zetsubou Sensei, but each of the inhabitants has a characterizing feat that serves as an excuse for their actions.
* Take for example the self-proclaimed Venusian, Nino. Her weird approach to everything is shrugged off by telling us that she is an alien from Venus. That's it. During the course of the anime, we are given hints of her past but nothing is answered and even the big reveal of whether or not she really is from Venus is left unrevealed as the crew decides to do something else instead. It wouldn't have bothered me that much if it wasn't for the fact that some of the other character's backrounds get explained, and due to the fact that they build up towards that reveal and then just forget it.
All characters in the series are somewhat similar to Nino. None of them really go through any kind of character development, but some of their past and why they chose to become what they are is revealed to us. Most however, remain unexplained and in most cases, you propably don't even care. Among the other characters, I was sort of interested if the two kids were paranoid or really running away from the government, but I didn't really care that it was left unexplained.
Ichinomiya Ko aka Recruit aka Ric is the representative of society and the viewer, and he is our only voice of reason in this whole mess. Initially Nino doesn't seem to care about him (even thought she calls him her lover), but throughout the anime, she slowly starts to have feelings towards him. It's never really told to the viewer, but it is fairly clear, since she starts to blush. That's always a dead give away. Ric's reactions to the absurdity that is going around him is the main running joke in Arakawa. Yet, despite this, he seems to go through the biggest character development throughout the anime. And it makes sense when you grasp what the anime is about.
Essentially, this anime is all about society labeling people who don't fit in and refusing to understand their reasons for being different. Ric, who basically is a member of society, wanders into the den of these individuals and makes effort to understand them, and in the course of this he too becomes one of them - an individual. Yet, Ric never relinquishes his status in the society. He is never branded as one of the "weirdoes" and therefore he doesn't change himself, rather only his view of these outsiders and what really is normal change during the anime.
I am usually more interested in animes that have either a good plot or a good character development, but this anime had neither of those and I still loved it. Zetsubou Sensei is pretty much the same kind of anime as this one, but as much as I liked Zetsubou Sensei, I felt that it became tiresome as it went on. Clocking at 26 episodes, Arakawa Under the Bridge and its second season seems like the perfect lenght for an anime of this type. Had it been longer series I may had become tired of it, but as it stands I am more than pleased of how it all played out.
I recommend anyone who is into Zetsubou Sensei to take a look at this anime.
One word to describe this anime: weird. Yet, that is the one thing that makes it so delightfully entertaining. With so much anime/manga being made now-a-days, you can expect things to get a bit cliched. However, this anime takes you into the world of Nino, a girl who thinks she's from Venus and lives under a bridge. Kou is intellegent, wealthy, a bit egotistic, and never indebted to anyone--that is until Nino saves his life. From a first look, it seems like another hopeless romance trying to stick out, but what a shock! -- there is actually a whole city of weirdos waiting to astound you (some in masks/costumes, some with mental problems), e.g. the "mayor" who looks like a frog who just rolled out of a pond, oh yeah, he also thinks he's a 620 year old kappa. Kou must live under the bridge as Nino's lover, since it is the one thing she wants in return for saving his life. What Kou didn't know is that he'd have the "others" to deal with too.
This anime didn't fail to impress, nevertheless. From the first episode, I was hooked onto it's odd setting and characters. I happened to find it's dorky humor to be amusing and captivating, which I believe is one of it's main strengths.
There is a decent plot throughout --sometimes things seem to be a little random and jumpy. Besides the fact that Kou is living under the bridge and befriending the bridge dwellers, there isn't many "important happenings" until the main antagonist comes into place. I won't spoil anything for those who are looking into this. However, the story throughout is cute, whimsical, a bit humorous, sometimes dark, and very enjoyable.
The animation is good, however it depends on the type of animation you like, considering the different styles.
There are two opening themes and one ending theme as of now. The main opening theme is about as strange as the show itself, but it's cute and has good animation to go along with it. The second theme is for episode 5. I found the ending theme to be very enjoyable; cute just like the opening theme...but less strange. Overall, I actually love the themes as they fit perfectly.
The characters get a definite 10/10 for me. They are all a little odd, yet as original as it can get. Plus, they're lovable. Can it get any better?
Overall, this anime gives me a happy feeling inside. So far, at least, seeing how it is still ongoing and progressing. I expected more romance, but for the sweet little parts we do get, it makes it worth while for romance lovers. It even has a few partly "touching" parts here and there to add in a little seriousness, which makes it all the better. I can't give this anime any higher rating than 8.5 at the moment since it doesn't have a finale yet, and for me the finale is like the icing on the cake.
If you're ever in the mood for something a little different, and won't discriminate against a little "weirdness", I suggest you check this out.
HOWEVER, if you're a realist or actionist/shounen fan, this anime probably will not sit well with you.
Not everybody's gonna like this anime, but I love it! The characters made me love this anime much more. If you want to be entertained, get to see random story along the way, with a bit of character side story here and there and a whole lot of crazy silly comedic entries, then this anime is for you.