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.
Raw fish? Yes. Omega-3's, protein, and other nutrients? Definitely. Arakawa under the Bridge is an anime that might taste a bit strange to the uninitiated viewer, but it is flavorful and healthy to boot. Come partake in this memorable meal.
This anime is a waste of time! Don't watch
Nothing ever happens, at the begining of the story you can feel some promise on the story but it just starts to go weird and monotonous. At the very best this is not my type of anime. I see that a lot of people seems to like this anime, but I have no clue what they see in it?
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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.
Plot / Concept
Arakawa Under the Bridge was a delightful surprise for me and could, without a doubt, be so for many others. I didn’t have high expectations going into yet another anime comedy, but this show hit all the right spots for me. While essentially being a comedy, and a random one at that, it does manage to tap some veins left untouched by other similar shows. I guess a little bit of explaining is in order.
While other comedies focus on comedic events which generally originates in happenings and accidents that goes a bit outside of the normal social conduct, this show turns the entire concept around, and the humour stems from the main character, who is a master in social conduct, being forced into a society where none of the norms apply. We follow the main character around as he slowly works his way in and out of the new environment in which he has been placed. The main character Kou, the son of a rich business man, excels in pretty much everything, be it grades, business, popularity, riches, looks. While he did sacrifice friendship and relationships in his fight for fame and fortune, he is considered an elite when it comes to every other aspect of life.
While this concerned me, and I feared I would be faced with a lot of stereotypical gags and mediocre attempts of humour, the show pulled through. While Kou direly wishes to fall back into the stereotype in which he belongs, the residents under the bridge, who he has been forced to live with, simply don’t let it happen. Kou continuously tries to go about things with his excellence in intelligence, business and negotiation, but it just doesn’t work. The reason for this is that all the traits which he has spend his lifetime perfecting, is useless under the bridge. The residents under the bridge have no interests in money, they don’t care about looks, couldn’t care less about business nor grades. Living in cardboard boxes or makeshift houses, and eating whatever they can grow or fish under the bridge, there are other things that need prioritizing: Friendship, relationship and fun. All the residents under the bridge are, to put it mildly, nutjobs, but even though some of them might think of themselves as animals, nuns, mythological creatures or something worse, they all share their bond of friendship. It is now up to Kou to explore this “underbridge” society, learning their way of life and their values, while dealing with his own, which tells him: “These people are crazy”.
The characters are without a doubt, what makes this show. Beside the main character Kou, all of the characters are residents under the bridge and are completely out of sync with the reality we live in (or chose to?). Even though the characters are widely different in appearance, personality or occupation, they all for some strange magic reason work well together and enjoy their time with each other. Each of the characters are heart warming in their own special way, and while some of them might be a bit rude or sadistic, you know they have their special spot in the society under the bridge. It is hard to find a character not to like. Some start out strange or annoying, but they generally tend to pick it up as it goes along.
Audio / Visual
I have to give credit to the audio chosen for this series, it fits it perfectly. It isn’t a masterpiece or a symphony or anything fancy like that, but instead some light-hearted tune sometimes spiced up with a couple of funky melodies. The audiotrack pretty much reflects the rest of the show, which is a good thing, simple as that.
Much like any other anime made by Shaft, you are in for a treat. Granted the animations are not as smooth as they could be and the characters are not always as detailed as they should be. Never the less, Shaft provides excellent visuals, while the general animation can be lacking at times, the attention to small useless details is there and they generally pull through in the animation when the situation requires it. Shaft also provides a theme, in pretty much every visual aspect possible: Be it the gourgeous surroundings, the fast phased cutting or the choice of the overall colours of the show. It gives the show personality and charm.
Who should watch this show?
While I absolutely adore this show, I acknowledge that this isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. But let me try to give you an estimate, as to whether or not you will like the show.
Personally I’m delighted I found this gem. I enjoyed every second of every episode.