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.