The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Arakawa Under the Bridge

Title: Arakawa Under the Bridge
Genre: Comedy
Company: SHAFT
Format: 13 Episodes
Dates: 4 Apr 2010 – 27 Jun 2010

Synopsis: Ichinomiya Kou is the wealthy son of a plutocratic family. Since birth, he has lived by his family mantra: be indebted to no one. One day, he nearly loses his life trying to get his trousers back from a couple of pranksters, if it weren’t for a mysterious woman named Nino. Horrified by her act of benevolence, he insists that he repay her. She tells him to become her boyfriend. He accepts, and begins living under the Arakawa Bridge with a group of bizarre societal misfits.

The Highlights
Animation: Not so Shinbo-esque this time; easy on the eyes.
Kou: Exhibits some growth, but not enough.
Characters: A hilarious and original romp.
Ending: Disappointing.

Arakawa Under the Bridge is first and foremost an absurdist comedy. The denizens of the Arakawa Bridge are a surreal bunch, ranging from a man wearing a kappa costume to a trigger-happy veteran wearing a nun costume. Their actions are utterly unpredictable, and the situations that Kou finds himself wrapped up in are often extremely ridiculous. The humor of the show mainly derives from Kou’s position as the perpetual straight man in a society of weirdos. His background contrasts sharply with those of his new neighbors. They are societal outcasts; he is a member of society’s elite. They have absolutely no common sense; he is impeccably educated.

…Or is he? Could Kou be the abnormal one? Arakawa Under the Bridge portrays Kou as a lonely man, friendless, awkward and emotionally scarred by his unloving father and his family mantra. After his arrival at at the riverbank, he lightens up a bit, and begins to see the joy in life. He reaches out to people, and learns to accept them (somewhat) for who they are. We watch as he develops and grows, builds friendships, falls in love, and fights vigorously for his right to live his life however according to his own free will.

Arakawa, therefore, contains two anime within it. One is an absurdist screwball comedy, and the other is a serious critique on social order and conformity. The comedy portion of the show, when viewed alone, is brilliant. The jokes are highly original and never fail to surprise. While some of it begins to get old towards the tail end of the show, the comedy was still strong enough to keep me chuckling throughout. New characters are introduced almost every episode, which certainly helped prevent the jokes from getting stale.

Yet, at the same time, Arakawa‘s perpetually expanding cast drew focus away from the more serious aspects of the show. SHAFT occupied itself mostly with creating funny jokes and sight gags for new characters, and the drama and character development felt weak at times. Particularly, Nino, Kou’s love interest, remains an enigma throughout the show. She feels more like a parenthesis than a true heroine – an utter waste, considering she was one of the most captivating and mysterious members of the show’s cast. The other characters, while hilarious, have little to no real personality and zero development of which to speak.

Though most of the show’s cast lacks personality and character development, aspects of Kou’s personality are explored in great detail. Particularly, Arakawa does an incredible job in illustrating Kou’s fear of his father. The second, slightly more serious half of the show dealt mostly with him coming to terms with his father’s domination over him, and Arakawa‘s portrayal of Kou’s metamorphosis from a neurotic, timid CEO into a confident, brave and free-thinking man is admirable. However, his transformation is marred by out-of-character gags which are frequently thrown into the show. It is rather unthinkable that Kou would still be surprised by some of the Arakawans’ actions after living amongst them for so long, and accepting them for who they are. This disparity between Kou’s more serious actions and his behavior during gag segments decreased the credibility of his character.

In essence, Arakawa Under the Bridge attempts to consolidate its extremely different and conflicting two halves, and does a decent, but not amazing, job at doing so. The comedy of the show wore down slightly during the second half, but still managed to keep itself mostly fresh and amusing. The drama became slightly hampered by the constant shadow of absurdist comedy looming over it. I personally would have liked to see the relationship between Nino and Kou progress somewhat further. Ultimately, however, these are all small complaints. Arakawa is a hilarious show brimming with promise and originality. There’s something for everyone here, and something to like, no matter one’s preference.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed By: Akira

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