Today we have a bundle package from me, pluffei, for Arakawa Under the Bridge and its second season, Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge. Like many anime in the Shaft family, the Arakawa series falls under a few golden rules: 1) It’s ridiculously funny 2) It’s random 3) The despair is present and 4) Kamiya Hiroshi voices the male lead. Indeed, Arakawa is a prime example of Shaft-grade meat, but is it the baconest of the bacon or will it fall flavorless and flat on my plate? Without further ado, let’s find out!
Even when Arakawa was but a picture on the anime season chart, I had very high expectations of the show, for no other reason than the casting. As I’ve mentioned before, we have the ever-despairing Kamiya Hiroshi playing the rich-handsome-smart (but sometimes idiotic) Ichinomiya Kou, later renamed Riku (short for Recruit).
In addition, we have Sakamoto Maaya playing Riku’s mysterious but somewhat deadpan girlfriend, Nino-san (whose name is actually a joke about her sweatshirt). In any case, the potential for all sorts of comedy here was just so great, it was hard not to expect anything short of the best.
And I was not disappointed. Starting with the plot: Ichinomiya Kou is the capable and attractive son of one of the most influential men in Japan. Yet, on one fateful day, his pants are stolen and flung onto the top of a bridge above the Arakawa river by a couple of delinquents. Nino, who happens to have been fishing nearby (bizarre already, ain’t it?), saves his pants (and life). However, because Kou comes from a family that has an extreme obsession with not being in debt to anyone (no exceptions!), Kou profusely begs Nino for a way to return the debt. Nino responds with the request for him to fall in love with her. Of course, he agrees.
Nino’s request leads to Kou’s debut and residence in the magical Arakawa settlement/village (under the bridge and next to the river). His debut calls for a rechristening by the Chief (the green guy in picture below), and so Ichinomiya Kou became no more; from his ashes, Riku was born. The series basically follows the daily lives of all the villagers, and their many interesting quirks.
An example of such quirks is Nino, and the fact that she claims to be a Venusian and her limit for holding her breath under water is more than humanly possible. The Chief claims to be a kappa, and wears a green kappa bodysuit at all times. His hair length is also adjustable by twisting the cup on his head. Each and every other member of the Arakawa settlement is just as ridiculous, but at least endearingly so.
However, the series isn’t funny just because of the characters. The execution, material and dialogue is also fantastic. There are an array of parodies and references to other manga/anime as well as usage of pop/sub culture and stereotypes. One of these references is the Shaft-despairing, first introduced in Zetsubou Sensei.
Considering all this, despite the romantic (?) premise, it’s not hard to imagine that the romance is minimal. But, every bit of it is a heartfelt treat, and done very well. Riku and Nino’s relationship is … well, as realistic as an intergalactic one can get. There’s the planetary-culture gap, the awkwardness of first love and first relationships (for both of them), and the issue of acceptance by people they know. But time and time again, their bond somehow strengthens and gets them through the bumps and hurdles.
Another aspect of Arakawa that was done very well was its music. I’ve said many times, but a big deciding factor between anime that I like and love is its usage of music. Arakawa boosts itself to the latter through its consistently stellar OP and ED sequences, my favorite being “Akai Coat” by Suneohair, as well as its array of jolly tunes mixed with melancholy music box melodies.
So far, I’ve only been writing a glowing review of Arakawa. Now we will tackle some aspects of the series that weren’t done so well. First off, the quality of the material in the second season dropped a bit. For me, the second season, though still funny, had less of the heartfelt moments and more of the crazy and random antics. Also, because it focused more on the other Arakawa residents, I feel like less attention was given to Riku. In turn, his personality’s consistency dropped, and he’d sometimes ditch his firm stance as the only “normal” person who always retorted the crazy. Instead, he’d get carried away by the flow and be just as idiotic as everyone else.
In season 2′s defense, Nino’s past gets revealed in bits, but none of it is resolved because…
Arakawa lacks conclusiveness, another issue I have with the series. The first season ends not at the conclusion of a major arc, but by introducing a minor new character and finishing his mini-arc within an episode or two. The motive for doing so is beyond me. As for the second season, the ending is a cliffhanger; the villagers decide to go to Venus with Nino, but the season ends in the middle of their preparations to leave Earth. Perhaps this is to usher in a third season, but unfortunately there is no news of such a thing as of yet.
And thus ends my review of the Arakawa seasons 1 & 2. Here’s to hoping there’s a third season!
Over and out. Gochisousama deshita~
Director: Yukihiro Miyamoto
Character design: Nobuhiro Sugiyama
Music: Masaru Yokoyama, Etsuko Yakushimaru (opening), Suneohair (ending)
Original creator: Hikaru Nakamura (manga)
Original run: April 4, 2010 – June 27, 2010 (season 1), October 3, 2010 – December 26, 2010 (season 2)