Arakawa Under the Bridge: Hana’s shoujo interpretation

Arakawa Under the Bridge

Ooh, pretty blue sky and pretty people beneath it…

Now this was a surprise. I knew nothing about gag-manga (except that the tag sounded a bit dodgy), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, I remember seeing the promo pic for the anime series and being immediately taken in by the colour and the character designs. Not least of all the lovely long-haired blonde in her cute blue and white tracky top and shorts ensemble facing the tall dark and bishified, smartly dressed young man, on a wind-swept river bank silhouetted by a massive white bridge and beautiful blue sky and water and thinking ‘yeh that looks orite’. And a damn good thing I looked again once the first episodes were out. Great visuals, funny, fast-paced, funny, surreal, and did I mention funny?

Yes, this was a surprise and a very pleasant one. Again, this gem of a series is also being blogged on T.H.A.T., by Crusader I think, so needless to say I’m pretty wary of invading his territory, the territory of a real life warrior no less (*gulp*). However, as I’ve done with Maid-sama before, I’ll go into some more detail on the characters and other bits and bobs.

Key characters

Riku, Riku, Riku. AKA Recruit. AKA Ichinomiya Kou. AKA the driest fish-out-of-water I have seen in a long time (I apologize in advance for more bad jokes of the watery kind). Unlike Misaki, no need to guess what Riku’s motto is; ‘never let yourself get into anyone else’s debt in any way, shape or form’ pretty much sums it up. And we certainly see the extent of his determination to follow this mantra in his death-defying solo climb up the side of a friggin enormous bridge before being fished out (hey, you were warned) of the river after of course falling in, and promptly suffering the asthma-attack-inducingly-horrifying realisation of finding his entire life and future in the debt of a girl who ain’t even human. Some guys have all the luck.

Some guys have all the luck.

So what makes him so refreshing? The unashamedly extensive bragging? The abundance of money, rep, education, good breeding and looks to justify said bragging? The workaholic daddy with a fetish for baby stuff? The baffling and near-fatal lengths to which Ichinomiya Jr will go to live by his motto? The fact that he wears a white collared shirt and tie and trousers and keeps them all pristinely clean and ironed while living under a bloody bridge? No wonder our fair Nino-san has a soft spot for him. I guess it’s not every day such an amusing Earthling almost drowns himself trying to stay out of your debt and then promptly wakes up in your lap owing you his entire life. And agrees to be your live-in lover. Yes, no wonder.

So, let’s now give our gentle Venusian a little more of the attention she deserves, nay commands.

All hail Queen Nino!

If you thought Usui was mysterious, he ain’t got nothing on this one. Except maybe the fact that he’s also frequently called an alien. Hmm. Back to Nino. So, what exactly do we know about her? Well, not that much actually. A self-proclaimed immigrant from the planet of love, this golden haired beauty with the huge azure eyes and penchant for gymwear and deadpan delivery only seems to want somebody to love. And only then if they absolutely insist on giving something debt-cancellation-worthy back, cos otherwise she ain’t that bothered. Yes, a tough cookie to impress, as we see from her memorable first dayto with Recruit a couple of weeks back, but hopefully as the weeks pass and we are introduced to the other nutters in the bridge village, we’ll find out a lot more about Nino’s mysterious past. Like what’s her real name? And is she really an alien? Well, on the one hand she does know how to rock a pretty frock, but on the other hand how many Earthlings do you know who can breath underwater? Hmm…

Overview of themes

Money matters: So what’s the deal with the Ichinomiyas’ whole anti-debt thing? Does it betray a belief that the only way to succeed and be happy with that success is if no one else has anything to do with you achieving said success? Clearly Riku is ridiculously proud of all he’s accomplished in his charmed life (though being born with a silver spoon in his mouth can’t have hurt his chances). Either way, the debt thing is a good hook that immediately reels the audience in (again, you were warned), and keeps us LOLing as we discover the lengths to which he’ll go to return any perceived favours. Such as watching the younger Kou repaying daddy’s hair-washing debt, or later hunting down his Valentines choco-senders during high school, to give just two particularly entertaining examples.

On a serious note, there may be an equally serious reason for the debt thing. Not least of all the severe asthma attacks, which look as if they may lead to an actual heart attack, which is what I first thought he was having. I guess we’ll have to see whether or not our favourite high-strung bragger learns from Nino et. al. that sharing is caring, before his father or boss or whoever the hell is supposed to be keeping an eye on him realises he’s gone AWOL and drags his pert ass back to whatever cushioned seat it’s supposed to be perched on.

Please don’t give him anything. Ever.

Domestic matters: Hmm… from one unconventional home life to another eh. Btw is it just my selective memory, or have we not heard anything about Riku’s mum or siblings? I haven’t read the manga, so based on the anime’s portrayal of daddy’s methods, it wouldn’t be too harsh to say that Riku’s upbringing was pretty mental. The influence of which is seen when he initially tries to settle his apparent debt to Nino by offering to set her up for life with her own house and pots of money. So, a wealthy home life is a healthy home life to Riku. Nino of course rejects the plan, preferring (if anything), a lover and one who’ll move in with her. Which leads us on to the next theme…

Family matters: Nino just wants a family? As does Riku by agreeing to move in with her? What about the rest of the bridge village? Aren’t they like a family, each with their own role to play in making such a life work? So are we talking about the desire to belong to one big ol’ fashioned extended family? Or does Riku and Nino’s individual shacking-up foreshadow the will-eventually-get-married-and-make-their-own-family formula? Hmm, maybe this anime isn’t so different beneath the surreal surface. But kudos to it for making me appreciate my own family and our home a little more. Yup, the fact that I contribute half of my paycheck for the privilege of still living at home and having mum-cooked food seems a small price to pay for not being called a great big leech and having a song about my leechiness sung loudly before the entire community. (Yeah sorry for bringing that up Riku, and btw I can’t stand Star either, the jealous prick with the crappy lyrics – shame on him!).

A filthy habit to go with your filthy imagination – shame on you!

Hard-hitting (i.e. soft) analysis:

So, in an era of soaring housing and living costs, the breakdown of traditional family units, crippling personal debts and rising poverty, what critical perspectives does this gag-manga-based anime offer on these complex issues?

Well firstly, if you thought homelessness was no laughing matter, clearly you were wrong. Or at least, funnily enough, we don’t have to dwell too long on the matter (if we did at all) due to the fact that the bridge village are all a bunch of nutters and mentalists. Hold up. Does that mean nutters and mentalists deserve to be homeless? Or just the aliens (literally) and ones with special powers (of the super or at least the freaky kind)? And speaking of aliens, AKA immigrants, maybe this is a damning critique of the plight of migrants/ travellers/ asylum seekers and anyone else in between who may (or may not) have come to our shores seeking a better life than the mysterious ones they left behind? (And don’t get me started on Japan’s immigration policies.)

The bridge village. Homelessness has never looked so… er…

Or perhaps the series is like an animated version of shows such as ‘How the Other Half Live’ or ‘Wife-Swap’, which seek to highlight how increasingly polarised our societies have become in terms of the widening divisions in status, education and money between us all? In this case, there may be more than just comedy value to be appreciated in Riku’s entertaining attempts to bridge (hoho) the gap between his exceptionally privileged background and the significantly less privileged circumstances of everyone else, by trying to fit in amongst those whom society thinks do not. Again, we are left with (i.e. I can’t be bothered to answer) more questions. Though I’m guessing, given the strong sense of mystery surrounding our favourite apparent nutcase, it depends on what direction the series will take and what is revealed about said nutcase and company, before we can come to any firm conclusions.

Final thoughts:

Always judge on appearances. No, really. I sought out the ‘Valkyria Chronicles’ anime based solely on how stunning Alicia and Welkin looked in the promo pic I saw, and I wasn’t disappointed with that either. (I even considered forking out £300 for a PS3 and the game just so I could get more of it, but in the end settling for the cheapo option of watching a million vids of a play-through that a helpful YouTuber had uploaded – but that’s a whole other blog.) Seriously though, I’ll end this overlong post by saying that if the mark of a decent anime series consists of yummy artwork and interesting characters with interesting voices getting up to interesting things, then (if you swap ‘interesting’ with ‘decidedly peculiar’) here you also have a clear winner. And that’s more than you can say for the ‘Arakawa gag contest’ at the end of each episode (*she thinks recalling the words of a certain pink-haired judge and violently shuddering, before skipping off to find more shoujo*).

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  1. Posted June 2, 2010 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Arakawa is more or less defined as “absurdist humour” to me. The whole bridge village thing is just a setup so that Ric finally learns that independence is a really shitty thing, when taken to it’s extremes. Especially when the whole village is nuts.

    I’m only watching the show because the mangaka also did Saint Young Men, which I liked enough to read the manga.

    • Posted June 3, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      “absurdist humour” eh (*taking notes/ adding to her still much to be desired level of manga/anime knowledge*)… I checked out the manga for AUtB breifly, but the anime was way ahead – but thanks for the tip about SYM though, will try and check that out during the summer of suck…

  2. Posted June 2, 2010 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Arakawa to me is a parody. I mean the sheer absurdity of the “no debt” policy of Kou feels like a jab at how contractual and unsympathetic human relations, perhaps at the higher echelons, have become. We can’t honestly be made to believe that a father and a son would have a relationship purely defined by material can we? More than that, it’s also a commentary on the disjoint between the rich and the poor. The rich value material wealth, social pride, and “fariness”.
    On the other hand, the poor don’t really need material wealth. Nino didn’t need anything when Kou needed to repay her debt, all she wanted was a relationship. Everything that the residents under the bridge want is provided to them. Do we really need material wealth? Or can we be happy by just living our lives, no matter in what way? The answer, at least at this point in the show, seems to be an unequivocal “yes”. The community under the bridge is a big family of sorts, bonded together by their rejection from society. Yet they aren’t really bothered by it. They’re living their lives to the fullest. It doesn’t matter if they’re necessarily bad or something (evidenced by Hoshi and his singing); the residents still appreciate the meaning and intention behind one’s actions.

    Of course I also view it as a fundamentally absurd show as well haha. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laughed while watching the way. It’s a treat to watch ^_^.

    • Posted June 3, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Very interesting. I agree it’s pretty much a parody, but I do love the way it flags up the issues that you’ve succinctly and carefully highlighted. Either way – defo a treat to watch!

  3. Micchon
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Because of his silver-spoon-ness, Riku can never take things to face value. While he interacts with the other inhabitants of the bridge, he still treats them as lower class. To him, he just wants the hell out of there. Nino will be his saving grace, I feel.

    • Posted June 8, 2010 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      Yes, it’s a shame that he still needs to perceive himself as superior by putting them down. However, he does seem to be learning from the ‘leech’ accusation and, more seriously, from Nino. You say he just wants to get the hell outa there, my guess is he’ll prob grow quite attached to them all and value them, or at least what he learns from them, a lot more later. Not least of all how to interact with people better. It’s certainly interesting watchign his emotional development and his developing relationships with the other bridge villagers!

  4. Posted June 2, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I think what makes Riku/Kou so refreshing is the fact that underneath all of the bragging, starched shirts, violin concertos and distant father figure he’s incredibly emotionally naive. His reactions to Nino washing his hair and other small but sweet romantic gestures on her part have not only been hilarious, but surprisingly touching. The jokes then kick in when you see that Riku, who knows the social meaning of romantic gestures is completely clueless and never makes the first move, while Nino, who seemingly knows nothing of the social implications, has no problem taking action.

    There is also the whole class discrepancy between Riku and the rest of the bridge residents. What I’m the most curious about is Nino’s past. They’ve hinted that since she can’t possibly be Venusian, (that’s Minako Aino’s job!) she could have come from a wealthy background. Since there’s only a few more episodes, we probably won’t get the chance to find out, but it’s fun to speculate anyway.

    • Posted June 8, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      Yes, his emotional naivety is pretty incredible, otherwise he’d probably be totally unbearable. I agree that the mixture of humour and pathos is spot on, especially when coupled with the themes of human relationship/interaction and class divisions. Guess we’ll have to wait and see what the big reveal (if any) is concerning Nino, either way as you say it’s defo fun speculating!

  5. Posted June 3, 2010 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    I view Arakawa as a religious parable. Kou is the human spirit, blinded by ego, and wandering lost on the material plane. Ric is the human spirit searching for re-unification with the greater self (godhead). Nino is the Anima (Kou’s “shadow self”) who leads Ric into the communion of spirit (the village under the bridge).

    Oh, and Sister is a freaking nun with a gun.

    • Posted June 8, 2010 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Lol! Ooh I didn’t consider the religious allusions, very interesting the ones you point out. I wonder if it will turn out that way for Riku though, or if that would be too ‘neat’ and ending? He’s also very young, or rather very naive, so it could also be interpreted as a coming-of-age/ learning-to-stand-on-your-own-two-feet (emotionally rather than financially) sort of tale as well. Who says gag-manga/anime can’t be deep as well eh?!

  6. ectholion
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    yea this show just continously blows my mind like it episode nine if you look at the begining on the chalk board you see that recruit is teaching then an alkyl addition reaction + a reduction reaction from an aldehyde to an alcohol….wtf plus the whole stella power up thing..

    • Posted June 8, 2010 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      Haha, I shall take your word that the chemical equation thingy is accurate, cos I wouldn’t have a clue! Cute/ scary Stella is a great character, as are most of them – except Piko, can’t stand her, waaay too annoying to be cute!

  7. Exar
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I view Arakawa the mystlord sees it, that along with being a gag comedy, for the sheer absurdity that all the characters have.
    It also gives me warm fussies and a very good laugh each week (along with Working!)

    Also, Sakamoto Maaya is EPIC FTW!

    • Posted June 8, 2010 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Lol at ‘the’ mystlord, I see he has a worshipper already hehe. You’re righ though, is so friggin awesomely hilarious, esp the epi when the secretary guy comes to find him, I share those warm fussies with ya. But that’s also interesting too, in the tenderness that often goes hand in hand with the absurd (or the use of pathos/bathos in that way), as are with Kamiya Hiroshi Sakamoto Maaya!

  8. Posted June 3, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Impz thanks for posting this in my absense and lack of internetness! Speak again soon…

  9. Shokkeru
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    What really sells me on a show are the characters and how interesting their personalities are and Arakawa has that along with some pretty crazy comedy. I really like how each resident has their own quirk and in some cases their own “baggage” that you might not expect. Sure the comedy can be a hit or miss sometimes, but overall I think it’s a really enjoyable experience.

    • Posted June 8, 2010 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Agreed, and Arakawa certainly has crazy characters getting into crazy situations bit down pat. It’s also interesting what you say about the unexpected ‘baggage’, I like the way this is weaved in so that it’s not too cheesy, but surprisingly tender (as well as pretty damn crazy of course). Btw glad you’re back with your Uraboki (and hopefully Drrr?) posts, they have been sorely missed!

      • Shokkeru
        Posted June 8, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I believe Uraboku is being blogged by Reverse Vampire, not me. Don’t worry, it’s a common misconception (just kidding, it’s really not… I hope.)

        However, I’m holding off on Durarara!! until the series is finished and I’ll write a final summarized review of the entire series. It doesn’t really excuse my laziness and lack of writing but hopefully it’ll make up for some of it. =P

        • Posted June 8, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

          Eek that was stupid of me, sorry Shok! (I blame jet-lag, Impz can fill you in on that.) Though I might have also thought that cos I think one of the earlier Uraboku posts contained the phrase ‘Shizou wannabe’… ah Shizuo, so freakin awesome… (*drifts off to her happy place*)

          • Shokkeru
            Posted June 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

            Haha, no problem. That’s a fair misunderstanding and I’ve made worse mistakes in the past.

            Also, Shizuo is pretty awesome.

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