Arakawa Under The Bridge (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 300 minutes approx.
Successful businessman Ko Ichinomiya, owes the success in his young life to the stern direction set by his father and a single maxim that has been adhered to by the males of the Ichinomiya family for generations – “never be in debt to anyone”. So strict is this rule that Ko has it embroidered into his tie. One day Ko is jumped by a gang of youths who throw his trousers high up onto the rafters of the bridge over the Arakawa river. Determined to get them back under his own mettle, Ko refuses the help from a young blonde woman named Nino, who was fishing off the bridge, but when he slips and falls into the river she saves him anyway. Now in debt to Nino, Ko is forced to live under the bridge with Nino and the other inhabitants. And what an eclectic bunch they are.
The original manga by Hikaru Nakamura first appeared in 2004 at it took six years before studio Shaft were commissioned to bring the story to life via the medium of animation (and even more incredible is the live action TV show!). Whether this was due to trying to make sense of the zany world and idiosyncratic characters Nakamura created, Arakawa Under The Bridge is certainly a show that doesn’t play by the rules. With an art and animation style similar to Bakemonogatari and the two Ef shows and each episodes broken down as per the original manga into short chapters this is a show that is anything but conventional.
For a start Nino claims she is from Venus, a proclamation she makes with a complete deadpan expression that Ko has no choice but to (try to) believe. Nino also has Ko under her thumb and the debt she calls in for saving Ko is to experience love with her, an offer Ko jumps at accepting. Then he meets the others living under the bridge.
There is the Village Chief who claims to be a Kappa but is obviously a man in a green suit. He gives everyone living under the bridge their name so he christens Ko “Recruit” or “Rec” for short as he is to be known hereafter. Running the local church is Sister, a huge brute of a man, a former ex-soldier dressed in a nun’s habit. Wannabe rock star Hoshi wears a yellow star mask and is Ko’s rival for the affections of Nino. Piko is a clumsy girl who grows vegetables while Whitey is a former businessman who follows the white lines he makes with his paint roller. Then we have the local diary farmer Maria, who may be beautiful on the outside by on the inside she is a sadist!
Also residing under the bridge are Tetsou and Tetsuro the Metal Brothers, two boys who claim to be espers who wear metal helmets to keep their powers in check. Another youngster is Stella, a perky young blonde girl who hails from England and has a weird crush on Sister. But when Stella gets mad she transforms into a gargantuan man mountain of violence who dwarves the mighty Sister. The resident hairdresser is the Last Samurai and rounding off the community are would be lovers Billy and Jacqueline, the latter thinks she is a bee while the former is a Yakuza with a parrot’s head!
With such a random collective one can be forgiven that this show is a series of spurious and individual escapades with little to no correlation with each other then, well you’re partly right. In actual fact there is something of an overarching story buried deep within the madness, involving firstly Ko’s acclimatising to his new life under the bridge and his fellow inhabitants, and later an attempt by his property developer father who buys up the land and plans to renovate it for his own means. Ko is therefore called upon his business nous to outsmart his father to save the land, utilising the help of the others, which may or may not be a bad idea.
It would be remiss for anyone to deny that this show is as abstract as they come yet there is an underlying sense to it all that makes it more accessible than it should be. Director Akiyuki Shinbo has a huge resume that takes in just about every genre from sci-fi to comedy to drama and everything in between. Arakawa marks a return to his more esoteric side as seen in such shows as Dance In The Vampire Bund and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, in which his imagination is allowed to run free, clearly enjoying himself in the process. The artwork and character designs may be somewhat simplistic but the cast themselves are a very complex and unique bunch that they all stand out individually. As disparate a gathering as they may appear to be the dynamics of the group is one that works exceptionally well and would suffer from either further additions or a change in personnel. The show is supported by a funky jazz soundtrack that bops way in the background while each episodes ends with a surreal live action preview for the next!
The biggest caveat though is how the humour will be received by the UK audience. Japanese jokes are a law unto themselves and many don’t translate too well, especially localised puns and references, thus its very identity is the key to its successor failure to connect with international audiences. While some gags will leave many of us bemused the bulk work just fine and once one is in tune with the humour, this is a hilarious if completely bonkers experience.
Arakawa Under The Bridge is a surreal but highly enjoyable series that will divide opinion based on one’s tolerance of the absurd. A Monty Python comparison might seem like a lofty measuring stick to hold against this show but that gives you some idea of what to expect. A deliriously subversive slice of abstract fun!
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 5.1
Disc 2 Only:
15 Second Blu-ray & DVD Advertisements x 6
End Card Gallery
15 Second Promo Spots 1&2
30 Second promo Spots 1&2
Ratings – ****
Man In Black