When this show first aired, I found both its image and description on the seasonal chart dis-interesting and skipped on watching it. This was before I was so open to trying at least one episode from most airing anime, so I had no idea what I was missing out on. It wasn’t until I became more of a fan of SHAFT—thanks to Hidamari Sketch, Bakemonogatari, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, and Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko—that I discovered that Arakawa was also done by the same production company. The anime was fairly well received, given its second season and positive feedback from some of my notable forum peers. So I tried it out, and fell in love after the first episode. While it adheres to many of SHAFT’s characteristics—head tilts; long, flowing hair; art not afraid to conflict and experiment—it also did a wonderful job of distancing itself from their faults as well.
Ichinomiya Kou has always lived according to the creed of his wealthy, successful family: never be in debt to anyone. But one day, under the Arakawa Bridge, his life is saved by a homeless girl named Nino. In order to pay her back, Kou promises to be her boyfriend; and thus begins his new life under the bridge. (ANN)
One of my biggest complaints about SHAFT is shown in both Bakemonogatari and Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, shows that I enjoyed and whose ideas I loved, but ultimately found weak in execution. They both suffer from forgettable male protagonists who are greatly overshadowed by their much more interesting surrounding cast (usually all female and mystical). The main male of Arakawa, Ichinomiya Kou, may be a scaredy cat, but we are repeatedly reminded of his leadership capabilities and common sense. He does not fear taking the lead, and once he gets over his family’s stubborn ideal of owing no debt, he is able to fit in with the rest of the riverside residents. These very same characteristics that allow him to succeed in the real world build the main fuel for this show’s humor, as they clash completely with the unique personalities of the rest of the riverside’s inhabitants. He is also a gifted businessman, who heads his very own company and commands several loyal employees, a loyalty that is often used to comedic, a.k.a. homosexual effect. The employees adore their boss and trust him despite his recent and inexplicable fascination with life under the bridge.
And while SHAFT characters on the whole are beautifully designed, they usually also perfectly capture archetypes that I’ve come to expect in most any anime, tsundere, genki, megane, etc. The characters of Arakawa are wholly unique onto themselves and do not apologize for their absurdities. As minor as some of them may be, they are each memorable and likable. The last SHAFT show I remember watching that did such a superb job of casting was in Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, whose main female killed me with her array of stupid facial expressions. Unfortunately, that same anime suffered from pacing issues, which I did not find to be the case here. Arakawa Under the Bridge takes pride in its strange occupants, some of which include a man in a kappa suit, a man parading around with a star-shaped mask, a beautiful female farm animal keeper whose verbal jabs are enough to send any man to his knees, and a “Sister” who is in fact an extremely intimidating, ex-military agent dressed up in a nun’s habit. These don’t even cover our two main characters, Kou and Nino.
Another major aspect of this show I was wary of was its comedy, since my experience with Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Maria Holic taught me that I’m not too friendly with SHAFT’s sense of humor. While I actually thought the first season of Maria Holic was okay, I was extremely disappointed with the second season. I picked up SZS as an early anime-watcher, and so had a hard time grasping what the show was aiming to do. The over-the-top gags and confusing art style had me reeling away in confusion. SZS is definitely on my list of shows to try watching again (along with FLCL), since my initial evaluation suffers from ignorance. The comedy in Arakawa, however, feels much different from these other two. I do sense a bit of a similarity in structure with SZS, since they both revolve around specific aspects of culture. In Arakawa‘s case, the comedy results from Kou’s logical lifestyle contrasting with the bizarre everyday lives of those occupying the riverbed. And yet, upon further interaction with each of the characters, we learn that they are not wholly unfamiliar with the outside world, and that some of them have in fact chosen to remain apart from it for understandable reasons (ie: Last Samurai).
SHAFT’s slice-of-life, Hidamari Sketch, is a general feel-good type of show, with its use of soft pastels, adorable visuals, and endearing characters. And though Arakawa takes a very different approach on almost each one of those aspects, it still achieves a sense of “happy” fulfillment for the viewer. Like with HS, I found myself grinning after each episode and bouncing on my feet for several hours. As cheesy as this may sound, they share a joy in life that is hard to dislike. HS ran for three seasons, and is slotted for a fourth, while Arakawa has a second season (which is next on my list). I can only hope that I am just as satisfied with further installments of Arakawa.
And my favorite character as of now? That would be Maria, with her irresistible, pudgy-faced sadism.