Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spring 2010 - Arakawa Under The Bridge

Manga and anime has grown to embrace the power of comedy, both in the traditional styles of the rakugo performer and the modernized perception of the manzai duo. While most comedy depends on the quick give-and-take exchange between characters, sometimes the plot requires a long build-up to a quick punchline (ochi). This style has been what fueled recent anime hits such as Cromartie High School and Sayonara Zetsubô-sensei; each small story comes to an abrupt and unexpected end.

It's with this style that Hikaru Nakamura created the Arakawa Under The Bridge manga, leading to its current series run. Nakamura is also known for the Saint Young Men manga, which tells the story of a reincarnated Jesus and Buddha, so his mind for comedy is in the right place. Considering that the series is being directed by Akiyuki Shinbô and animated by Shaft, both of which were involved with the entire Sayonara Zetsubô-sensei anime, the show should have a very familiar feel to it.

"Familiar" is likely more appropriate than we think, as we are greeted by the voice of Hiroshi Kamiya (Zetsubô-sensei himself) in the form of Kô Ichinomiya, a self-made youth whose future appears bright as the inheritor of a corporation. Fate, however, plays a trick on young Ichinomiya, as he is saved from a freak fall from a bridge over the Arakawa River by Nino, a placid blond girl who claims she's from Venus. Kô is grateful, but he is more decimated by the fact that he's in the girl's debt, which affects him like an allergy. When asked if there is anything Kô can do to repay her, Nino tells him to be her lover.

From this point on, Kô is forced to follow the rituals of the village that has gathered under the bridge and cope with the oddest of characters. The kappa village chief seems too fake to be real (what's with that zipper?), the star-faced Hoshi has a thing for Nino, and the local "sister" is a scar-faced, battle-tested soldier who preaches religion with ammunition. All in all, the village is Kô's own Wonderland, and the citizens are getting curiouser and curiouser.

Much like SZS, Arakawa Under The Bridge rides on the panic from Kamiya's paranoia-laden voice and the quirks of the characters. The art may not be as experimental, as perhaps too much attention is placed on Kô's eyes, but Arakawa also runs on the story's overall plot for guidance, as Kô attempts to fit into Nino's life and repay his debt to her in the form of life experiences. Unlike SZS, the smaller stories fit together to make a complete twenty-minute "bridge" for each episode, but the comedy does fit the pattern, the ochi coming out more like milk from the nose than a chuckle from the gullet.

Will all of the jokes be easy for the foreign audience to appreciate? Likely yes, but the slow pace of the show leading to the punchline may make those with shorter attention spans hope for something a little more energetic. This anime appears to be more refined than expected from Shinbô and Nakamura, as Arakawa hopes to fulfill a gentle story under the discarded jokes at the surface. Hopefully, what lies at the river's delta is just as good as what floats midstream.

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