Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Arakawa Under the Bridge Episodes 1-9 – Sometimes I Feel Like I Don’t Have a Partner

Arakawa Under the Bridge Episodes 1-9 – Sometimes I Feel Like I Don’t Have a Partner

There’s a tried and true formula for making funny TV shows. Take some interesting, cleverly warped characters, put them into strange or uncomfortable situations, and write what would naturally follow from them. It’s called a situation comedy, or sitcom, and it’s a pattern followed and used to great effect the world over.

If you’re not interested in writing a sitcom, you can try another method of humor writing. You can try to be surreal, to play with your audiences expectations of reality as you grow increasingly more absurd, raising the ante at every step. This is a much more difficult tact to take, though, because unless you happened to be a stoned college student watching Adult Swim, 30 minutes of utter nonsense isn’t very entertaining. There’s an art to weird humor, to how you play with what people think will come at every step—in a lot of ways, randomness is much harder to write than realism.

Kou Ichinomiya is the wealthy heir to the Ichinomiya family, and has lived his life according to their implausible creed—never let anyone do anything for you. Then, one day he almost drowns in a river after falling off a bridge trying to recover his pants that teenagers stole them from him and is saved by a girl named Nino, who lives under the bridge Kou fell off and is convinced she’s from Venus. Immediately, he starts to have the asthma attack that is even more implausibly triggered by ever owing a debt to anybody. He asks her what he can do to repay her. She says, somewhat poignantly, he can love her.

This is a nearly shot-by-shot adaptation of the manga, which looks almost as good

If you can get past the contrivance of Kou’s ridiculous family creed, that’s kind of a sweet setup for a romantic comedy. In the course of trying to fulfill his debt to Nino, maybe Kou will fall for her and her oddities, or come to her rescue when the harsh realities of life. And maybe Nino will be able to get over the troubles that led to her living under the bridge, or sway Kou into accepting her whimsical life of freedom, or take him off to Venus for crazy adventures.

But I’m really just navelgazing here, because Arakawa Under the Bridge is not a romantic comedy. It’s a surreal farce, or at least it tries to be. It’s part of a burgeoning anime subgenre of realistically drawn absurd comedies. The realism in the art style creates an expectation for a series show, which is subverted by the ridiculousness of the show. Unfortunately, that’s the only one of the audience’s expectations Arakawa is subverting. It commits the most damning of sins for a show aiming for amusing nonsense—it’s too predictable.

Creepy, I know

After their initial meeting, every one of the “episodes” that make up this first show (each has their own title screen and episode name) goes something like this:
1) Kou has some preconception about the situation he is currently in, based on his perception of the real world
2) Nino, or another character who shows up later in the show, does something counter to his preconceptions
3) Kou freaks out

He freaks out in like five different art styles

That might be fine if there was some cleverness to the situations, or if the situations grew ever more absurd, building to some kind of climax, but they don’t. It’s just another gag. They’re silly, but that’s about it. I love shows that play with audience expectations or dabble in absurdism, but I never found it that funny or surprising either time I watched it.

It may not be funny, but it is pretty good-looking. It seems like every show this season is either extremely well-animated or stylistically beautiful, and Arakawa is definitely the latter. It’s made by an animation company called SHAFT, and if you’re familiar with their previous work, it has the same unique style you would expect. Lots of muted, reddish colors, combined with realistically textured backgrounds. Stylish cutaways or quick close-ups to create over-the-top drama out of seemingly mundane things. There’s more, but they’re all SHAFT signatures, and if you’ve seen their previous work, you’ve seen them before. If this is your first show by them, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised (or disoriented), but by now I already know what to expect.

Like a certain other SHAFT protagonist, Nino's hair has a mind of its own.

It’s still too early to tell if the series will slip into another SHAFT tradition: cutting massive corners on the animation. Even now, they’re using the classic technique of long shots of still characters during dialogue so they don’t have to animate anything. I doubt it will be as bad as Bakemonogatari, which had entire shots missing in the original TV broadcast, but you never know with them what will happen as the series wears on.

If you like unique animation, you owe it to yourself to see at least one show by SHAFT, but it doesn’t look Arakawa Under the Bridge should be it. I’d recommend Bakemonogatari, which is a fairly dark show about high schoolers becoming monsters, or Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei, if you insist on watching heavily-stylized farce.

You don't want to know what's going on here

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