Arakawa Under the Bridge (Merry Days of Anime 2021)

Won’t put too much into this post. With the Christmas season approaching, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Also, wanted to put it out there that Arakawa Under the Bridge will be the second-to-last anime I watch this month. The last one might be a film, just because of the time constraints.

Anyway, this is something of a momentous occasion: This anime was actually brought back from the dead. After a long wait, Arakawa Under the Bridge finally got the recognition it rightfully deserved within my mind. Not that I was particularly vouching for it beforehand, but I was assuming it wouldn’t be terrible!

(Quick disclaimer: This is just the first season of the series. I did not watch its second season: Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge.)

Quick History

My first attempt watching this came long, long ago. September of 2012—only a few months after my “Anime Renaissance.” Nine years is a pretty sizeable gap for anyone, especially for someone as young as I was at the time (19). The person I was then and the person I am now may as well be different people… at least when it comes to taste.

While I remember attempting Arakawa Under the Bridge, I didn’t remember too much about it outside of it being “weird.” Don’t let the quotations fool you—the series is, indeed, weird. Though my choice to surround the word in a coat of suspicion is with clear intent! Weird as it may be, the anime has, from what I see, a wholesome message directly underneath that the absurdity only highlights when it decides to clear a path.

My dropping the series then was probably a blessing. I very likely wouldn’t have been able to interpret it the way I do now.

There’s a pandemic out there, after all!

Actual (Quick) Review

If my tone thus far didn’t make it clear enough, I like this anime quite a bit. Probably my favorite series I’ve watched this month, at least from an emotional standpoint. There are a lot of really fun aspects to the series that embrace how rad anime is as a medium. Animation, comedy, absurdity; what ties it all together is a crucial element that not all absurdist comedy anime don’t have: substance.

Before that, though, I want to mention a few negative points, just to ground it within Earth’s atmosphere.

The absurdity of this anime can occasionally stretch itself too thin. The appeal of these strange characters—whether a dude dressed as a kappa and claiming to be one or a little girl with unrealistic physical prowess—is that they have their shticks and play off the main character, the straight man. Occasionally, they play their shtick quite heavily. The biggest offenders are the starfish dude and Sister combo’d with Maria. They have one specific joke and they tell it… again and again until the oblivion.

Darlin’, you give love a bad name.

It’s slightly homophobic, too. Jokes that paint homosexuality as clearly being a bad thing are peppered in here and there.

Not super fond of how it ends, too. A very standard “oh no something is going to happen; everything is very dramatic now” plotline that is resolved with literally no explanation. Things were bad, and then things were fine. I… okay. Why even have it occur?

That’s pretty much it for negatives! I just really dig how weird this is. Given the studio behind it (Shaft, of Bakemonogatari fame), the visual department is going to be a little special. Lots of repeating, split-second close-up shots and blatantly unimportant frames that are just there to be there. All in great fun, even if it comes off as a tad pretentious. Any anime studio can just present things in a normal way; Shaft do things a little differently, and I adore that about the company.

Yeah, really?!

But the key thing here is substance. Absurd? Yes. It’s just that the absurdity is a unique(?) presentation of supplying a solution to the equally absurd (in a more grounded manner) main character. A no-nonsense, never-be-indebted-to-anyone businessman who does not know anything about being a human being. A chance encounter with a “Venusian” named Nino slowly unravels all that he knows about what it means to be alive.

These themes are pretty consistent throughout. The lead, Rec, as he is eventually referred to as, represents a circumstance of being brought up in a results-first, leisure-second lifestyle that Japanese culture tends to pressure people with. Success is measured in power, suits, influence, etc. By interacting with these odd characters under the bridge, Rec comes to understand that life is more than just the honor of your name. Interpersonal relationships, simpler living, and finding happiness are all emphasized.

Y’know, substance. A reason for these characters to be doing the things that they do and their place within it all. Not often can you say that you understand (maybe) the image of a war-torn veteran man dressed in nun’s garbs.

Adorable scene.

Conclusion

Not always funny or cohesive, it at least provides a solid template for a moderately unique take on a coming of age tale. Arakawa Under the Bridge is recommendable for the camaraderie of its cast and its subtly impactful moments of emotional clarity. Many different parts to the whole shine, which allows newcomers to have something to look forward to with each episode. Pretty easy recommendation.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

For more anime reviews, check out the associated archive.

Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.

One thought on “Arakawa Under the Bridge (Merry Days of Anime 2021)

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