Arakawa Under The Bridge (Vol.1-13)

Comedy should practically be the poster child of "easy to understand, difficult to master," and I do believe that comedy is easy to understand. You wanna know what makes good comedy? Suffering. Think about it. Most joke you can probably think of off the top of your head involves someone or something suffering in some way, not in a grave way, mind you, but still suffering. Don't believe me, then all I really have to point out to you is Watamote. Gag manga has a tendency to lean to the extreme's in this case, which can both help or hurt it at times. For example take an over the top look at a man forced to live and play straight man for a bunch of quirky personalities, dabble on a little romance and intrigue, and you have our manga for today, titled Arakawa Under The Bridge, created by Hikaru Nakamura.

Kou Ichinomiya is an elite raised to never be in debt to anyone, however, when he’s about to fall off a bridge to his death, he’s saved by a passing girl, Nino. With no choice but to pay back this life debt, Kou asks what the girl wants in return. Nino responds that they become lovers and live under the bridge together. Reluctantly, Kou agrees, and so his days of living with the residents under the Arakawa River Bridge begins.

Arakawa, like many gag series, features a large cast of characters, each with their own weird appearance, quirky personality, or often times both. Some of the more common supporting characters include; Sister, a war time soldier dressed as a nun; Chief, a man dressed in a kappa suit that acts as the leader of the Arakawa river; Star, a egotistical musician wearing a star mask over his real face, and Shiro, a middle-aged man that feels he must always walk on a white line. This is only a small selection of the more common characters, with the number of reoccurring characters around two dozen, though this isn't a bad thing. Each character alone has a memorable identity, and these characters have good comedic chemistry, with a mixing of different emotions and thoughts, but constantly keeping to the same level of insanity that works well with the juxtaposition of Kou's involvement in the mis-adventures. That said, the gags themselves tend to be hit and miss.

Kou is hard-hearted, egotistical, selfish, but is never shown as an overly bad person, simply someone raised in a cold manner to survive in the business world. His contempt for his new living arrangements and the people he's forced to live next to is clearly visible, and rightfully understandable. Nino is the exact opposite; a vacant minded, but happy and playful girl. The two have some decent comedic timing as Kou learns how to communicate with Nino as she rolls with whatever Kou has to say, regardless of if she understands him or not. Though he starts doing it for selfish reasons, as Kou spends time with Nino, we see a softer side to him come forth and a connection blossom between the two characters through all the humor and slapstick. It creates this slow but steady arc for Kou as he becomes a softer person while falling more in love with Nino. Nino however, is a bit too much of an airhead. The request that they becomes lovers feels like a whim more than anything, like she could have asked that of anyone, and despite how much love and affection she shows to Kou, it doesn't feel as genuine as the series tries to pass it off as, turning that she doesn't put in nearly as much effort into the relationship as Kou does into a running joke, and one that gets rather bland rather quickly.

There is also a subplot regarding the mystery behind Nino's past, that, while yet to be concluded at the time of this writing, does leave a bittersweet taste to the manga. Nino believes that she is from the planet Venus and wishes to return there, so many of the residents decide to join her on Venus. It's hinted at throughout the series that the many people living under the Arakawa Bridge do so because they ran away from something in their lives, hiding their identities and taking residence with similar people. It's both a depressing but optimistic thought at the same time, that when life gets too hard for us, we need that place we can go to be ourselves. It adds another layer of intrigue to these characters as we wonder about their past, and matches well to Kou's development as a person.

The artwork is pretty well done, with decent backgrounds and good use of speed lines for comedic effect. Each character has a differing design that, while on the simplistic side, are unique and memorable, mixing well with their personalities to leave a lasting impression. The best art for the series is in these poetic pieces at the beginning of each volume, with a mix of different art styles to create this surreal version of the world.

When I opened Arakawa Under The Bridge, I didn't expect what I got. I expected a simple gag series about a down on his luck elite being dragged down to a level he wasn't use to, and instead found something much deeper. A large cast of charming characters and an interesting romance drew me in more than I originally expected and kept me there. I do feel I have to take some points off because the comedy tends to a bit hit and miss, but it's still an enjoyable piece. So, if you ever find that chance, visit the Arakawa Bridge, and enjoy the tales from underneath.


Popular Posts