If there is one animation studio that I don’t have much sort connection to at all, it’s Studio Shaft. Their style of production isn’t something that I can really appreciate especially when it goes full sharft I do like some of their products like Madoka Magica and the ever fantastic March Comes In like a Lion, but that’s about it for me. I don’t mind some animation experimentation to keep things a little fresh and interesting, but there is just a strangeness behind their production that just feels off. I felt like I should start trying to watch more Shaft shows considering that I was watching Fire Force a little while ago (until I decide to pause my watch) and that show was created by a bunch of Shaft people even if David Productions is on the name. In an attempt to understand their animation style, watching more of their works felt in order. Arakawa Under the Bridge was the first attempt in that process. So here we go with that.
Arakawa Under the Bridge starts out as what could be considered the classic fish out of water story to start. Kou Ichinomiya is a young and brilliant guy who has succeeded everywhere he has wanted to in life. He’s that typical sort of Gary Stue character who just knows how to do everything and can do whatever he wants because of his upbringing. How? Well, he’s rich. But also from a young age, Kou has had the qoutes of “never be indebted to anyone” stuck in his head from his father. So what happens? As Kou is making his way across the bridge one day, some kids steal his pants and put it them on the top of the bridge and he tries to climb up andget them. Of course he gets stuck and everything while a certain blonde girl named Nino watching him while fishing. So what happens? Obviously Kou falls into the lake and Nino rescues him meaning he owes her everything. He lives under the bridge as Nino’s boyfriend because she asked him too.
With that, Arakawa Under The Bridge really starts alongside some of it’s questionability. The citizens living alongside the river valley are far from the most normal people. The chief is a guy who wears a kappa suit and supposed thinks he is one though there are signs he’s doing this to mess with people. Two kids wearing metal masks are supposedly psychics that escaped from a secret testing facility. The religion of this area is under control of a giant blonde guy who calls himself sister because he dresses like a nun. Sister is obsessed with weapons, military tactics, and muscles. A former business man lives there who only walks on the white lines he makes with his chalk liner. Maria owns the cattle and farm animals of the group, but is very deprecitive and dominatrax like towards other people. Then P-Ko is the nice girl who is pure hearted but very accident prone who is in love with the chief for some reason. Just when you think it won’t end, Nino herself thinks she is a Venusian. Up to interpretation here like everything else though I’m sure the Venusian thing is true. There is sort of cynicism here considering how the show sort of frames the people as a den of crazy people and Kou as he normal one. Or you can go with the interpretation that a den of crazies doesn’t work without a person who is convinced that he is completely normal. Kind of seals the deal in that way. Once again, up to interpretation.
There is a humbleness to this series sort of. The first time Kou introduces himself to the people in this river valley, and is called Recruit or Rec, they never cared about any sort of achievements he has through out his life. Just who he was. A good sentiment really, but one that feels kind of half assed in a way until it’s dropped. The first season, for instance, gives Kou this arc that he started off as his father in the beginning while slowly softening towards this group of strangers. Especially since Kou and his Father duel in a business way for the rights of the area under the bridge in question. Plus, the easy comparison of his father and Kou was put on full display at the end of season one when Kou got his pants stolen on the same bridge and he proceeded to walk home without his pants. Good stuff there.
Except there is that moment when you realize that Kou never considered the wants of his pals under the bridge when creating the plans for what he wants under the bridge. If he truly softened, he would actually do that. Human kind of, but it’s a little frustrating considering the amount of effort he put into trying to save that plot of land. I suppose that egotism might be apart of his character because he wants to make all these none normal people normal in his own way and his style. I do appreciate him being the constant goat of jokes for all his failings considering he’s suppose to be the winner of everything from his backstory. At least his love and relationship with Nino feels somewhat realistic and true. One of the few cynical parts of his life for sure.
Season two is where Arakawa felt more true to itself and fun. It felt like the arc from the first season went somewhere and didn’t held back the a lot of Arakawa’s stronger elements quite a bit. Season two was just character interactions after character interactions with a different set of people put into different sorts of scenarios and I found myself enjoying that even more. While fighting off Hoshi, Kou got even closer to Nino which is good because I like seeing them together. There was also a story like through line about this crew traveling to Venus to see Nino’s parents, but it was jus a small thing that hanged over the series to made more character actions happen. A rocket launched during the final end credits, but was it them or not? Who knows. It doesn’t matter.
There was also a little bit of subversion with character expectations that showed in season one, but really ran wild in season two. For instance, we get the young girl Sister trained who can turn into a Fist of the North reference with all the muscles and aura power. I’m glad that appeared more in season two for a lot more fun scenarios and things. Plus, there are some small things that make Kou more unique in season two then he season one. What are they? Well, messing around character roll expectations. It’s somewhat proven that Kou is a little bit of a pure hearted girl in some ways despite his outward, perfect appearance which makes him pretty interesting. Also, a lot of the other male side characters going along with the more girl shenanigans is pretty fun as well. Goes well with Nino’s more masculine job on the river front of gathering fish and her more genuinely masculine personality. It works is what I am saying. Season two is just a lot of fun.
From an art stand point, I really like how this show looks. Considering the bright color palette and the crazy personalities of the characters in question, the character designs really were interesting unique, and full of the personality the show wants to present to you. I mean, it’s hard not to be creative with a show going from the full range of a guy in a business suit to the chief wandering around from place to place in a kappa suit. I also really like the river valley location because there is a lot of good places for things to happen. Animation and movement is something else to talk about here considering that that the “camera” never stays anywhere for establishing shots at all. Plus the quick transitions with Kou’s blinking and chapter transition takes some getting used to. There is obviously a varied amount of camera movements, but I just can’t find myself liking the style because I don’t know where everything is in relation to everything else sometimes. It’s obvious the animators and director do due to how they can move the camera around, but it’s just too much for me. I got used to it, but I just didn’t end up liking this style. Plus…Shaft Head Tilts. Gah!
Over all, I did have a fun time with Arakawa Under the Bridge. There is some sensitivity issues that did and didn’t bother me at the same time, but I think the fun and energy of this series is pretty infectious. That carried the series for me. This is like one of those series that I feel like people would enjoy much more then me. Especially people who enjoy Shaft’s animation style as of late. I liked most of the content of this show, but I just can’t stand by how the show just wants to move all the time. Something something disorientating. I know that I am only a small part of the group of anime fans in this, so please love all of this show’s factors to your heart’s content. I guess it’s not for me. What shaft series should I try next?