Arakawa Under the Bridge
Seinen – Comedy, gag, romance, mystery, sci-fi
15 Volumes / 8 Omnibuses (complete)
Crunchyroll / Vertical, Inc.
Kou was raised to never owe anyone anything. So how is he supposed to repay the girl who saved his life?! Since his savior, Nino, wants a boyfriend, Kou moves to her riverside community. But can he hide this fact from his family and handle his eccentric neighbors and girlfriend?
I really didn’t have many expectations going into Arakawa Under the Bridge. But it’s much more than what it appears to be at first glance.
Like many comedies, Arakawa Under the Bridge is a little hard to describe the series without people looking at you like you’re insane. A rich kid decides to live in a bridge’s pillar out of obligation to date a homeless girl who claims she’s from Venus. Well, she’s not really homeless; there’s a whole community who lives by the river. Literally by the river — as in, the actual riverside. The mayor is a self-proclaimed water spirit even though you can see his costume’s zipper. The local nun is ex-military… and a man. A former singer-songwriter walks around in a star-shaped headdress.
Yeah, I’m sure even some of you animanga fans who have read some weird stuff are giving the sideeye.
Those of you who can picture some of these characters are probably picturing gag series like Nichijou, Pop Team Epic, or even Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. And that wouldn’t necessarily be an inaccurate picture. As in most comedies, Kou (aka Recruit/Rec) is the tsukkomi (straight man) as he tries to handle and understand the people in the river community now that he’s moved there. Most of them look strange and act even stranger. Nino, the heroine, has little common sense and a memory only a few steps above Dory from Finding Nemo. Kou himself gets physically weak at the thought of owing a favor. And the rest:
- Hoshi: star-wearing former idol who likes Nino and dislikes Rec because of that
- Sister: normally practical but always thinking like the ex-soldier he is
- Mayor: tries to insist he’s a kappa
- Shiro: loves to use a chalk device to draw white lines
And I still haven’t covered everyone, like Kou’s obsessive middle age secretary/caretaker, the former female spy, the bird and the bee, or the brothers who wear metal masks to (supposedly) control their psychic powers. Although they aren’t bad people, it can be stressful trying to deal with them. For example, Sister’s idea of playing in the snow is climbing up the side of a mountain dodging traps. Nino herself doesn’t understand anything about romantic relationships, so events like Valentine’s or even going on a date end up going off-track. And heaven help you if you’re a man in need of help and go ask man-hater Maria!
The manga’s chapters are only a few pages long, and they usually end with Kou (or someone else) reacting to the day’s events. And the events can be as typical as trying to teach two boys in a school-like setting or as outlandish as men hypnotized into acting like maidens. So the characters (again, usually Kou) spend a lot of wondering what’s going on or not wanting to get involved — whether for their own physical safety or mental sanity. Sometimes both.
Kou is an overly straitlaced guy, so of course dealing with wacky neighbors like a samurai enthusiast and a man who only walks on white lines — not to mention a girlfriend who will stuff a fish into your mouth — is stressful for him even though they aren’t necessarily mean-spirited people. They are all, to be polite, a little much. But while claims of being psychic (Metal Brothers) or from Venus (Nino) can be attributed to childishness or muddled memories, there’s the question that maybe — just maybe — all their claims aren’t completely crazy. This isn’t a slice-of-life manga by any means, but readers go into Arakawa Under the Bridge expecting it to follow real-life conventions. The Metal Brothers’ claims of being able to use psychic abilities are, of course, harmless fantasies from children. But when one of their attempts to prove their powers matches up with what’s happening…is it comic coincidence? Or do they do have a sixth sense? There are even scenes where it’s hard to determine whether it truly happened or manga exaggeration. You know how some little kids will, just after finding out about Santa, they’ll proclaim as a sign of their intelligence, “Of course no way is he real! No one could visit every house in one night!”? Inside though, there’s that nagging thought of, “But… what if he really can…?? Will I be missing out on new toys??” That’s how I felt about Arakawa Under the Bridge. There’s a non-supernatural answer to all this! But… what if it can’t be explained by basic science or just humor found in fiction?
But how can this be isn’t the only way author Nakamura plays with readers: there’s an emotional aspect to all this. Kou grew up with a father who was — at best — emotionally distant. In one “lesson”, he dresses up as a baby and has Kou take care of him so that his son could understand how he needs to repay his father for all he’s done. Even Kou’s dedicated caretaker’s idea of love is closer to that of a boyfriend than a son. So while Kou has had a very privileged upbringing, the sense of community and bonds are things he never had. Plus, while most don’t want to talk about their pasts and/or try to hide it beneath their new and silly identities, these residents all have their own reasons for living near the river. Whether they turned their back on society or society turned their back on them, it’s debatable.
Still, there’s no good reason for young children or teens to be homeless. That’s easy to forget when the Metal Brothers are walking around in iron helmets and insisting they are psychic. The comedy and drama don’t exist in perfect balance. Most of the time, like Kou, readers live in manga-dom and just accept that a small girl can transform into the size of a behemoth when angry. But every once in a while, there’s that reminder that even people who seem to have no worries have their own burdens. Plus, at the end of every volume, there are some beautiful color pages that read like a storybook and gives it a fairy tale feeling. It reminded me a bit of the books in Chobits.
However, most of the manga is going to be the zaniness of Kou trying to keep the riverside community on the side of reason. That’s a tall order, especially when even normal events tend to be anything but. Mass, for instance, is only a few seconds long… which involves some gunfire and asking if anyone did anything wrong. Hey, there’s cookies afterward. Everyone living by the bridge has a job (clumsy, mayor-loving P-ko grows vegetables, Nino goes fishing for the village), so Kou regularly interacts with the whole village. Some characters, like Sister and Hoshi, are in the vast majority of chapters. Other characters may live at or near the bridge but are in more of a recurring role rather than a part of the main cast. Others are even more occasional, especially those who are on the “outside”, like the author who ends up creating a story based on the Arakawa residents or those who work for Kou’s family’s company.
Either way, the crazy situations are neverending, whether it’s one of the residents trying to summon up the courage to confess to their crush, throwing a celebration, or the frustration of trying to explain why an alleged kappa would have a zipper. Some jokes run the entire length of the series (Hoshi trying to steal Nino from under Kou’s nose), and other characters with their quirks are introduced rather late (like the wannabe nudist). Not every comedy bit will elicit a laugh or even a smile, but the short pagecount of chapters means that you can just keep charging ahead until one sticks. When you get to the is-it-or-is-it-not sci-fi parts or the more emotional bits, those aspects doesn’t throw off the pace but rather is a welcome dimension to the surrealist plot.
The art, as you would expect, also doubles down on the surrealism. Young girl Stella, for instance, can transform and looks as if she’s hopped into the manga from Fist of the North Star. Another character looks like she’s from 70s manga. Characters like Hoshi and the Mayor have episodes about what’s underneath their costumes — and they’re not the only ones in weird outfits! As I mentioned, there are times where it’s hard to see if situations are a part of a mass illusion/figments of their imagination or if it’s an accurate representation, but that plays into the mystery of Nino and others’ identities. Otherwise, the actual art tends to be on the simplistic side to make all the exaggerated nature of the manga stand out. Every manga/anime-style visual gag is going to be reflected here at some point, from sparkles to death glares. The riverside and each person’s house are all well-designed. The manga can be a bit full of dialogue bubbles, which can be a drag since you’d rather be laughing at the characters versus reading their chatter.
Color images are included even in the physical version, and the omnibuses even include the original individual volume covers. That’s always nice because I hate missing out on cover art with many omnibus series. Plus, as I mentioned before, the fairy tail short stories are give off a mystical feeling. The short chapters, particularly if reading the omnibuses, may be a little too short if you’re looking for something to just grab and read, as you’re likely to keep reading since each chapter is only a few pages long. So four pages here, six pages here, eight pages there can quickly turn into thirty, forty+ pages — especially when the manga is on a roll, which it pretty often!
The Crunchyroll and Vertical, Inc. versions are done by the same translator. However, things were changed for the physical release. All honorifics are removed, so this affects some puns like “Nino-san” (from the 2-3 [“ni no san”] on her shirt). Some lines are kept exactly the same, some slightly altered, and others rewritten.
Kou’s nickname is Recruit, リクルート. In Japanese, they shorten it to リク. This is one of those tough decisions that translators make. The English versions go with “Rec”, which is a close approximate of リク, particularly since it’s short for Recruit. But in English, I kept wanting to hear it my head as being pronounced like the “rec” in “recreation” versus the “ri” sound it’s supposed to be. I don’t know if it’s common in your area, but “rec” is fairly common shortening of “recreation” (as in “summer rec programs”), so that could be why I kept reading it that way. Personally, I might have went with either “Re” or “Recru”. Although “Recruit” is only two syllables, we in English tend to put an emphasis on ending t’s as if to make it another syllable. “Re”, of course, would be the first half (in number of syllables) of “Recruit”, just as リク is half of リクルート.
While there are footnotes, in another company’s or translator’s hands, this could have had some very detailed notes explaining the Japanese puns and pop culture references. Vertical, Inc.’s version reads more like something for a general audience, which fits their MO and, of course, the fact that people are paying specifically for it versus the Crunchyroll version. But although I read a lot of manga, there were jokes that went completely over my head. Most notably the whole “wabi-sabi” thing in Volume 5. I honestly had no idea if this was some buildup to a punchline or if it’s some word I was supposed to know.
Arakawa Under the Bridge is full of the bizarre, the crazy, and the zany, and yet it can be surprisingly moving. The physical version is catered to a wider audience, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences, but it’s also more convenient because of its quick chapters.
Crunchyroll has the anime available to stream while NIS America released Arakawa Under the Bridge on home video. Kodansha Comics is publishing Saint Young Men, also written by Nakamura.