Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 28th 2012
Arakawa Under the Bridge × Bridge
Sub.Blu-Ray + DVD - Complete Premium Edition
Ko Ichinomiya is a young salaryman who's given up his comfortable life and now lives under a bridge spanning the Arakawa River. Nicknamed "Recruit" (or Rec for short), he struggles to get along with the riverbank's eccentric denizens, like star-headed Hoshi, kappa-costumed Chief, a cross-dressing nun named Sister, and others—including the girl of his dreams, Nino (who claims to be from the planet Venus). When Rec discovers some mysterious cassette tapes belonging to Nino, he wonders about the secrets they've been keeping from each other. Meanwhile, an Amazon warrior living upstream decides she's interested in Rec ... which could be hazardous to his health! Later, Nino receives an order to return to Venus—but can she find it in her heart to leave Rec and all the other Arakawa residents after all they've been through?
If it were any other series, Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge would probably be cause for concern. "Oh no, they made a second season of wacky people doing wacky things?!" But just like in the first season, Arakawa proves that it is not just "any other series." Familiar types of humor are pushed to their creative limits, different artistic styles go on display, and—lo and behold!—there may even be some plot developments in store. Yes, it's still wacky people doing wacky things, but Arakawa does it better than almost anything else.
With so much humor waiting to be unleashed, this series doesn't even bother with a first-episode recap: instead it charges straight into dozens of bizarre situations. While most standard comedies earn their laughs by putting a goofy twist on everyday events, Arakawa always stands out by going above and beyond. The Amazon, for example, isn't just delusionally defending her area of the riverbank—she also happens to lapse into ditzy schoolgirl talk when least expected. Nino doesn't just get flustered when she discovers Rec listening to her personal tapes—she scoots up an electrical pole and perches there like a crazed beast. Even familiar sitcom ideas, like producing a homemade movie or hosting a fancy tea party, are reshaped into unique, laugh-out-loud experiences because nobody reacts to these situations the way Arakawa characters do.
That, in a nutshell, is the secret of the show's greatness: its characters. In an age where "anime comedy" is practically synonymous with "throw some high school kids together and see what happens," this one breaks the mold by throwing in the weirdest weirdos possible. Then it goes one further by having personal interactions and relationships develop between them: the Amazon, for all her armor-bikini-clad silliness, actually wins some sympathy points in the later episodes as she is torn over whether she likes Rec or Hoshi. And the big question mark about Nino leaving for Venus raises the personal stakes, not just between her and Rec, but also in the camaraderie between all the Arakawa residents. So in between the brilliant comedy sequences (like everyone dieting furiously to fit aboard the spacecraft), there are also some heartfelt thoughts on the meaning of friendship.
The one area where the show falls short is in trying to tie things up at the end. Nino's planned return to Venus is never resolved, and instead we get an ill-advised "tournament" between all the characters, which is exactly what the show shouldn't be about. Formulaic elimination fights can be found anywhere, and it's the characters' unique charms that should be in the spotlight, not their combat skills (amusing as they may be). Still, a slight imperfection is a small price to pay for so much comedy goodness.
The ever-changing visuals also keep the show from getting stale, although that's to be expected when creative mastermind Akiyuki Shinbo is in the director's seat. Thankfully, the more blatant gimmicks of his style (like the rapid cuts and cryptic text cards in Hidamari Sketch or Bakemonogatari) are avoided here. Instead, Shinbo and his staff are more like facilitators, letting the original work's weirdness shine through, while aiding the process with precise comic timing and striking camera angles. And instead of drifting into talking-head boredom during dialogue scenes, the show is just as likely to showcase the stunning blue skies and golden-orange sunsets along the riverbank. Beyond that, there are also plenty of surreal visual gags on display: genre spoofs ranging from retro space opera to sparkly-eyed shoujo, or strange transformations happening to the characters themselves (the "muscle" episode must be seen to be believed). With the colors so sharp and vivid, and the character designs so unique, it's actually a surprise that the animation quality occasionally drops—movement gets a bit choppy, or characters look off-model from a distance.
Just as distinctive as the animation is the music, most of which is a folksy blues-rock that captures the irreverent tone of the show. With all the surreal flights of fancy, though, the soundtrack is versatile enough to switch genres and instruments depending on the situation. Even serious moments like the finale of Episode 13 are scored just right, with the sound of a full orchestra giving these scenes the proper emotional weight. A quirky opening theme and wistful ending prove that quality songwriting still exists, with eye-catching credit sequences to boot (Episodes 1-5 actually have live-action end credits, which in itself is a unique touch).
If reveling in the greatness of the series itself isn't enough, the extras in the Premium Edition box should more than satisfy one's cravings. The accompanying artbook is more of a production book, with a wealth of episode notes, staff interviews, and trivia tidbits. One thing that's sadly missing is translation notes, which would have helped considering the amount of pop culture and wordplay in each episode. While the subtitles cleverly skirt around some of the puns, those curious about the Japanese language would have benefited from learning what was actually said. The discs themselves also contain some bonus content, the most interesting of which is Japanese audio commentary for Episodes 1-4 (however, viewers will have to choose between subtitles for the commentary or subtitles for the show's dialogue).
Thank goodness for series like Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge, which keep the spirit of great ensemble comedy alive. Of course, the same could also be said of the first season, but just knowing that 13 more episodes of Arakawa exist is a blessing to the world of screwball comedy. This is the kind of anime that should never have to be excused for being too weird or hard to understand—not when it bursts forth with so much creative energy, while also keeping a few character storylines going (even if they end less than perfectly). When it comes to wacky people doing wacky things, this is the standard all other comedies should be measured by.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B+
+ With stunning visual presentation and bizarre, hilarious situations, every episode is a master class in the art of ensemble comedy.
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