Guest Writer – S.G. – First Impressions of Arakawa Under the Bridge

This is a pretty straightforward Aesop’s Fables kind of story – a wealthy man learns to walk in the shoes of the less fortunate and sees the world in a whole new way. The premise is just that simple. It’s also a satisfying story that appeals to people across cultures and generations.

Kou Ichinomiya is a young man who has been groomed his whole life as the heir of a large corporation and even larger fortune. He has an entire philosophy and ambition wrapped around the belief that “made men” make themselves, never relying on anyone for anything. When he finds himself beholden to a homeless girl living under a bridge, he feels indebted and feels compelled to repay the favor by granting her request of living with her as a companion and lover. Whereupon, he learns that money doesn’t buy love. Yes, it’s such a simple and clichéd story, with a simple and clichéd protagonist.

However, about halfway through the second episode, I realized why this series is still so engaging and fun. Every single homeless person living under the bridge is a stereotypical character often seen in anime! There is the little girl with epic fighting skills (similar to any of the girls featured in Gunslinger Girl type shows), there is a mysterious girl of quiet virtue and understated sexiness (similar to Belldandy), there is a femme fatale women with crazy colored hair and a figure reminiscent of a Barbie doll (what anime doesn’t have one of that??), a weird looking “creature” passing at a normal human (again, how many time has anime fans scratched their head at that?), and even the main protagonist that is the “typical Japanese male thrust into a crazy situations” stereotype (Haruhi Suzumiya, anyone?).

The idea of mixing a regular guy with crazy characters is definitely not new in anime, it’s about as original as the overall premise. An easy prediction would be that he learns about the error in his ways and becomes a sage wise person through his journey with these characters. However, this journey isn’t boring as long as this particular series has a creative reimagining. In the case of Arakawa, there is definitely something unique. Let’s be honest, we’ve all wondered from time to time if some of these anime stereotypes could even function in the real world, and have wondered what it would be like if these characters really existed. Apparently, we now have at least one possible answer… all these characters would wind up homeless in Arakawa, living under a bridge, teaching life lessons to the “real” people.

-S.G.

————

Steelbound here …

One of the growing disconnects between general American anime fans and the more hardcore American anime fans/Japanese anime fans is  an exposure to and appreciation of Akiyuki Shinbou, the animation studio Shaft and the types of series that they do.  I knew, therefore, that I had to pick something of his for my sister, S.G., to watch. I wanted to choose an anime that was easier to pick up – not Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei – featuring a more toned down Shaft-being-Shaft feel to it – once again not Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei but something that she’d like – Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei might have worked but it already had two strikes.

I’m hoping she likes the rest of series (if I can convince her to finish watching it) because there’s several series of Shinbou/Shaft that I want to spring on her.  :)

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8 thoughts on “Guest Writer – S.G. – First Impressions of Arakawa Under the Bridge”

  1. I enjoyed Arakawa. While not my favorite type of show, that is, there is less emphasis on a continuous story, and more on gags that are pretty much contained within the episode, it did have some lovable characters, and heart.

  2. The jokes were very funny, since I “got it” by reading the voice context. Kou is a pretty good tsukomu.

  3. I see Kou more as an idealistic young prince born in an aristocracy, yet happens to meet the commoners he will soon have power over and starts to live amongst them. Which makes it more of a Prince and Paupers type of plot line.

    I’ve noticed that the American theme of “evil corporations” or “rich but lazy trust fund babies” isn’t present much in Japanese subculture. It may not be present in mainstream culture either even though a sizable percentage of the rich will naturally become lazier the less work they have to do.

    In visual novels such as Demonbane and other artifacts of Japanese cultural perspective, corporations are not seen as evil or purely profit driven. They are seen more as houses of nobility where power and authority is wielded, yes, but done so with responsibility, tradition, and duty in mind. The crazy powers of a mega corporation, such as in Muv Luv or Demonbane, is seen more as an ally and a tool than an “enemy” to fight. For example, the Hadou group in Demonbane is said to own a sizable market percent of the world and has its own private army in the United States, that is more powerful in terms of technology than the US military. If this had come from an American writer, one would naturally assume the US government would be at odds with the private army or vice a versa.

    The Japanese view of mega corporations corresponds more with feudalism, hence the aristocratic traditions and the fact that their heirs are more like princes (who actually rules over a kingdom) than simply rich people born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

    Japanese culture is monolithic so regardless of what problem children they may have in reality, they don’t go out intentionally to set a bad example via the main cultural tools of propagandation such as prime time tv. Thus an heir to a mega corporation can even be the main character of a comedy-romance series. The expectations of a meritocracy is also present, as Kou does not receive his inheritance just because his blood happens to be similar to the founder’s. Kou receives it because he is the best out of all candidates, with the best credentials and real world successes. In terms of achievement and happiness, that is what Kou thinks achievement and happiness is: business victories. Under Arakawa, he learns a new meaning to those words.

    Of course there’s a little mystery going on with one of the characters in the Under Bridge community. This is where another kind of “power” is used to help, rather than hinder, the people the audience is supposed to feel sympathy with. The key tenet is that power is a tool and it can be used to harm or help, to achieve good or evil depending upon the user. That if you must have a prince and a world where there are leaders and commoners, then your leaders and princes must be the best humans in existence in terms of strength, intelligence, merit, and capability.

  4. I enjoyed Arakawa(both seasons-but 1 was better). It was hilarious. At first, when I saw the summary I didnt think I would even be interested in looking at it. Bur the first episode had my laffing so hard-it got even more funnier as the show progressed. I especially enjoy Maria. That lady is dangerous with a pair of scisssors! I would recommend that show to anyone who enjoys an off the wall comedy!

  5. @ymarsakar: Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, been busy with various things. Thanks for the heads-up, that was a very interesting article on so many levels. I definitely think hard work can beat out natural genius (assuming natural genius is lazy and doesn’t try too hard).

  6. Many people with gifts simply become unmotivated when they find things are too easy for them. If they don’t need to study and still get Bs on biology tests, what’s the point? If it is good enough, then it’s good enough not to try hard, as the rabbit thought to himself in the race with the turtle. It’s not like their social peers are going to beat the geniuses out. And even if they do beat the gifted on tests, the gifted simply doesn’t care.

    To geniuses, something that can be achieved without effort is without value as well. But then again, that’s also true of humans in general. Geniuses and the gifted thus are looking for challenges. Things that require them to excel in a life full of excellence without much effort. The greater their gifts, the greater the challenge must be to motivate them. Everything is relatively boring by comparison. They could be good, if they applied themselves.. but they have no motivation to do so when the goal looks too easy and worthless.

    That’s why the Japanese concept of the “rival” who is also a best friend, is interesting and has been used often in America’s past (but not post-modern present). With a rival, you can have any level challenge you wish. You just need to find someone stronger, smarter, or better than you. And in human affairs, there is ALWAYS someone stronger or better. Thus if a person is looking for a challenge, he just needs to find a rival and then he’ll become motivated and thus improve. Because the whole point of the “rivalry” is that one admires the rival’s abilities at the same time one is envious of the rival and competes with the rival and wants to beat the rival. It’s a much more positive emotion than jealousy, which can motivate people to steal what isn’t theirs and call it a victory. Having a rival requires even a genius to get hard work applied to excellence, because there’s no way to “cheat”. No way to manipulate things and come out the victor without being better. If an opponent is too easily defeated by deception or other low tricks, then that isn’t an opponent that was worthy to begin with. Those are easy challenges. People can always find those that fall to cons. They don’t respect people who can be beaten so easily.

    Another keypoint is something I saw mentioned here.

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AsMa9V5vJ_8x4EjfW.dMhN7sy6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20110619173431AAYVKiM

    *Essentially, geniuses are geniuses because they perceive subtle points of importance that others do not. Such that non-geniuses believe geniuses actually don’t need to apply themselves to get results, while geniuses understand very well the reality of truth.*

    I’ve always wondered why the public perception focuses so much on being a genius without the concurrent effort behind the talent. Now I realize it is because only a few people in the human population bell curve… are above average in intelligence. Thus it would make sense that they do not get what other people operating at a higher level of performance understands intuitively. And of course… if all that mattered was intelligence, then good blood and whom you were born to, what social class you were born to, would be all that matters for leadership. And that kind of cosmology favors the lazy, the corrupt, those born with a silver spoon in their mouth who wish to prevent others from achieving the success they themselves have achieved. After all, the ruling elite can always say that because they were born and bred in the halls of schools for princes, that this means they have the divine right to rule over inferior and ill educated peasants. They don’t need to have “ability” or results from hard work. They just need to have “intelligence” and that should be enough by itself to rule over human lives…

    I think that metaphysics is more than a bit erroneous.

    To those wondering how this applies to Arakawa, Kou is in fact a relative genius. Relative to the rest, at least. He is also part of the nobility of Japan’s modern era. An heir to a conglomerate.

  7. There was a girl I knew in high school. I saw her at first in freshman English class, and she looked like ice. Very cold or impersonal. I was a bit intimidated at first. Later on, she was the one that did the color coordination on the basic electrical circuit that powered up a bulb light (the non mercury kind), when I got too stumped on the lab looking at so many wires going god knows where, in two or three colors. That was one of the first experiences where I realized the complementary aspects of males and females.

    She had a personality fitting for a student council president (in the Japanese sense more than the American sense). Impersonal when she is focused on doing a task, but rather warm when you get to know her personally. (Japanese=atatakai=warm)

    One of the things she confided in me was that she really resented how it took her a long time plus a lot of hard work, just to get the same grade as our resident year’s tensei or naturally gifted genius. (Which wasn’t me, btw) I didn’t have enough life experience to tell her anything that would comfort her at the time, and it’s something I regretted over the years.

    After all, to my peers then or now I am far above in average intelligence, as decided by them, not me. Not so much mathematically now, as sociologically, body language wise, human watching perceptive, tactical and strategic concepts absorbed, plus just basic applications of sage wisdom learned from the past. So I couldn’t tell her that I understood her viewpoint, when I myself did far less work than my peers to get the same result. That would sound like false sympathy or hypocrisy. I felt there was an injustice or rather that there was something not quite right about the whole situation, but it was too nebulous for me to communicate.

    If I knew then what I know now, things would have been very different. I would have been able to give the answer she was searching for.

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