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.
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.