I loved Arakawa Under The Bridge, but then I didn’t like it as much

If we lived in a perfect world, SHAFT and Shinbo Akiyuki would make shows that all centered around lolita characters in all manner of situations ranging from comedic to deadly serious. What they actually produce tends to be just as good, so I don’t make too much noise about it. But they do have off days.

I really liked Arakwa Under the Bridge when it first started. I wasn’t expecting to like it–since it didn’t fall into the criteria that I outlined above–but I was thoroughly impressed by the first three episodes. The composition of those episodes, along with their unique directorial nuances, really hearkened back to classic Shinbo work, while at the same time incorporating a lot of the directorial tricks SHAFT has amassed over the years. The humour was also wonderfully absurd and bizarre, putting a gigantic smile on my face. Underscoring all of this was a message that encouraged eccentricity, a message that’s wonderfully apropos considering the people behind the production of the show.

And while not completely related to all of that, I did find the character designs to be refreshing. I realize that this contradicts my first paragraph, but it is refreshing to see a show in which most of the characters are adults.

But things changed at around episode four. Like with most anime, the quality of the production tends to go down a little once the staff gets into the rhythm of the show. I don’t mind this, as it’s inevitable. So long as the script is remains solid and there is at least some effort on the part of the staff to make the show look half as interesting as it did for those opening episodes, I am content.

However, Arakawa has moved away from the bizarre humour that defined its first couple of episodes and has instead gone to a weird place. The humour now seems more reliant on the denizens of the bridge acting hostile towards Ko/Recruit, and Ko/Recruit not learning from his mistakes (even though it seemed as if he was learning earlier on in the show.) I’m probably asking too much of a gag anime, but there was a good amount of heart in those first few episodes that’s absent in these later ones, never mind the fact that the show isn’t as SHAFTy as I want it to be. I feel what they’re doing right now is fine in small chunks. If it’s sprinkled between portions of pure strangeness (see: Nino and Recruit’s date,) I feel that makes for good balance. But when entire episodes revolve around people who unanimously don’t really like this one guy, it’s too much negative energy for me. To that end, the latest episode (episode seven) was something of a return to form.

I still like the show. It’s certainly not bad, but when one takes the quality of those opening episodes into account, the rest falls in the realm of Maria†Holic-quality SHAFT productions.

SHAFT has been slipping a bit lately. They put on a fairly good show with Bakemonogatari, and the third season of Hidamari Sketch was my favourite of all of them, but it seems that lately they’re short of ideas and short of people. I do like the Vampire Bund anime somewhat, but I  am holding out hope that its home video release will be a lot better. Arakawa actually manages to look extremely consistent seven episodes in, which is a feat for most anime, and especially difficult for a studio like SHAFT, staffed with something on the order of twenty people. My guess is that since Arakawa is probably something of a mainstream property, they’re getting a lot of support in making the show look good, while at the same time keeping their strangeness down to a minimum. Which is pretty weird, considering the show is about a bunch of weirdos…