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…

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

  1. Scamp says:

    I actually prefer the direction it’s taken. The gags at the start were mainly reactionary to bizarre characters while now it’s become him trying to win them over, which is more intelligent humour than just reacting to weirdness.

    But eh, I’m not typically a Shaft fan so maybe it’s them doing something different to their past productions that’s causing me to prefer this than someone who typically loves their stuff

  2. IllConstruct says:

    I feel pretty much the same way. There was at least some pretension to a “cohesive” (haha good luck with SHAFT and cohesion) narrative at the beginning, but the series started to descend not into anarchic randomness (redundancy much?), but this…bemusing mix of formulaic randomness (i.e. Ric vs. the inhabitants of the “under bridge”).

    The comedy is still solid and the weirdness alone will have me following it to the end, but I do hope there will be more focus on Ric and Nino.

  3. Topspin says:

    The only reason I’m still watching it is because I’d like to see what the deal ends up being. I’m uninterested in the lame characters, the humor bores me, and there’s very little to the anime otherwise. I keep hoping that they’ll try to pull a bit of a twist ending, even if it’s not surprising, to offset the rest of it. I can’t really knock Arakawa much, because what none of the other new shows are really that much better so far.

  4. lvlln says:

    It’s funny that I had the exact opposite reaction; it was at episode 4 that I started thinking that this show was really going somewhere. I like that Shaft and Shinbo have recently attempted more conventional works like this one and Dance in the Vampire Bund, but injecting their own unique style into it. Dance in the Vampire Bund was mixed, but it managed to finish strong.

    After all, in the world of art, one must prove that they’re good at the mainstream stuff before branching out into one’s own style in order to be taken seriously. I feel like Shinbo never really proved that he’s a good director when it comes to conventional shows. But Dance in the Vampire Bund proved, to me anyway, that he was at least a good one. And the way the romance and character development is shaping up in Arakawa Under the Bridge, he may be proving himself to be a great one. And he’s still managed to maintain some of his style, using the absurd gags as vehicles by which Recruit grows as a character.

  5. deaky says:

    I’m actually sick of Shinbo myself. I’m guessing that he’s over-worked because he and Shaft are so willing to tackle the low-hanging fruit projects. Let’s face it, though, Shinbo’s not that great. He takes half-decent projects and makes them half-decent anime. You’d expect a great director to take source material and improve upon it, but with Shinbo I’ve never felt he took a work and made it “better” (at least any adaptation that I’ve bothered watching, which is quite a few).

    I wouldn’t mind it as much if Shinbo experimented a bit more with his style. Every one of his anime looks the same to me now .. and it’s not so great that he can get away with just polishing his approach either. It’s sloppy, at best, and barely animated at all to cover that aspect up. Sure, I’m being harsh, but too many people just give Shinbo a pass because his stuff is consistently “ok”, rather than seeing the big picture: he should be doing less, and doing better.. he’ll never be a great at this rate in terms of anything except sheer volume.

    Making me laugh, or making me “feel better about myself” is the job of the source material in this case, not Shinbo. His only contribution is not making it so bad that it’s unwatchable. That’s not brilliant directing at all, that’s just coping out and hoping for another sure-win project like Bakemonogatari to fall into his lap if he does enough projects. Sure, I can delude myself into thinking that Arakawa is wonderful.. but I’ll still forget about it when the next iteration of ” the Shinbo show” begins the next anime season.

  6. moritheil says:

    tl;dr – WAH craves more SHAFT.

    It’s nice to know some things never change.

  7. Annubis says:

    Hurray for dual meaning.

  8. VZ says:

    Semi OT but I wanted to show you this upcoming book incase you haven’t seen it.