Arakawa,Under the Bridge: The First Encounter

The thing that can never change, is that, Earth is a blue, round and beautiful planet. Within the palm of the Lord, it is still energetically spinning today. Apart from this inconclusive materials will appear in movies and of course, dramas.

I wasn’t into anime as a kid. I read mystery novels and the classics, watched plays and wrote poems. I was rather, British 1890’s, now that I think about it. Anyway, so now as an adult, I don’t know very much about the culture. Since, I began watching Asian dramas I have been introduced to this whole new genre. One of my biggest issues is exposure to source material. It’s important to know the root of a story to have a better grasp of the validity of the adaptation. The majority of dramas, especially in Japan, are based on some type of print media, whether, novel, manga or internet based series. So believe it or not, I do read original works. There’s just so much great stuff out there, I take short cuts.

However, I am one that believes that all things happen in their time. And I’ve found that hilariously, when I was younger, I wouldn’t have enjoyed or understood half the mangas I read or animes I watch now, nor would I have relished their perspective of life imagery. Therefore, I won’t say I missed out or I regret passing over the genre, for I’m not trying to catch up– I’m only enjoying what piques my interest and wallowing in the lipsmacking yum of a good story. With that said, thinking back to being a kid, I certainly wouldn’t have been interested in a story about a homeless girl claiming to be an alien, living by a riverbank. But today, I find this absolutely charming, because there is so much more than meets the eye and I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds in this magical yet completely realistic place under a bridge in Arakawa.

[*** Just to clarify, I may read a manga or two but I still don’t read American comics, though I may research, if I’m going to see a film. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t like E.T. Still don’t. :)]

I actually chose against reading the manga or watching the anime for this series because of the premise and characters involved. I wanted to see the live action depiction and if I liked it, I would revert back to the anime or manga or both, as not to be disappointed(on either spectrum). And boy am I glad I did– I mean that in a good way.

Arakawa Under the Bridge is a Japanese manga written by Hikaru Nakamura which as of last month has released 12 volumes since 2005. The manga was adapted into an anime which aired two seasons in 2010 and is now airing a live action version on TBS.

It all begins on a day in Arakawa when Ichinomiya Kou’s life is saved by a strange girl named Nino. Being that he has an issue with being indebted to others, he wants to repay her and she suggests he be her boyfriend.

Episode 1

Underwater( or a room filled with hanging disco balls and bubbles), with her back turned, a young girl (Kiritani Mirei) in a track suit, reveals she’s Venusian. She turns around to a boy fully clothed with an oxygen mask— “Is that okay?” The guy removes his mouth piece and mouths he only wants to be with Nino. A breeze comes through as she smiles grateful and touched, but when he smiles back he collapses to the ocean floor. A voiceover tells us that the girl is Nino and he met her three months ago. The boy closes his eyes but the last thing he sees is Nino’s uniform badge number 2-3.

Three Months Ago.

Ichinomiya Kou(Hayashi Kento), heir to the world’s richest industrial families, Ichinomiya Group, is accosted then attacked on a bridge by a strange girl with pigtails and shades and two kids in alien costumes. They want his school uniform (botang), so they strip (tickle) him, ignoring his insistence he isn’t even wearing one.

 

Ultimately, they steal his pants and his car, and he stands on the bridge alone and dejected determined not to cry. In the struggle, the kids flung his jacket on a beam above him, which he’s now focused to retrieve. It has his most prized possession in the side pocket. He shimmies up when he hears– “I can help you get it” — from a girl below, but Kou declines explaining his goal to never be indebted to anyone.

He flashes to a memory of his father reciting their family motto: Don’t owe anyone anything.

He reaches his jacket but his treasure (a golden brown ball) slips from his hand and so does he, from the beam, passed the girl into the river below. Immediately, the girl jumps in after him. Kou opens his eyes from the shock, floating alone thinking only of his ball– his super ball. It’s drifting just beyond his reach. He spreads his fingers to touch it but grabs his throat instead, unable to breathe. Just as he loses consciousness he eyes a patch that reads: 2-3. It’s bridge girl’s jacket badge and she grabs his hand and pulls him to the top as his super ball wades out of sight.

Kou lays sleeping, as the Bridge girl sits by the fire reading a Venus magazine article about dating and relationships. The article is broken into episodic form: Episode 2- I Like Anyone, Episode 5- Secret Love, Episode 1- Forbidden Love, the basics on keeping and getting a man. But the Bridge girl doesn’t get it, thinking Earthling love is all about possession and throws the mag in the fire.She lifts Kou’s super ball, which we can only assume she went back and fished out, up to the sky calling it beautiful. However, she looks passed it at a glowing dot in the distance and exhales longingly.

Kou is still asleep but dreaming, recalling of memory of his childhood. In class, he (about 8 or 9 years old) drops his eraser and a classmate tries to pick it up but he has it connected to a string and pulls it back from the floor. Over his shoulder his scoffs, “I’ll solve my own problems.” A recurring phrase, for he threw it at Bridge girl right before he fell. His earlier memory of his father replays and he startles awake, wondering where he is. A goldfish bowl dangles above him but his stolen clothes are hanging in the corner, so he snatches them and puts them on.

Outside, he sees the Bridge girl, who apologizes, for now he is indebted to her. He concludes she saved his life but she thinks it must be hard to be an Earthling– “They’re not good in water.” Kou wants to repay her but she offers food. He refuses, needing to find a way to cancel his debt– anything of monetary value he can supply, but she says there’s nothing she wants from him. She’s actually annoyed wondering if everything on Earth has a price— “Does everything someone does have to be rewarded or repaid? Therefore, if there is not reward, they won’t help anyone? Can you put a price on life?”

Kou is confused at her distinction of Earth as his planet alone, when they are both from Earth, but oops, they’re not, she’s Venusian. He’s stumped silent for a bit, cause well, that’s just silly.  He must not know about Venus, she assumes, and points to the glowing star from earlier and it fades out of sight. See, she’s from Venus but can’t return until Weaver Festival, when a button appears in the middle of her forehead. Kou looks at her like she’s a few fries shy, as a burnt piece of the magazine flies and sticks to her chest.

She gets a thought and tells him there is one thing he could do for her. — “Could you be in a relationship with me?” She stares and asks if it’s something he can accomplish, as if he’ll be undertaking a mission to save all mankind. But she must have hypnotic powers or something must be in the air (the wind is blowing quite often), ’cause Kou simply says, “Yes.”

At home, Kou answers the millions of emails he received in his time away and recalls his encounter with tracksuit girl. He feels something is amiss ’cause not only did he agree to her request but he answered her in English! He turns on the television but it only plays his memory from the hours previous.

After he says, “Yes,” girl-in-tracksuit tells him he should move near her house, which is where they are now. Clearly, that’s the only logical thing to do, now that they’re lovers. He doesn’t see why that’s necessary, plus he doesn’t live anywhere near here. She’s shocked (though he contends he should be the only one bewildered in this junction). “Earthlings like to own the other person in love”–she has the charred mag page to prove it. Kou stutters a “Thank you” citing a need to get home and walks away.

She’s not surprised, in the end she’ll always be alone, she muses and tosses his super ball back to him, telling him it’s pretty. Kou is impressed and wonders if she’s a swimmer, but like she’s told him before, she’s just Venusian. His memory ends and his TV flicks off. Rethinking his position, Kou concedes—she did rescue his treasure and he should at least try to grant the wish of his life saver, right? At that, his TV flicks back on, this time, a movers commercial, suggesting his house is entirely too small and moving is the only option. Kou looks around and notes that his apartment is too big for one person.

The next morning, Kou’s back at the Arakawa Bridge, where he pulls several bags out of taxi and tells Tracksuit he’s moving in. He was hoping for a joyful welcome but Venusians don’t have a laugh function, like Earthlings, so–never going to happen. She tells him if he’s really going to stay, he must greet the Village Chief– for he, not Japan, owns the riverbed below. Kou follows her under the bridge through a door, where he is astonished to see a person in what looks like a turtle jump suit complete with green face and hard shell, wading in the water.

Tracksuit introduces Green Jumper(Oguri Shun) as the Chief and Kou stands scared out of his mind in the doorway, wondering why he’s dressed like that. But he’s not dressed up, he’s a kappa, endangered, sure; hybrid, perhaps but a kappa all the same. Kou isn’t convinced considering him just some strange person dressed in a green jumper. Kappa is crushed– “That’s like saying Santa Claus is a red B&E master. How can I crush the dreams of children?”

Either way, kappas are not fantasy, but very real, the zipper near his neck only helps him live as an amphibian–evidence of his hybrid heritage. Kou isn’t buying it at all but Tracksuit says Chief is as much kappa as she’s Venusian and that just clears everything up.

Kappa challenges Kou to confirm his kappaness and oddly Kou postures to do just that, when a gun slams against the back of his head.— “Let me help send you to a faraway paradise.” It’s Sister (Shirota Yuu), a male nun with scar, ready to punish Kou for insubordination. Kappa stops him, however, then leads them back under the bridge to their village.

On the way, Kou notes that Sister isn’t female and carries a toy gun, but a couple shots prove, it’s most definitely real. Kappa wonders what Kou is and reveals he needs to change his name— “How about Riku?” This seems to work because the double meaning is so obvious, for Kou is their new recruit and his personality and dress have an aura of the rhetoric. Chief Kappa announces from today he’ll be called Riku and Kou tries to object, again but Sister takes another shot– “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Kou wants to call the police and Chief says it’s possible but fruitless, strangely sounding like a kidnapping charge could be added to Sister’s assault(err intimidation) with a deadly weapon.

Anyway, turns out Chief Kappa is pretty clever with the names(being resident name-giver and all). He’s named everyone, including Sister and Tracksuit. She pokes out her chest to draw attention to her badge– “I’m Nino.” Kou reads her badge aloud– “Class 2-3″(which in Japanese sounds exactly like Nino-san). And being they are walking through a forest of billowing bamboo trees, the stealthy balding stalker to his right must be— “Last Samurai (Suruga Taro)?” Bingo! Everyone turns, surprised by Kou’s skill in… wait for it… common sense.

With that, Kou is led out into the village, with a Chief  pointed pinky– “Welcome.” He walks out into the colorful adult play (camp)ground, decked with houses, trailers, a church, lookout tower and tire rings. Kou’s reaction?  — “This is illegal construction!”

Reactions, Ramblings and Remarks

Seriously, I love this story already! Poor Kou is thrust into this oddball land of sillies and has no choice but to be the straight man. Obviously, Kou represents the audience in the drama, for,  Kou asks all the questions we think and believes the same things we do about the world. He isn’t easily fooled, though the characters in Arakawa aren’t really trying to “trick” anyone. They are simply living. Now, whether they sincerely believe what they’ve said so far, Nino being from Venus, Chief Kappa  being an extinct kappa hybrid, etc. Well, that remains to be seen. And Kou’s constant and consistent,  “THE HECK!” expression is priceless. What I love is that though Kou seems normal and they seem extraordinary, I have a sneaky suspicious that the overarching question is “What is normal?”

There are several things that stand out in the overall story but concerning the episode itself, Nino mentions the importance/value of life and whether compensation is always the recipe. It’s an interesting question and I think that it says volumes about her character already. We really don’t know her story but her question wasn’t that of a curious alien but more of a jaded human and I, for one, want to know why.

As of now, there are a couple strange things that have occurred that may be explained later: 1. Kou’s attackers. 2. Nino’s appearance. 3. Kou finding his clothes at Nino’s house. Now of course, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that the kids live under the bridge as well, but was this all a setup? I don’t think that Nino set out to find a boyfriend or wealthy heir Kou, however, when Kou leaves Nino for home, Kappa is watching nearby wondering how things will progress. It’s very possible that none of the occurrences between Nino and Kou were happenstance but all set in motion. For, even if Kou hadn’t needed saving from drowning, Nino was poised to help him get his jacket and treasure, opening the door for debt. Also, isn’t it possible, Kou has lived under the assumption that his father’s words were objective and not subjective? Of course, I think it’s a possibility Kou has the correct interpretation but you never know.

When I read about Arakawa, I thought it’d be a tad different being it’s described as a story about a homeless girl who saves a rich boy’s life and asks to be his girlfriend as repayment. The story that I’m watching is unfolding quite different and oddly makes so much more sense to me. A homeless girl living under a bridge jives, sure, but the way it’s played in Arakawa is clever, rich with dark comedic elements that don’t mince it’s heartbreaking nature. Without family and starved of emotion, Nino doesn’t seem to understand human relationships, especially love. Meeting Kou, gives her the opportunity to experience that. Although, Kou comes into this world as the rich, intelligent, “sane” person, I’m sure he’ll find, though these characters wear their idiosyncrasies in bright living color, he isn’t that different from them and perhaps is less in tune to reality.

So far I find everyone cast wonderfully. Kiritani is surprisingly perfect as a Venusian without a laughter chip and Hayashi hits every button of frightened, put out and bemused. Ultimately, the scene stealer is Kappa and of course, who would doubt that Oguri would rock this role. As Kappa, I totally believe him and hang on his every word. The first episode is broken into vignettes, probably to service the manga and anime in it’s entirety. The drama works for me, because I believe Kou and I have a lot to learn from these characters under the bridge (especially considering Kou’s undeniable Daddy issues). Comedy is played in a manner that directly assists with helping the viewer stomach the reality that has caused each character to separate(flee) and make a home hidden in Arakawa, under the bridge.

Recapping this drama was fun but I’m not sure I will continue on. I know I’ll continue to watch but with a drama that relies on visual imagery(hence all the caps), physical comedy and cultural humor, I think it’ll be a little difficult to translate. I was giggling throughout the entire episode and still chuckle thinking back to scenes. That type of show demands a watch over a read, based on any type of writing I could render. I’m not saying there’s no more Arakawa, but I’m thinking perhaps periodically, given what is going on in the drama. If it shapes up to be what I think or I’m bursting to talk about it, you’ll see another post.

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