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"Arakawa Under the Bridge X Bridge": Unfunny X Unfunny

by on February 27, 2012

There’s nothing deadlier than comedy that falls flat. For example: Arakawa: Under the Bridge X Bridge. I sat through this sequel series to the SHAFT comedy anime Arakawa: Under the Bridge mostly stone-faced. I smirked or chuckled occasionally but never laughed out loud. It’s a bad combination of being simultaneously too dry and too over-the-top, as well as being too random and not being random enough. It doesn’t help when you add a cultural comedy gap, sloppy comic timing/executions, and characters who frequently state the obvious.

Just to give you an example of the kind of humor in the show: The first episode sees the main character, a college-aged perfectionist nicknamed Rec who completely abandoned his upper class lifestyle to live in an alcove underneath a bridge, switching “residences” with girlfriend Nino, a spaced-out, soft-spoken weirdo who claims she’s from Venus. One of the set-pieces involves Rec moving back into his alcove, since Nino just kept sleepwalking back to her own place anyway. Upon returning, Rec realizes that the alcove now stinks. It turns out Nino was using the alcove to hang up fish and vent them out. That’s the joke. Another example: In episode 7, the whole community that lives underneath the bridge has to get a physical, which includes weighing. One of the residents, P-ko, didn’t eat for days in a row so she’d be light for the scale. We get numerous shots of her exaggeratedly concave face. Laughing yet? In the same vein, I’m not sure what’s supposed to be so funny about an extended sequence in episode 10 where the two Metal Brothers (pre-teen twins who perpetually wear metal helmets) bulk up and show off their exaggerated bodybuilding physiques. After the first couple of seconds, the novelty of this wears off, and the rest of the episode is devoted to a young girl, Stella, getting into a brawl with one of them. We’ve seen a variant of that in the first season. Yawn.

If you recall, one of the problems I had with the first season is that the whole thing felt relatively pointless. Outside of a potential conflict in the last few episodes when it looked like the group that lives in the valley next to the bridge would be forced to vacate, the rest of the series was just a series of vignettes starring mostly one-dimensional gimmick characters (the gun-toting male nun; the seemingly sweet young girl who is into yakuza lore and can transform into a muscle-filled, deep-voiced version of herself when enraged). I have no issue with episodic shows or slice-of-life shows, but when you’re not laughing, they can be agonizing to sit through, no matter how large or small scale the plot is.

Well, the sequel is more of the same. A few new characters are added to the ensemble: Amazoness, a gigantic woman who gets into conflict with Rec and who alternates between a deep-voiced, warrior demeanor and an empty-headed Valley Girl one. She’s visually interesting, but that’s all I can say about her. Then there’s Earth Defense Troop Captain, a so-called defender of Earth from Venetians who’s also a closet doujin artist. He’s underutilized, but his annoyance that he is forced to draw moe by his editors when he would rather do sci-fi is a commentary on actual manga/doujin artists who feel the same way. On the other hand, it’s not particularly funny.

Most of the plots consist of the people in the plain near the bridge doing random activities, like having a foot race, making a low budget movie, hosting an amateur haunted house, or having Troop Captain showing the bridge denizens some comics he produced starring the main characters. There was one plot I genuinely enjoyed, though, one that had Rec stumbling upon a cassette recording of Nino’s that revealed her past. Before Rec has the chance to listen to much of it, Nino swipes it, climbs a telephone pole, and stubbornly refuses to descend. I was interested in the story because I wanted to know two things: What secret she was hiding, and if she would forgive Rec. Unfortunately, we never find out what the secret is, because the recording was taped over without her knowledge. So much for that.

There’s also a fruitless development in episode six: Nino reveals to Rec and the group that she has been called back to Venus. At first, Nino only wants to invite Rec back with her, but when the bridge community finds out, they want to come too. So the last seven episodes are all about the group preparing for departure amidst the typical skits. Some are related to this development (such as the group striving to lose weight when they find out the space shuttle can only carry 1,000 pounds), most not (summer festival; beach hijinks; a love triangle between Amazoness and Nino). It sure takes its sweet time getting around to wrapping up this arc, and nothing ever comes of it. That’s right: No blast off, no new setting; just the series ending in roughly the same way it started. Like I said earlier, pointless.

As for presentation, admittedly the show looks nice, just like the first season. Despite taking place in one setting (the bridge area), the color schemes are varied enough to keep things from getting too monotonous. Some of those sunset shots are just gorgeous. And the animation is polished and has some wacky face vaults. Unfortunately, Arakawa is par for the course for anime in that the show has a small number of pre-recorded melodies that repeat ad nauseum throughout the thirteen episodes.

If nothing else, NIS America once again deserves credit for its stellar full color artbook, with everything from an episode guide to illustrations to character profiles to staff Q&A. In terms of disc-based extras, the first four episodes include Japanese audio commentaries, and there are TV spots and NIS trailers as well. Unfortunately, the sequel retains the lack of an English dub. Comedy is perhaps the most important genre to watch a show in your native language (as comedy is just as much about the way the dialog is spoken, not just the words themselves, so it’s arguably best to hear it in the language you’re fluent in), so its omission is a let-down. Then again, I don’t think a dub would’ve made the show exponentially funnier; it can only do so much if the original writing isn’t so hot.

Not to keep harping on the same points, but Arakawa: Under the Bridge X Bridge just wasn’t funny, most of its characters were one-joke in nature, and I’ll forget the majority of it a week from now. It wasn’t agony to sit through; I’ve seen far worse anime than this. But if I’m not laughing, it feels like time wasted, and that’s roughly seven hours I’ll never get back. As with any comedy, your mileage may vary, but I say skip it.

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