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Arakawa Under the Bridge Season 1 Blu-ray Complete Series Premium Edition Review

10 min read

Life under the bridge has its merits, but can Ko find the true path for his life there amidst the strange and unusual inhabitants?

What They Say:
Ko Ichinomiya’s family motto is “Never be indebted to anyone,” but after losing his pants and falling into the Arakawa River, he quickly finds himself in debt to his savior, the cutely insane Nino who happens to live under the bridge. To repay her, he vows to help her with her desire to “experience love.” Along the way he’ll meet the river’s other residents, including a hot-blooded kappa, a Sister in drag, and a literal rock star.

Contains episodes 1-13.

The Review:
Please note:
This set contains both the DVD and Blu-ray discs of the series. For our technical review, we’re covering only the Blu-ray discs.

Audio:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good for the single audio track that’s here as we get the original Japanese stereo mix in PCM encoded at 1.5mbps fixed. The series is largely dialogue driven and it has a very good feeling to it as it has solid placement when required and some good depth as well when there are multiple characters on screen talking. The series doesn’t stretch itself all that much but it works the material well and the music sequences help let it stand out a bit more. The opening sequence in particular has a good bit of music that is well served by the lossless presentation. The release didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The thirteen episodes are spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. The encoding here generally runs in the low twenties for the bitrate but hits some highs in the thirties when things get a bit more active. There’s a lot of stills in this show as it uses wide shots with the characters conversing within it, so while the characters may move, they’re generally a small part of the frame and the majority of it is still. There’s a lot of great colors here that are solid and well represented, often with more real world colors but also a lot of vibrant pieces as well that stand out wonderfully. There’s a lot of detail to the character designs and backgrounds as well and it all holds up very well and looks quite appealing. The one main flaw that many will point to, and I can certainly understand it and it is frustrating but hard to factor into a grade, is that the subtitles are locked on for the video, so you can’t toggle them off. You either get the commentary subtitles or the full subtitles.

Packaging:
NIS America continues with its solid collector’s premium edition boxes. If you’ve seen them before, it’s more of the same, and to me that’s a fantastic thing. We get an oversized heavy chipboard box here where each of the main panels features one of the two lead characters. Ko gets his usual outfit while being set against a pinkish background with the bridge architecture as well as circles and dots that does tie it together well. The other side has Nino on it with her track suit and is set against a blue background done similar to Ko’s. It looks great, but they changed up the material for the wrap as it’s a bit slicker feeling than the more textured paper type we had before. I prefer what we had before, but this likely works better for capturing the print colors. The side of the box has a detailed technical grid that covers both formats very well and is very clean and easy to read and accurate to what’s on the disc.

Within the box, we get two clear thinpak cases where each of them holds both a Blu-ray disc and a DVD disc. The front covers are done just like the main box background with the logo across it, but no character artwork. It keeps it simple and effective but feels like it’s missing a chance at a little extra character artwork fun. The back covers break down the episodes that are available on their respective discs and each has a series of twelve images from the show that represent those episodes overall. The discs extras are clearly listed and a more disc-specific technical grid breakdown is included as well. A lot of space is given over to the production credits and the voice cast. There’s no artwork on the reverse side unfortunately either.

The big draw, once again, is the very rich and detailed book that’s included. The hardcover piece, in full color, has tons of information, character artwork, voice actor interviews, staff interviews and one with the original creator. There’s a lot of little bits to it and it’s really packed full where you can learn a lot to build on it but also end up revisiting the fun parts as it’s explained out or reminisced. This is definitely a big part of the package here and worth every penny and definitely a premium item.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is cute as it has a background with lots of little stars and the like, using elements from the opening sequence, while on top of that we get a trio of main characters floating about a bit to some upbeat music. It has a cute look to it and is definitely bright and colorful without being overwhelming. The navigation along the bottom is straightforward with the basic selections that you normally get and it all loads quickly and easily. Submenus have a good font to it and chapter access within episodes is also available, something we don’t always see in general.

Extras:
The extras for this release are pretty good in that we get a series of TV spots for both the broadcast and home video release as well as some Japanese commentary tracks. Ten of them in fact, as only three episodes are without a commentary track. These are done in Dolby Digital encoded at 448kbps, so they sound much better than what we usually get even on DVD releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series of the same name by Hikaru Nakamura, Arakawa Under the Bridge is a thirteen episode series from Shaft with Akiyuki Shinbo directing. The show definitely fits into the kinds of comedy material he’s done before where it’s somewhat askew to reality and has a definite sense of pacing and humor that other shows try to imitate but never quite manage to capture in the same way. I’ve had a mix run with Shinbo’s shows over the years with some hitting me perfectly and others just coming up short. With the thirteen episodes here, Shinbo’s working with very quirky material that never feels like it connects well and characters that are quirky and strange but you have a hard time really getting a sense of outside of their gag.

The series focuses on a young man named Ko Ichinomiya. Unlike most leading young men characters, he’s out of school and is a successful businessman. All of this comes from the way he was brought up as his father has a philosophy where you have to do everything on your own and you can’t owe someone favors or anything else. You have to stand on your own and anything else is weakness. We’re treated to a variety of scenes over the course of the series that shows us just how strange that upbringing was, and how distant his father is for most of his life, and that explains a lot of his drive. He’s in charge of a big name company, is definitely very independent and has money and a whole lot of confidence. When we see him for the first time though, he’s just been messed over by a couple of punks who have put his pants on one of the girders of the Arakawa Bridge.

Which in turn has him trying to get them down without asking for any help, namely from one young blonde girl named Nino who saw the whole thing and is offering to help. His refusal, comical as it is, leads him to falling off the bridge – with the girder no less – and that has him nearly drowning as it crushes him below the water. Nino ends up helping him out, which he does appreciate to some degree, but he sees it as every accomplishment he has from there on out is because she saved his life, and he owes it all to her. It’s not a surprising way of thinking, but it’s taken to an extreme and he has to repay the favor in a huge way. Unfortunately for Ko, Nino is a very off character as she lives under the bridge and claims to be a Venusian that’s there to understand the world a bit. And her price for helping him is to teach her what it means to love. Suffice to say, he has to give in to her request (or his asthma attack at owing someone a favor will do him in) and that has him moving into the area under the bridge.

Unsurprisingly, Nino is the most normal one of the group that Ko gets to know. The first one he has to meet is the Chief, the one who runs the area for the most part. Of course, it’s a guy in a kappa suit who doesn’t believe it’s a suit and spends much of his time in the water. Add in the Sister, a mafia-type guy that’s hiding out here from England dressed as a nun and handles the small church that’s under the bridge. Whitey is an amusing businessman who has lost his way home and can only walk on white lines, which isn’t as bad as it seems since he has one of the machines that paints them and is always using it to get around. There’s also a former rocker that’s hiding out down there that wears a big star mask and is named, obviously, Hoshi, and he has a crush on Nino and runs into plenty of conflicts with Ko. There are others as well, a few more women including a young child who upon meeting Ko wants to start a Fight Club with him, but the general idea is there. They’re all strange and weird.

While there’s plenty of setup here and the show does have a stronger point as it gets towards the end and the community is threatened, a lot of it is fairly standard “wacky” and weird gags. Because of the diversity of the cast and the way they all have strong self-beliefs over what their lives are like,t hey all conflict with Ko easily. Or more accurately, Ko conflicts against them as he has a very specific worldview as well. A lot of it comes down to his acceptance of this community and the oddities of each of them, finding strength in helping others and being not quite indebted to them, but being a part of them. You can see the changes fairly easily in him, even as he does struggle with just how outlandish they can be, and it works nicely in the long run since it’s not a quick change for him.

The episodes are broken into various chapters, a hundred and eight overall which is quite fitting in its own way, and they can go pretty quick within an episode as they work a particular angle or gag. This gives the show a certain structure for quick hits at times and lengthier bits when needed, but sometimes it gets to be a bit intrusive, especially if you’re marathoning it. What it does do is make it clear when it’s going to change gears a bit, or potentially pivot, but more often than not it just follows the story to the next progressive point without anything radical. It does offer some cute moments though, but overall it feels a bit forced for the structure.

In Summary:
Arakawa Under The Bridge offers up an interesting idea and then really doesn’t do all too much with it in a larger sense. It’s much more a character study with how all these people cope with the situations they’re in and how they’ve come together as a community. For the lead, it’s about him realizing that he does want to belong after a lifetime of not, and purposefully staying out of it, and finding that he really does like it. I liked Ko a lot, but the central problem comes down to that it’s hard to imagine that even with his psychological issues, that the overall pressure of the community wouldn’t have driven him off and overridden is need to pay back people so he wasn’t indebted to them. That, on top of a diverse quirky cast that never really connected with me, made the show feel a bit dry. It has its moments of humor and the characters click in their own way, but they’re all people I’d go running from in a heartbeat.

Features:
Japanese PCM 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, TV Spots, Audio Commentaries

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: NIS America
Release Date: July 5th, 2011
MSRP: $69.99
Running Time: 316 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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