Please Note: This review is of the DVD portion of the BD/DVD combo set. To read our thoughts on the Blu-ray, look here.
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.
The majority of this series is dialogue. No fancy explosions, or booming music. As such, the release in Japanese stereo isn’t as much of a disappointment as it could have been. The dialogue is easy to hear, and as effective as it needs to be, with no issues of real sort. It’s a solid mix, with a decent amount of depth to it, despite it being stereo. The music is great, helping to add to the layers on the soundtrack, and give a more perceived feeling of depth. For a 2.0 soundtrack it’s quite solid, but in this day and age, it’s always a bit disappointing not to get a 5.1 mix.
The episodes in this DVD set are spread pretty equally across both discs, with the first seven episodes being presented on disc 1, and last six episodes on disc 2. The quality itself is good for a DVD, but the flaws in the resolution are definitely more visible on an HD screen. The colors are vibrant, and nice to look at, but it is a bit of a jarring juxtaposition to the stiff character movements, still frames, and somewhat flat look of the series. Overall it gives me something of a sweet, yet empty feel in its appearance, though it’s quite clear that it’s more of a stylistic choice than anything else. I can see this being a more appealing title on Blu-Ray, though for a DVD release, you could do worse.
N/A (came in DVD single cases)
A bit difficult to navigate on the onset, with all the options aligned differently, and its cursor (in the shape of a fish) sometimes appearing on the left, and sometimes int the middle providing some extra mild confusion. It is also a bit confusing when you select the audio commentary option, only to be presented with a list of people speaking during each episode, with no real way of jumping straight into the commentary (you have to got to the setup menu to do that, which begs the question: why bother having an extras option if you can’t start it from there?).
Visually, though, the menu is very fitting. Disc one has a floating picture of Nino, in her trademark airheaded, blank expression, and disc two has a floating picture of Rec with a slightly more serious expression. There is a muted pink color scheme in the background with screen-tone-looking dots, very reminiscent of the opening sequence. Lighthearted music plays in the background, successfully establishing the overall tone of the series. A nice little addition is the option to choose chapters within the episode, but I’ve grown so used to this option not existing, that I didn’t make much use of it.
The extras in this collection are limited in range, but relatively entertaining, interesting, and substantial throughout, if you’re willing to put in the time to watch the series in two different tracks, with two different sets of subtitles. As the commentaries are with the Japanese cast and crew, there was no real way of going around it, but it’s a shame one wouldn’t really be able to fully know what’s going on as the commentary runs (unless you speak Japanese). Apart from all this and a few TV ads for Japanese TV, there really isn’t a whole lot else to offer.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
From the day he was born, Ko Ichinomiya has been raised with one motto: “Never be indebted to anyone.” He attends a prestigious university (paying his tuition without any help), is heir to the conglomerate Ichinomiya Company, and essentially lives the life that would be the envy of ambitious twenty-somethings around the world. But when he falls off a bridge into the Arakawa River, he finds himself indebted to a strange girl named Nino, who lives under the bridge. Determined to repay any debt immediately, he asks how she can be repaid. Her simple yet strange answer is experience love with her.
And with that, Ko unwittingly chains himself down to a much longer payment plan than he originally intended, agreeing to be Nino’s lover. Every day turns out to be a struggle. Not only does Nino have the memory of a goldfish, but she also claims to be from the planet Venus. And compared to the rest of the inhabitants under the bridge, Nino is completely normal. With characters ranging from a village chief dressed up as a kappa, a “Sister” who’s actually a former military cross-dressing man, a clumsy gardener, a condescending farmer, twins who claim to have psychic powers, and a man who walks around with a sideline marker for the simple reason of creating a white line for him to walk on, Ko has his work cut out for him. After all, any normal human being would go insane with the amount of nonsense that goes on under the bridge.
It’s definitely an incredibly bogus premise; one with enormous potential to collapse under the weight of absurdity. But as I watched the first episode, I felt that there was enormous potential to do this series right. The juxtaposition of the difference in priorities in Nino’s and Ko’s life is something that struck me as very powerful. Instantly I knew what I wanted to see. I wanted to see incredibly materialistic Ko slowly over the course of the series, change his perspective on life. In a nutshell, yes, this does happen, but unfortunately, as I first feared, it does, indeed, collapse under its weight of absurdity more often than not.
Time that I feel should be spent getting to know the characters we know is, instead, spent being introduced to another set of ridiculous characters who, in all honesty, have very little depth or existence outside of their introductory throwaway joke. Yet for some reason the series tries to throw into many situations along with the main duo. The result are scenes that tend to fall flat in the barrage of jokes. It also doesn’t help that the humor is incredibly Japanese in nature. From its ridiculous, borderline idiotic, character designs to its over-the-top, obnoxious jokes, it is definitely a series that is best suited to the hardcore, who are constantly exposed to that type of humor and can fully understand it. To everyone else, it definitely would most likely come across as grating.
Near the end of the series, an overarching plot does appear, involving the possible takeover of the area under the bridge, thereby forcing the residents to leave, but at around 10-11 episodes in, it was too little too late for me. So much of the series, I felt, had been wasted on idle, often-unfunny, humor that did little to make me more attached to the main cast. I just didn’t care. And based on all that Ko had been through, I found very little reason for him, at that point, to feel a genuine need to help his fellow residents. Perhaps I had gone in with the wrong expectations, but the series, as a whole, fell completely short for me.
Starting off with a rock-solid, yet ludicrous, premise, Arakawa Under the Bridge, unfortunately decides to spend its time more on the one-liners and strange situations than on legitimately getting us to care about the characters so that it matters when the more serious situations take stage later on in the story. Having said that, I can definitely see the series having more of an effect on those well-versed in Japanese humor. But as a story—or even character—driven narrative, it does very little to tread new water. Definitely a series for the more hardcore fans, and not one to be shown to the fan with a short attention span.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, TV Spots, Audio Commentaries with English Subtitles
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: NIS America
Release Date: July 5th, 2011
Running Time: 316 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widsecreen
Sony KDL-40EX400 BRAVIA EX400 LCD hdtv 40 inch. Sony SLV-D370P DVD Player. Electrohome ELE-HTB920E 5.1 Channel Surround Sound Home Theater Speaker System