Arakawa Under the Bridge – 13 (END)
With the announcement of a second season following the airing of this finale, SHAFT’s taken the opportunity to introduce some of the other characters they opted not to earlier on. After being shown glimpses of them in the ending sequence and in the series itself, we finally have the resident hairstylist Last Samurai (Nakamura Yuuichi) and odd couple Billy (Tachiki Fumihiko) and Jacqueline (Gotou Yuuko) making their formal series debut. Given the way things concluded last episode with the threat from Riku’s father resolved for the time being, this final episode actually felt more like a kick-off to a second season more than anything else. The new character introductions alone made it come off as such, featuring a clinic on Last Samurai’s instantaneous hair-cutting technique that not only solved Nino’s bed hair but also left Riku wondering what the hell just happened. As amusing as his jaw-dropping reaction was compared to everyone else’s lack of one, learning why Sister is a difficult customer turned out to be the really funny surprise in all this.
At first, I figured it was merely a height thing that prevented Last Samurai from lining him up nicely with everyone else and make swift work with his katana, but evidently P-ko’s tiny stature didn’t hamper him one bit. Instead, it was Sister’s instinctive reflexes to avoid his hair-cutting “attacks”, making their hair-cut session seem more like a battle to the death. I found myself laughing pretty hard at the sight of Last Samurai swinging away at Sister like he was trying to take his head off shortly after he tried to land a preemptive strike. All this time, Sister was apologizing for dodging too, making it even funnier to see. The introduction of Billy the parrot and Jacqueline the bee’s adultery relationship was odd to say the least, given how the latter was talking about her tens of thousands of children back at the hive. Billy on the other hand turned out to be a parrot who’s “graduated” from repeating other people’s words, yet is able to convey his feelings for Jacqueline in his own arrogant way. I could only imagine what Riku would’ve gotten himself into for cutting into their conversation upon feeling sorry for Jacqueline, but he knew better than to stick his head into other people’s business under the bridge.
The remainder of the episode with Riku thinking he could get an amusement park up and running for Stella and the Testujin brothers wasn’t too shabby for a finale either. I mean, it did start off with his students wanting to go to one, only for them to angrily respond to Riku’s offer to do so by saying they’ll never leave the riverbed and risk getting captured by some research facility. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but it looked like Tetsuro gave Riku the middle finger too. In any case, after Riku burns out trying to devise a plan to create an amusement park under the bridge in a mere week and learns that everyone else set one up for him, I must say I enjoyed Riku telling Tetsuro and Tetsuo to beat the crap out of Sonchou in his mascot outfit out of spite for him wearing it on top of his kappa one. The best attraction however had to be the 3D theater they set up, because their parody of Star Wars was so real that bullets actually came flying at the audience. I couldn’t stop laughing after Riku realized what was actually going on and didn’t even bother to duck and take cover. Compared to that, I really didn’t know how to react to Sister’s iron maiden “coaster ride”, other than thinking you need to be a pure masochist to possibly get a thrill from that.
Anyway, after all the gags at the amusement park, it was nice to see some focus given back to Riku and Nino, where the former recalled some happy memories with his father. I really love the background track used in that scene, which always makes the series seem like anything but a gag comedy thanks to the ambiance it gives of. The parade that followed suit did make this episode feel somewhat like a finale, plus they slipped in a short scene with Amazoness (Kobayashi Yuu) before wrapping up with another figurative one between Riku and Nino.
Coming into this series, I had my usual reservations about director Shinbou Akiyuki and SHAFT, but ever since the first episode I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it looked. In addition, Shinbou’s stylistic touches were used in a way that helped compliment the humor rather become the focal point of it, which together with the good production values subsided all my initial concerns about the “Shinbou Shaft”. Most of the material in this adaptation was straight out of the manga and worked extremely well without any major changes aside from selecting which chapters to animate and in what order, so that was nice to see as well. I’m not a manga purist by any means, but I enjoyed what I read there and was looking forward to seeing it animated with the cast they had lined up when I wrote up the Spring 2010 Preview. Incidentally, SHAFT did take some liberties by adding their own anime original spin on things, which was most prominent in the metaphoric-filled scenes that started showing up before the opening sequence every episode. Along with the music showcased in this series, some of those gave the relationship between Riku and Nino a surreal fairy tale-like feel and changed my perspective of the series amidst all the gags, so I felt they were a really nice addition.
Just so there’s no confusion, I don’t have anything against SHAFT nor Shinbou and actually like some of their previous works; however, I am wary of their projects due to string of fairly lackluster ones as of late. With their most recent work here starting out on the right foot and maintaining production values consistently over the course of the series’ entire run though, I have renewed faith in them. SHAFT is generally known to take on series that are fairly heavy on dialogue, so it’s good to know that things are looking up for their studio following the production of this series. The green light given for a second season of this series sort of serves as a testament to that fact too, so if you’re looking for a gag-filled series with a wide variety of very weird characters to drive the comedy, you can’t really go wrong with this series about an unbelievable rich heir who spends his time under the bridge with a beautiful girl. Things get pretty nonsensical and pretty over-the-top at times, but it almost always leads to pretty hilarious results. What’s even better is that there is a genuine love story taking place alongside all the laughs, so you get the best of both worlds in this romantic comedy that’s very unlike your typical ones. I’ll be looking forward to the second season whenever it shows up, but for now I’m actually happy about this taking a break with the new summer shows coming up.