The one series I was worried about due to SHAFT studio and director Shinbou Akiyuki‘s involvement turned out much better than I expected in its premiere episode. Naturally I had my expectations somewhat low coming in, but the most immediate surprise was the quality of the animation. It’s not top-notch by any means, but for SHAFT, it’s miles ahead what they’ve been churning out as of late. I found the blue skies and sunset backdrops particularly nice and like how the characters blended smoothly into them. As for the characters themselves, I have to say that I absolutely love Nino, in terms of both her character design and her personality with Sakamoto Maaya‘s voice behind it. Placing her in front of those backdrops made me second guess myself on whether or not this is really the same SHAFT from seasons prior. I’m skeptical on whether they’ll be able to keep it up, but for a premiere episode, it was pretty up to snuff and subsided my first concern.
My other concern revolving around director Shinbou Akiyuki and his very unorthodox style is usually in regards to the split-second walls of text he likes to use. Well much to my pleasant surprise, they were completely nonexistent here, and instead became well-transitioned scenes with text that stayed on screen for several seconds. I have no idea if he’ll go back to his usual style on, but for a first showing, I’m pretty relieved. I say “relieved” here because I like what I read of the Arakawa Under the Bridge manga and the gag comedy it entailed, and really want to see that transition well into an anime adaptation. With Kamiya Hiroshi starring as Ichinomiya Kou here, I subconsciously drew parallels to the ever-so-popular Bakemonogatari. Quite frankly, I enjoyed Bakemonogatari, but there were various stylistic touches I could have done without. Also, it had what I considered pretty sub-par animation quality for something so popular and is ultimately why I considered it a series that “Exceeded Expectations” in the Best of Anime 2009 post rather than a “Favorite of the Year”.
In regards to Arakawa, the series is starting out a lot more like how I hoped Bakemonogatari would have in terms of style, quality, and direction. In the last case, Shinbou has decided to follow the manga exclusively here, which as you can probably imagine, is music to my ears. However, he has gone out of his way to break the story down into various sub-chapters, with this first episode being comprised of nine mini episodes. That’s how it is on paper anyway, but in practice these sub-divisions haven’t really taken anything away from the story’s continuity thus far, so I kind of question why they’re even needed. In any case, we have one story so far and it involves Ichinomiya Kou who is on top of the business world and whose family motto is to never be in debt to anyone for anything. That mentality has been so ridiculously ingrained into his entire family at very young age that the mere thought of owing someone something gives them asthmatic panic attacks.
One day, while trying to retrieve his pants that some kids played a prank on him with, he falls into Arakawa River and is saved by a homeless girl named Nino living below. In addition to landing the biggest debt possible, Kou soon finds out that she’s a “denpa-kei” (person who likes to make believe) who considers herself a Venusian (i.e. of the planet Venus). His attempt to repay her by buying her a house fails due to her denpa-kei nature, but he insists on letting him repay her somehow, so Nino simply asks him to love her. Thus begins Kou’s life under the bridge with her and all the random gag comedy to go with it, starting with the village chief (Fujiwara Keiji) — a man clearly in a suit yet claims to be a real kappa. The comedy picks up from then on since Kou thinks these people are absolutely crazy, but goes along with everything because of his debt to Nino. In fact, it’s probably more correct to say that he can’t go against anything or he’ll have a panic attack and die.
That’s the gist of what happened so far anyway, and I really enjoyed it all because it followed the manga and wasn’t plagued by the “Shinbou SHAFT” (…as I like to call it). I’m hoping this will keep up and turn out more like Maria Holic, which I felt was one of the better Shinbou x SHAFT series to date. Sakamoto Maaya is a huge reason on why I want to follow this and with Nino’s somewhat distant personality, it should be a lot of fun. If you’re into gag comedies as well, I strongly recommend checking out this first episode. I can’t say anything about how it’ll turn out, but at least it got out the door on the right foot.
Note: There were no opening and ending sequences included in this episode.