By Hikaru Nakamura. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Square Enix, serialized in the magazine Young Gangan. Released in North America by Vertical Comics. Translated by Andrew Cunningham.
Some series work better in collected in volumes, and some work better in a magazine next to other titles that aren’t very much like it. I’m pretty sure that Arakawa Under the Bridge is one of the latter. Of course, since we don’t have too much opportunity to read Young Gangan over here, we’re only getting the volumes – and even worse, this is an omnibus edition, collecting two of them at once. I say “even worse” even though I did enjoy Arakawa a great deal, but it is, at heart, a gag comic, with its chapters being approximately 6-8 pages, and such series always have to deal with the question of “can this hold up when we get to Vol. 7 or 8?”. Even Nakamura’s other famous (and unlicensed) series, Saint Young Men, deals with this, as despite its fantastic and slightly blasphemous premise, it’s much the same – it rides on its weird humor. So far, though, Arakawa is worth the read.
The premise is paper-thin. Our hero is a successful, rich young man who lives his life (thanks to his somewhat abusive father) with the philosophy “never be in debt to anyone”. Then, through a series of ridiculous circumstances, he gets his life saved by Nino, a self-proclaimed Venusian woman who lives under one of the city bridges of the Arakawa river (so no, she is not the Arakawa under the bridge). He is thus forced to try to repay her so that he can move on with his life… which proves impossible, and he soon finds himself inveigled in her world as part-boyfriend, part-tsukkomi, meeting a series of increasingly ridiculous people who also live under the bridge. Despite apparently being a young heir with an important job in a highrise, no one from his family or friends ever comes looking for him. The outside world is not important in this. It’s about the weirdos.
Supposedly, Nino is the first of the weirdos that we meet, but she proves to be the calm, stable center of the series, her deadpan earnestness giving it grounding. It also allows the reader to make an emotional connection between her and “Recruit” (their nickname for our hero, which I tend to think of him as because his last name is too long), and I was surprised and pleased to find a few heartwarming, sweet moments scattered in among the zaniness. You actually want to see if they can form a real relationship. Might be a bit difficult, though, given the other cast members, which include a man who dresses as a kappa, a guy with a star for a head, a male nun who looks like he stepped out of the pages of Black Lagoon, a young yakuza wannabe girl, and a farm woman who confuses ‘teasing’ with abusive language.
As you might imagine, this series is for people who enjoy amusing, strange characters interacting. If you want narrative or character development, I’d look elsewhere. But Arakawa made me laugh, and by the end I wanted to see more of them. That’s the important thing.