Arakawa under the Bridge 8: one big happy family
May 27, 2010
Episode 8 of Arakawa under the Bridge explores Under-the-Bridge from the perspective of corporate culture, reminisces about Kou’s family relationships, and relates how Nino gave Recruit his first kiss. Also the animation in this episode shows Shinbou/SHAFT breaking out of their idioms on occasion.
Two of Kou’s employees appeared at the end of the last episode. To keep his life under the bridge secret from his father, Ric tries to pretend that his presence there is all part of a business venture.
Ric tries to pass off Maria, Sister, and Whitey as his Under-the-Bridge employees. Of course things don’t go as smoothly as he hopes.
Despite Ric’s best efforts at concealing it, details of his unprofessional activities under the bridge eventually are exposed, including the fact that he has taken Nino as a lover. This leads to a lot of good humor. At first, Kou’s secretary, Takai takes the news very badly. He also comes off as very devoted to Kou, and jealous that Nino’s relationship to Kou/Ric might be closer. At first Hoshi attempts to use this to his advantage by telling Nino that they are “butt buddies”. He eagerly drags Nino up to Ric’s pad, to show her their inappropriate relationship, only to be horrified as he walks in on them during a body cavity exam. This won’t be the last time Hoshi is devastated by getting what he asks for.
Although Takai is shown playing what looks like the role of the devoted wife, flashbacks to Kou’s childhood give an alternate interpretation. First we are shown (again) how Kou’s father was distant and refused him even basic indications of paternal love. This includes Kou’s only act of rebellion against his father, refusing to write an essay about his dream for the future; Kou knew his father would never be supportive, so he refused to reveal his dream to certain ridicule.
Takai knows something of the “hataraki man” phenomenon. His wife left him because he devoted himself to his work instead of to her. He finds young Kou’s remarks chilling, however. Kou calmly remarks that marriage is foolish and that one should live only for oneself. “People are strongest alone.” Not only does Kou have no interest in romance, he has no friends. He obviously doesn’t get anything emotionally satisfying from his father either. Takai is employed as Kou’s secretary, but he devotes himself to the young master as if doting on his own son.
In some respects the most significant event of the episode, Ric’s first kiss, is downplayed. From Nino’s perspective, it isn’t at all clear what (if anything) it means, although to Recruit it clearly means the world. While Ric is giddy and rather goofy, Nino displays minimal reaction. She calmly discusses things with Sister, who remarks that he is happy Ric moved in, because that has brought a smile to Nino’s face. This raises the issue that Nino’s typical nonplussed attitude could be hiding significant emotional damage as well. To complicate matters, Takai remarks that he has lost because his fatherly love isn’t a match for motherly love; unless this was a problem with the translation, this could signal problems for Ric X Nino.
Aside from the fact that I thought this was a very successful episode, both in terms of humor and plot development, there was another reason I enjoyed it. This episode had some very good animation. I don’t mean animation in the sense of the smoothness of the depiction of motion. What I mean is that the typical Shinbou/SHAFT approach seems
to be to apply a strong but static design sense to the problem of animation. So we see many extreme close-ups. Character poses are either very stiff (and mostly vertical, in a single plane), or they are extreme (exaggerated for comic effect), but held. Visual variety worthy of the term animation comes from the rapid cutting from from one carefully set shot to the next. This episode saw a few interesting counter examples. One of the most delightful was Nino chasing the dragonfly; I felt this really added to her characterization (it put paid to Takai’s comment that she is like a grade schooler for one thing). In another example, Takai’s assistant squirms when Hoshi tries hitting on her; the effect is somewhat awkward, but quite a bit more “natural” than most of the posing in the show. There were also a couple of times when perspective is used in an interesting way. One was as Hoshi climbs to the top of the pillar where Ric lives, but more dramatically (and not represented in a screencap here) when Takai leaves Ric and Nino. The scene I’m talking about is just after Ric says, “What? You’re going back?” First you see Ric, and behind him a pillar. The music starts, and Nino and the apartment behind Ric come into view, while Ric stays in the center of the shot. The effect is as if the scene is viewed from Takai’s perspective as he leaves his “son” behind to his new life. Although I enjoy the distinctive Shinbo/SHAFT style, it was good to see them working in this more “naturalistic” style of character animation for a change.