Kou Ichinomiya has been taught one thing consistently through his life: never owe anyone anything. From food to shelter to favours, Kou has never had to be indebted to anyone; so when he accidentally falls into the Arakawa river on his way into work and is saved by a mysterious homeless girl named Nino, he suddenly owes her his life and panics at what to do. He offers to buy her a new home, but she refuses and instead she asks if he can help her learn to fall in love. Confused by the turn of events, but feeling he has no choice but to comply, he becomes her boyfriend and moves in with her under the bridge of Arakawa, where he plans to spend the rest of his life paying her back.
Hikaru Nakamura has been in the business since 2004, with Arakawa Under the Bridge being her debut work and she’s even listed as the 9th best-selling Manga Creator back in 2011, and yet this volume marks her English language debut. Better late than never, as Arakawa Under the Bridge is a comically quirky series worth discovering, and luckily for us, the first volume from Vertical Comics not only contains over 47 chapters (effectively the first 2 volumes of the original series) but several colour pages and bonus stories.
The book at first glance doesn’t seem big enough to contain 47 chapters, as manga tend to have that amount spread across many volumes, but it should be noted that most chapters of Arakawa are, on average, 4 – 6 pages long. This means that the mini-stories and events that happen across the book are often no longer than a couple of chapters, and due to the swift comedic nature of the series, they’re over with before they’ve begun. Whilst some of the events are nicely self-contained, and moments like Nino’s and Kou’s first date end naturally, others just seem to cut off abruptly and as the chapters feel like they can be slotted anywhere in the timeline, it’s hard to gauge when and where everything is happening. One minute it’s winter, next they’re celebrating summer, then they’re off to mass, now it’s raining, etc.
When it comes to comedy however, it’s the rule of funny that matters more than whether a show’s timeline makes sense, but the jumping around and random occurrence of events also carry across into the humour and cast. As Kou moves in, he meets a wide variety of characters from the village chief Kappa, the self-proclaimed superstar Hoshii, to the gun-loving Sister; all weird in their own lovable ways so there’s bound to be a character or two that will tickle the funny bone harder than others. Despite the random nature of character introductions, you really do get a sense of the community that lives under the bridge, and how they all work together. This can be hard to accomplish, especially when your humour relies heavily on the outlandish side and random personality quirks, but Hikaru knows her characters well and keeps their wackiness consistent in their own little bubbles which maintains their likability without being too aloof. The only weak link in the character pool so far is, oddly enough, Nino; she’s introduced first and is the reason Kou is here in the first place, yet only a small portion of the book is actually ABOUT her. She’s in the background for most of the chapters but outside of her supposed ‘Venusian’ origins and odd sleeping habits there’s not much else to her. Hopefully this will be remedied in future chapters.
As the old saying goes: ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, which is basically my roundabout way of saying that I’m not a fan of the art. When it comes to the several full-colour pages of the book, there’s a lot of life and depth to the style, with beautiful use of washed-out shades, and admittedly Hikaru can create fun character designs. But in the panel-to-panel black-and-white stuff everything looks, to me at least, like quick doodles and minimal effort with ugly facial shaping and Nino especially just appears lifeless half the time. Again, it’s a comedy series, so she doesn’t need to look like the Mona Lisa, but I’m not going to be a fan of Hikaru Nakamura’s art anytime soon.
However, props do go to the translator; Japanese comedy is always the hardest to communicate in English as the writers often rely on wordplay/puns but there are plenty of mini-asterisks across the volume that translate the various jokes and other outside references so the audience is never left out of the loop. They even go out of their way to translate the impossible-to-see-clearly text that’s on Kou’s tie in the opening chapter; that’s dedication right there!
Arakawa Under the Bridge is a quirky comedy with vastly strange but likable characters. You may feel sorry for poor Kou being stuck with them but can’t help but wonder what he’s going to find next. If you’re looking for a new comedy manga, this delightfully put-together first volume is a treat.
Vertical Comics have a free preview here.