I’m still following Arakawa Under the Bridge‘s 2nd season (Arakawa Under the Bridge *2 to be exact), but it isn’t with the same gusto as with the first season. Why’s that?
Are the jokes suddenly flat? Are the wacky residents getting kind of stale? To both of these questions, maybe just a tiny bit, but I still find myself laughing from time to time when I watch Arakawa. But like any show, there are ups and downs; few comedies will ever make me laugh from start to finish. And when I’m not laughing, I’m bored with Arakawa‘s 2nd season. After some thinking, I finally pinpointed the exact reason why the magic’s just not the same for me this time around: Nino.
To me, the emotional center of the first season was Riku’s personal growth. Arakawa Under the Bridge is first and foremost an offbeat comedy with an equally bizarre and gimmicky (I don’t mean ‘gimmicky’ as an insult, but honestly, there’s little depth to most of the characters aside from Riku) cast. That’s all true, but the one thing that served as a compass for the show’s manic energy — the one thing that prevented Arakawa from being just another random monkeycheese nonsense series from Shaft — was Riku’s progress from this straight-laced, success-driven maniac to someone who could actually appreciate whatever life threw at him — even if it happened to be a freak in a kappa suit and a male nun with PTSD.
So what’s the emotional center for the 2nd season? Arakawa still has a sense of madness, but is there a method to that madness anymore? Through eight episodes — as far as I can tell — the focus of this season has been Riku’s developing romance with Nino, revealing her backstory as a result piece-by-piece. My only beef with this is that I don’t particularly care about them or their love at all. While this focus has led to genuinely funny antics between Riku and Hoshi, my enjoyment of the show remains purely in its comedy and nothing more.
And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with being just a comedy, I think this is a step down for Arakawa. For a romance to be compelling, I’d have to care for both characters, but Nino isn’t much of one — she’s still just an anime variant of the magical pixie girl — and as such, I don’t really care whether or not Riku’s love life succeeds. She was merely a concept in the first season and she remains one now; can we define Nino in an interesting way without mentioning Riku?
Nothing about her ever really grows or changes significantly. The most human she’s ever been in the anime so far is whenever she worries about losing Riku — it’s always Riku, Riku, Riku. Sure, he’s the main character, but she has to stand on her own to make this romance worth following. And yeah, you could say she’s “Venusian,” so on some level, her actions and traits must naturally be undecipherable to both Riku and the audience. Even granting that, however, it doesn’t change the fact that how Riku gets with a girl who seems to unconditionally adore him isn’t particularly compelling.
The anime likes to tease us with Nino’s backstory like it did with Riku’s past in the first season, but there’s a difference between the former and the latter. This is Riku’s story; we get to see him be at his most introspective. We never get to see Nino’s self-introspection. And even if we do learn more about her, will she no longer be just a concept that completes Riku? I hope the answer’s yes.
But I dunno. We’re nearing the end of this tunnel. I guess we’ll have see what the end of season two holds.
As an aside, I really like this season’s ED. It’s still incredibly Nino-focused, but oh well. Come to think of it, I seem to prefer the EDs of Fall ’10 over the OPs. I always sit through Kuragehime‘s credits because I’m a sap for the exceedingly cliché lyrics.