December 5th, 2010

haiku

Finished series: Arakawa Under the Bridge

We've finished watching Arakawa Under The Bridge. My first episode review is here.

Ichinomiya Kou is a succesfull and rich -- still in college, but the chairman of a few powerful companies. He did it all on his own, because his family motto is to never be indebted to others. So one day, due to a prank of a few kids, he falls into the river and nearly drowns, but is saved by a homeless girl called Nino, who claims to be a Venusian. He wants to repay her (so as to be debt-free once again), but she doesn't need anything. Except maybe one thing: she wants him to be her boyfriend. And that means he has to live under the bridge as well.

The people who live at the riverbed are a colorful bunch of characters. The 'village chief' is a guy in a kappa suit, who claims to be an actual kappa. (Everyone politely ignores the zippers on his back.) There's Sister, a former commando who dresses like a nun, Hoshi, a washed-up musician who wears a star-shaped mask, and so on. The lack of common sense is staggering: these outcasts do whatever they like and go with the flow of their whimsy.
Obviously, this sits ill with Kou (or 'Recruit' as he was named by the chief) who is used to people living in proper houses, wearing pressed suits and working in the daily treadmill of the salarymen. But his attempts to 'help' the inhabitants fail because they simply don't want (or can't) be part of that (anymore). They have their reasons, but nobody ever talks about that.

At first, I had feared that this would turn into some kind of validation of the current practice of ignoring homeless people (who also tend to camp out near riverbeds) and assuming that this is the way they want to live. But underneath it all there is the message that these are people, too. And the absurdity of the salarymen ratrace, where nobody is truly happy, is also pointed out. Even though all of the inhabitants are 'damaged' in one way or the other, the portrayal is almost tender. And Kou really wants to make his relationship with Nino work, which is cute.
And Kou, who is supposed to be the pinnacle of Japanese society, is damaged too: he has all sorts of weird neuroses and issues -- and when he is at the riverbank, he can relax and simply be accepted for who he is (though of course the kappa and Hoshi tease him).

On top of that, there are some pretty funny situations. The cast is colorful enough to create lots of zany situations -- I cried tears of laughter at some episodes.
Visually, the series isn't great -- but since that was never the aim, it works quite well for what they wanted to do. The voice acting is quite good: the timing is impeccable and there's a lot of character in the voices.

Good things:
- Funny;
- Handles the themes of homelessness quite well.
Bad things:
- Visually uninspiring.

If you're into slapstick sitcoms, then you'll really like this. Otherwise you'd do best to stay away from it. I liked it a lot, and I will give it a 7.5.
Bikini Kuroko

Finished series: Okamisan

We've finished watching Okamisan. My first episode review is here.

The characters of the series are all based on fairy tales: the titular Okamisan is the 'bad wolf', but in this series she shares her dorm room with Ringo, modeled after little red riding hood. And Okamisan is a tsundere, while Akai-san is a manipulative schemer... There are other characters who get a few of their characteristics off their fairy-tale equivalents (though there are a few that I couldn't identify because I don't know the Japanese fairytales they're based on), but all in all it's a bit on the background and serves as an inspiration more than it detracts.

The main characters (Okami-san and her seven companions) are part of the Otogi Mutual Assistance Fund, also named the Otogi Bank. Students of the school come to the Bank to request assistance -- they're helped, but they accumulate a debt that has to be repaid in some way later on. Then one day, a shy boy (a hunter, oddly enough) musters the courage to confess his love to Okami. He is the only boy who sees through her: that her toughness is just an act to hide a very insecure girl. Unfortunately, instead of a cool, dependable guy, Ryoshi is totally useless: he gets nervous when people look at him... But due to his skill with a slingshot, he manages to become part of the Otogi Bank.

The series is quite episodic, with a single episode focussing on a single request. Most of the time the requests are pretty simple and merely serve as a jumping board for rather character-driven stories. Of course there's the relationship between Ryoshi and Okami, but also Ringo's relationship with Snow White, and so on.
There is one story-arc, which deals with the rival school (full of delinquents, apparently) and their student council chairman -- a guy who caused Okami to shut her feelings in and project a tough-girl image. Sadly, we never get to see this to its conclusion, because then the series simply ends.

The character designs have been made with great care (especially the females...), but otherwise the series is uninspiring. The voice acting is quite nice for the main characters, while being a bit bland for the rest. The narrator is pretty bad though: it's a very affected voice (you might recognise Railgun's Kuroko) and she tends to speak while other characters are also speaking, so you have to pay extra attention. I could have done without that.

Good points:
- Inspired character backgrounds;
- Lots of character-driven stories.
Bad points:
- No resolution;
- The narrator;
- A bit bland in most respects.

There's not much to dislike, but it lacks the 'wow'-factor. I guess I'll go with a 6.5 for this one.