Arakawa Under The Bridge 1 collects volumes 1 & 2 of Hikaru Nakamura’s manga Arakawa Andā za Burijji . The 2017 translation is by Andrew Cunningham.
Brilliant, hard-working, driven, and wealthy, Kou Ichinomiya has striven his whole life to prove himself worthy of one day inheriting the Inchinomiya Corporation. Key to this quest is Kou’s steadfast adherence to the family motto: never owe anyone.
Calamity strikes when Kou tries to recover his trousers from the bridge where they have been hung by teenaged hooligans. Bad enough to fall into the river below. Much worse to be saved from drowning by a homeless stranger. Now Kou owes Nino and he will do anything to pay back the debt to her before his judgemental father finds out.
All stoic Nino wants is love.
It’s not quite true to say Nino is homeless. She has a home. It’s just unconventional. She lives under a bridge that spans the river Arakawa. She has a makeshift shelter and that’s enough for her. After all, as she explains to Kou, she is from Venus. What she considers normal is different from what Earthlings think is normal.
Kou is certain Nino is at least a little bit mad, but his word is his word. At Nino’s request, he moves to the river bank with her, commandeering part of the bridge structure for his own use. He discovers there is a whole community living by the river, each member more eccentric than the last:
The mayor, a self-proclaimed kappa wearing an obvious kappa costume.
Shiro, who only walks on white lines lest his wife turn into a Cornish game hen. Good thing he owns his own line-painting machine.
Sister, a well-armed, easily alarmed, cross-dressing former soldier turned nun.
Hoshi, who wears a star-shaped mask.
The Metal Brothers, whose metal helmets contain their psychic powers
P‑ko, klutzy gardener.
Maria, a verbally abusive farmer.
Stella, adorable moppet with ambitions of one day being a major yakuza boss.
Such odd company in which to find himself! But Kou is determined to make his Venusian girlfriend happy and if that means grudgingly embracing a community of eccentrics, Kou’s ironclad principles demand that he make the sacrifice.
This may be a comedy but in its way it’s utopian, in that the people of the Arakawa bridge community have formed an ad hoc collective that is surprisingly functional. It’s “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” credo is unfamiliar to Kou but it appears to keep everyone housed and fed.
Although he only appears in flashbacks, Kou’s father seems to be a real piece of work. He hounded his own son to pay him back for the expense of raising a child. This has turned Kou into the sort of man who has life-threatening asthma attacks whenever he thinks he may be indebted to someone. It is a good thing that this manga is a comedy, because otherwise Kou’s backstory would be tragic.
As it is, while Kou is by his nature unable to see common ground between himself and the Arakawa river community, it is not at all surprising that he found his way into their company. He is in his way as deluded as the kappa and as inflexible as Shiro.
As for Nino and her claims … well, Venus isn’t habitable, but this is a comic in which even weirdos wearing obvious costumes may turn out to be correct from a certain point of view. Nino being an actual Venusian seems unlikely, but that was also the case when Laura of Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn claimed to being the actual Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn and look how that turned out1. People in comedies cannot bet that absurd claims are untrue.
The first half of this volume is scene-setting. The second half begins to explore Kou’s (renamed “Recruit” by the Mayor) relationships with Nino and the other riverbank people. The tone is comic, the events often absurd, but the characters (with the possible exception of Maria2) are endearing eccentrics rather than menacing3. It’s a pleasant change of pace from my usual fare.
1: Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn is available here (Amazon).
2: Whose insults draw spurts of blood from the unfortunate Sister.
3: It’s all too easy to provoke Sister into brandishing loaded firearms, but what is that between friends?