A small, quirky society lives along a beautiful riverbank.
Hikaru Nakamura’s Arakawa Under the Bridge Vol. 2, published by Vertical Comics, features the continued adventures of a small society living along the Arakawa riverbank. It’s a comedy series first and foremost, so naturally the characters have eccentric personalities and get into a variety of strange situations. At the heart of the narrative is Rec, the straight man to the rest of the cast’s absurdity, and the son of a wealthy businessman. Though Rec reacts with shock to many of his neighbors’ antics, he finds himself defending their way of life by the volume’s end. This volume’s premise has a lot of potential, but is the final product good?
As far as this series’ characters go, I have mixed feelings. My favorite is Sister, a man who usually wears nun robes and has a propensity for violence. It’s that sort of unique, over-the-top combination that makes the riverbank’s most intriguing residents fun to read about. Unfortunately, there are also a number of characters who don’t venture far enough into absurdity. The Mayor, for instance, is a yokai, but his scenes fail to utilize that fact in any meaningful way. Perhaps the volume’s biggest con pertaining to its cast is that the protagonist, Rec, is boring. It’s okay that he’s not zany since the rest of the cast has to bounce off of him, but he lacks any interesting characteristics or development.
Fortunately, the artwork is more consistently enjoyable than the characters. The Arakawa riverbank always looks lovely here, with tranquil renderings of the skyline, water, and grass. These pleasing visuals help to make up for the narrative’s less engrossing moments. The composition choices throughout also tend to be good, providing a logical flow to the action. Unfortunately, there are still some cons to the artwork. There are multiple moments in the volume where it’s hard to determine what’s happening based on the visuals alone, and a lot of the characters’ facial expressions fall flat. Given that this is a comedy manga, it’s also disappointing that the visuals don’t enhance the gags more effectively.
As much as I like Arakawa Under the Bridge‘s premise, the actual execution of said premise often feels half-baked. The series’ structure doesn’t match its content particularly well; the starting and ending points for chapters frequently seem arbitrary. The pacing also leaves something to be desired; the more serious moments are mostly packed into the final third of the volume, and don’t gel effectively with the more comedic sensibilities of the first two thirds. Most disappointing, though, is simply that there are a lot of chapters that are supposed to be funny but aren’t. This makes the volume’s beginning drag on, due to the lack of poignancy to distract from the poor comedic timing.
Overall, Arakawa Under the Bridge Vol. 2 is a solid read. The premise is great, there are a few standout characters, and much of the artwork is pleasing to look at. The intended moral messages are good as well, but the actual execution of the narrative is weak at times. This volume’s first third or so is a trek through unfunny vignettes, but by the end I enjoyed myself more. I wouldn’t enthusiastically recommend this volume, but readers with different tastes of humor from mine might find the reading experience more consistently rewarding.