Arakawa Under the Bridge was first published in Japan in 2004, and made the jump from page to screen with an anime series in 2010, followed by a live action film in 2012. It tells the tale of Kou Ichinomiya, a young businessman destined to inherit his fathers company. He has been raised by his single father who taught him that he must never be in debt to anyone, to the point that he will have a panic attacked if he is ever forced to take anything from another person. Unfortunately, some bullies steal his trousers and throw them over the side of a bridge - one of the books least random moments! In an attempt to get them back Kou falls into the river and is rescued by a girl named Nino (who incidentally is from the planet Venus and lives under the bridge), to whom he now owes his life!
Kou feels that he must now repay the debt he owes Nino, but she doesn’t want money or a house, she wants Kou to teach her about love and to be her boyfriend. He feels he has no choice but to agree, which leads to him relocate and live under the bridge. As if this tale isn’t already wacky enough, Kou gradually becomes acquainted with the other residents under the bridge that include a Kappa, who is in fact the mayor (and who re-names Kou ‘Recruit'), a man with a head shaped like a star, called Hoshi and a male nun who runs Sunday mass whilst holding a semi-automatic weapon.
The basis of this book is pure wacky humour, but of the adult variety, with a fairly simplistic initial premise taking you on a journey that leaves you wondering ‘how does someone even come up with this stuff?’. The fact that Recruit comes from a well-to-do, financially stable background with great prospects and ends up living under a bridge eating fish from the river, gives the generally crazy story a more typical ‘how the other half live’ element – that is if the other half are a bunch of the universes most obscure characters!
In general, the artwork is great with a good balance between scene-setting and focus on characters. Each cast member is so distinct and unique, with some being drawn relatively simplistically whilst others are more detailed - it's obviously not going to be difficult to tell characters apart when one has a star for a head and another in wearing a nuns habit! All the characters convey emotion well, although it is sometimes a little unclear from expression whether something is said seriously or with humor. It is made clear what is speech, thought and narration, which isn't always the case with manga, and this makes the narrative easy to follow.
This book is not for everyone, as it is fairly obscure with a distinctly wacky humour to it, but I must say that it really did draw me in. So far, I have read volumes 1 and 2, which serve to both set up the story, introduce a whole host of unusual characters and make clear the dynamics of the community under the bridge. Each of the short chapters is a mini random scenario that Recruit finds himself in and I found that I was never at any point able to guess what could be going to happen each time I turned the page. If you like a bit or mad humour, you are visiting this planet from outer space or ever wondered what it would be like to live under a bridge, this one's for you!