Nino is a Socialist With a Fish-Based Radical Agenda
No, not really, but I wanted to say it anyway.
There is a certain degree of capitalism vs. communism at play in Arakawa Under the Bridge, and I don’t think that the anime plays favorites either way.
Ric (Who I like to call Arakawa despite that not being his name.) is a caricature of the self-made, self-reliant capitalist. He doesn’t depend on anyone for anything and freaks out over the very thought of owing favors to others. The dude dresses snappily, prefers the “finer things” in life, and feels a need to appear important and influential in the eyes of others. He isn’t just a stand-in for capitalism, he’s a symbol of 80’s-style Reaganomics. Give him a hatchet and a hooker and he’d be Christian Bale from American Psycho.
All of that is pretty obvious, though. Ric’s mocking an easy target, and in mocking him we aren’t hearing anything new. “LOLMONEY” and all that rot.
The latest episode of Arakawa cements the idea that (almost) everyone has a role in this little utopian society: Nino fishes, Sister runs the church, Maria runs the farm, and so on. A perfect little idealized society, right? Everyone fitting into their role and providing for everyone else. The catch is that Arakawa’s utopia is anything but.
There’s tension in the ranks. That’s going to come naturally, since people are naturally combative and confrontational creatures, but a good deal of this tension comes from the very fact that roles exist in this society. If someone doesn’t fit into a nice little hole they’re mocked for being a leech, much like how Ric is ridiculed for appearing to depend on Nino. If someone has a role that doesn’t seem to be as important as other roles, people become jealous, such as when Ric freaks out when Star’s “role” is to be an entertainer. Then there’s the fact that Maria, a sociopath who revels in bringing pain to others, has a very public job that requires her to interact with (and thus torment) almost everyone living by the river.
This ain’t a perfect society. It’s a dysfunctional sitcom family, and the only thing that keeps it from descending into utter chaos is the fact that most people genuinely like each other. Nino emphasizes the fact that she fishes not because it’s her role (Although it is her role.). She does it because she likes doing it.
That’s the core theme of the series thus far: It isn’t your organizational ideals that bring about peace and stability. It isn’t whether you value self-sufficiency or helping each other out, it’s whether you do what you do out of a love for your actions. The reason why Ric is a freak isn’t because he likes to do things on his own, he’s a freak because he does it out of some misplaced sense of obligation. Self-sufficiency needn’t be a pathological behavior if it’s done out of a degree of willingness.
Ric doesn’t really want to do what he does, he was just raised that way. If he was more like Nino, who genuinely enjoys fishing and helping out others, he’d be a far more level-headed and easy-going person who wouldn’t have panic attacks over owing someone a dollar.
At the same time, the residents of the river aren’t necessarily fulfilling their roles out of the same willingness as Nino. Many of them exhibit traits that keep them from joining everyday society. Many of them live on the river not out of choice but out of necessity. Can a dude that believes himself to be a kappa get a desk job and become a salaryman? Can a woman who verbally assaults everyone around her function outside of a group that’s used to such ridicule? Arakawa’s essentially saying that the only way that communism can work is if people are completely batshit insane. Only someone completely divorced from basic human goals and desires would allow for such an extreme version of “for the greater good” to exist. And even then, there’s still a great deal of conflict in the ranks.
Capitalism makes you crazy. Communism makes you crazy. Arakawa’s not picking sides, it’s just saying “Pick your insanity of choice, since madness is the only way society can function.”
Between Arakawa and Zetsubou, SHAFT looks to be pushing a Discordian agenda.