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Nino is a Socialist With a Fish-Based Radical Agenda

May 4, 2010

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.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2010 9:40 PM

    Is it possible to go further and say that Ric’s the capitalist profiting off the labor of others? At least, that’s how it could be if Ric wasn’t yelling in shock and dismay every other second due to culture shock. I wonder how well he’d function in a corporate hierarchy since he doesn’t seem to lead too well. We haven’t seen any leadership ability from him anyhow.

    Good stuff. Reading this brought a goofy grin to my face.

  2. Landon permalink*
    May 4, 2010 9:49 PM

    I’m inclined to say Ric’d fail miserably once he actually becomes the CEO of his dad’s company, but at the same time we’ve yet to see him in his “natural habitat.” Maybe he functions better when he’s with his kind, or maybe he’s just an out and out nutcase regardless of his surroundings?

    I’d bank on the latter. Wouldn’t be as funny if it was the former.

  3. May 5, 2010 9:23 AM

    “communism can work is if people are completely batshit insane”

    History has already tried this, especially since half the communist leaders either started out batshit or winded up batshit; so… it didn’t work too well. Also, this post remind me of a certain demotivator

    The problem is they’ve mostly focused on showing the ‘conditioned’ part of Ric, and less of the human side of him, IMO. He still feels far more machine than man to me…

  4. May 5, 2010 7:50 PM

    “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.”

    I think this is the key theme of this show. It’s not so much about the broad concepts of capitalism vs. communism as a whole, but rather about the character of one man. And his growing up from the way he was raised, thanks to someone who has the complete opposite view as he does. And from that love sprouts.

    A pretty cliche story, but one that can be very good with the right execution. Shaft has been doing it right so far.

  5. Aile permalink
    May 6, 2010 9:21 PM

    woo, finally can comment on something about the one show I’m actually following this season

    “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.”
    I’d disagree on both counts. Not that the other’s aren’t ‘crazy’ but:
    -Nino is just as ‘crazy’ (meaning: ‘unfit’ for ‘everyday society’) as the rest of them. Her deal is that whole ‘venusian’-thing and her subdued childlike personality would probably put her in retard-category for most people.
    -Everybody else seems to be enjoying ‘their jobs’ just as much as Nino does fishing. Sister does his thing because it’s his calling, Hoshin likes to entertain people, same with Maria and bellpepper-girl, etc.

    “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.”
    That’s a pretty big leap. It would be more in concordance with your earlier observations if your statement had been “the only way communism can work is if people -really like each other-“, since THAT (and not the crazy antics) seems to be what keeps their riverside society together. And even then, it has not much to do with actual communism/capitalism, since those are systemic statements about the ownership/distribution of the means of production, and you certainly don’t have to be crazy or ‘divorced from basic human goals and desires’ to follow one opinion or an other on that matter. A too political interpretation may overstretch the actual show so far.

    “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.”
    I never felt he was getting ‘mocked’. To me his deal isn’t itself that he’s rich, but as said, his ‘misplaced sense of obligation’, a trait which works just as well if they gave the character a more humble background. He was never vilified for the money he has, it’s rather his deluded sense of status from this that gets sometimes hung out for comedic effect. That he’s the one brought in as an outsider to comment on the odd group on our behalf can just show that his particular delusion is one of the more socially ‘acceptable’ ones, in a society where little else besides money matters after all.

    Personally, I wouldn’t see the riverside-society not so much as a counter or contrast of ‘actual’ society, but rather as a mirror. It’s not that the show wants to present an idyllic “answer” to problems of society (or rather interpersonal interactions, since that seems to be a closer theme), but -distill- those problems into character archetypes that serve as allegories.

  6. May 7, 2010 10:52 AM

    Wow. I never got that interpretation from Arakawa. You blew my mind, good sir.

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