You’re Grounded, Nino! – Arguing the Absurd Part 3
Arakawa Under the Bridge wants to have heart– it wants to you to feel for these apparently unfortunate people who are forced to live under a bridge due to their various social and mental “quirks” that brand them as outsiders. We get inside of Ric’s head and we hear him remark on how they may not be all the strange after all. We see how he becomes more attached to Nino as he gets to know her. We even get little vignettes at the beginning of episodes that let us hear how other characters feel, like how we saw Nino imagine what it’s like to be a whale that wants to get on a rocket and fly into space.
Arakawa wants to ground us somewhat in reality and make us relate to these wacky homeless freaks. Thing is, I don’t want these heartfelt moments. I don’t want to relate to Nino and Star and Mayor and everyone else that lives under the bridge. I like them for the very fact that I can’t relate to them.
What makes Arakawa “realistic” isn’t the fact that we’re starting to get to know the residents of the river as if they were real people. If anything, by giving them concrete emotions and exposing their eccentricities as little more than ways that they express their alienation, the characters are rendered less realistic.
The thing is that reality rarely falls into easy to define niches. People rarely have the sort of easy to define motivations that fictional characters often rely upon for their actions. You can pin someone’s behavior on one particular emotion that can be expressed in a short before-episode monologue. When someone does something out of the ordinary, you can probe them to reveal one particular instance in their past that led them to such a decision. It’s a hell of a lot more complicated than that in reality, yet when a piece of fiction wants to “ground” something in reality it often resorts to this sort of technique. Want a character to be more relatable? Get inside their head and show us some emotion that explains everything or have them mention some aspect from their past that rationalizes their behavior.
It’s funny how fiction has to resort to be less realistic in order to issue forth a feeling of reality in the audience. This isn’t a bad thing most of the time (It’s usually a great way to explain plot points and the like.), but I don’t think it works in the context of Arakawa.
If you ask me, Arakawa Under the Bridge was already fairly realistic. The world, as far as my point of view goes, is a pretty strange place. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to the wicked. The world operates under a series of rules we call science, but gravity and all that are pretty arbitrary when you get down to it.
Reality is something like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with the only exception being that when I step off of a cliff I fall and die when I hit the jagged rocks below. When Bugs Bunny does that, he doesn’t even fall until he looks down and realizes he’s walked over the edge of the cliff. That difference in the rules by which gravity function are pretty arbitrary. What matters is that there’s a rule to begin with, and said rule doesn’t really have any meaning behind it. Bugs Bunny can pull a carrot out of nowhere because that’s the way the world works. I die when I hit a bunch of rocks because that’s the way gravity and matter functions in our reality. There’s no reason why these rules are in place (Outside of metaphysical explanations like God or Flying Spaghetti Monster, but that’s a completely different discussion.). We merely know the how.
At least that’s how I see shit. In Bugs Bunny cartoons, Elmer Fudd gets screwed over not because he’s a bad person (Really, hunting rabbits for sport isn’t bad unless you’re a rabbit or a rabid anti-hunting advocate.). He’s actually a pretty decent fella outside of his antagonistic relationship with Bugs. Elmer gets screwed over because that’s just how shit goes down in a cartoon like that. Same thing with reality as far as I can tell. Someone dies in a freak accident not because it was “meant to be,” but because that’s the unfortunate nature of how reality works.
Essentially, in order to truly be realistic in fiction, one must be denied explanation. When a character behaves in a certain manner, it’s more realistic to not know their motivation– it makes more sense to be in the dark than it does to get the details behind their actions.
That’s where Arakawa Under the Bridge is slipping up a bit. When the series started, everything that we saw going on along the river was completely ridiculous and absurd. Why in the hell is there a guy wearing a kappa costume and a chick that thinks she’s a Venusian and a military man in nun drag down here going about life like all this crap is completely normal. The characters were functioning by their own rules, but we were never told why those rules were in place.
With these pre-episode soliloquies and Ric’s inner commentary, we’re starting to see the why. I don’t want to know why Nino believes herself to be a Venusian. I don’t want to know why a clumsy girl has a kappa fetish. It’s all far more appealing and far more realistic when you’re not trying to ground everything in realism.
All that said, Arakawa’s still one of my favorites of the current season.
Random Notes that aren’t so damn serious and shit:
Am I the only person who thought Stella was channeling Chow Yun Fat in the latest episode? It’s probably just me.
Also, wouldn’t the cast of Arakawa make for a kick-ass fighting game? Stella already has the juggling and launching down. Ric and Star can be the Shotokans. Nino can have a swimming style like that one dude from Rival Schools. The Mayor can be Blanka P-ko can be Zangief. Sister’s obviously Guile Sagat.