Arakawa Under the Bridge is one of the lighter and fluffier anime of this season. However, underlying that gorgeous autumn palette, lovable Nino, and comedic randomness is a rather serious social issue. Call it occupational disease or simply “watching it wrong,” but I just cannot stop thinking about the heavier implications of mental illness and homelessness despite the comedic clumsy romance.
After the first few episodes, I was particularly interested to see that many of the motifs resonate with what I often see among the homeless population in the US. For example, Nino and the general gang’s delusions, the unknown yet exclusive community set up under the bridge, and the distaste for the general society, even to the point of using nicknames all have some parallels to the real world, especially to the world of the homeless youth.
Though not as serious as that in the US, Homelessness in Japan is a growing issue as well. Since the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, homelessness has been on the rise. Today, an estimated 15,800 Japanese are homeless. Of that, 30% are suspected to be mentally ill. Interestingly enough, many of the chronically homeless have also formed their own societies and homeless associations. Moreover, as of 2009, Japan has been in a serious economic recession, and unemployment rate is at a record high at 5.2%. Considering those facts, Arakawa really came at a right time.
Arakawa portrays an oasis without material needs or heavy financial burdens. It depicts house-less people without jobs, yet still have homes. Nino and her friends expose Recruit to this fascinating world under the bridge, where they free him of his normal life. More importantly, they free him of his (perceived) debt to society.
Similarly, Arakawa Under the Bridge shows the increasingly burdened youth in a brutal competitive society that everything will be fine. It is thus ironically very calming despite the issues it reflects. Maybe that is why I am so in love with this series.
And how adorable is Nino!