A few years ago I almost lost the hearing in my left ear. The gory details are best omitted, but I was left with (what the doctors claimed) was 20-30% hearing and only two thirds of the bones I should. For all intents and purposes I was deaf in that ear, a lopsided and mono world where car alarms didn't exist (a boon at 3am) but wearing headphones was painful.
Two years and two operations on I have most of my hearing back. All of this is just context for me to say: my hearing is precious to me and I am precious about it. It is a cliché to say that you don't know what you've got until you've lost it, but when it's personal it really brings it home.
Perhaps a reflection of a troubled production or the lack of faith placed in the source material, but the opening episodes of Arakwa Under the Bridge are supremely underwhelming. Individual components of the prototypical SHAFT show are all present - the reliance on abstract close ups and over-coloured backgrounds, the ponderous and circular script, the abjectly peculiar concept - however here they've all been weathered by time and overuse and sit bluntly against one another. Without a strong story to carry it, the show is forced to rely upon a script which is bereft of the sharp writing past series have been known for. Only memories of past glories and faith in the studio's ability will determine how much one can both stomach the lacklustre start and how long one can wait for the series to hit its stride.
the charming misadventures of the outlandish river folk
After an unfortunate incident with some hoodlums and a faulty bridge support, Kou Ichinomiya finds himself sinking to the bottom of a river. He is saved by Nino, a local blonde waif; unfortunately the mantra of his life is to never be in a position to owe anyone anything, this is how he came to live under the bridge with Nino and a cavalcade of eccentric characters. This includes the mayor of the riverbank - a man dressed in a full body kappa suit - a belligerent man with a face in the shape and colour of a star and a man who can only walk on white lines, making the trip down from Hokkaido using a linesman's marking machine. This is to say nothing of Nino herself who claims to be from Venus and demonstrates only a fleeting grasp of common sense. Kou's decision to live under the bridge could, for better or worse, entirely undermine his privileged upbringing.
How would a studio approach a manga known for its wordplay and focusing on a depressively suicidal teacher, a manga that was notoriously (even infamously) claimed to be untranslatable? Surely even SHAFT, known for their off-the-wall adaptations of other, more straightforward manga such as Pani Poni and Negima, could manage such a feat? They did, and with such reckless disregard for obstacles such as plot, continuity and sanity; Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is bizarre, satirical, cynical and rambunctious and solidifies SHAFT as a skilled and confident studio.
each episode is a scatter-shot of styles and content, the speed and veracity of each bite-size skit causes as much humour as the subject matter
Describing the premise of the series would never be enough to encapsulate what it is actually about: the histrionically pessimistic Itoshki Nozomu is at thwarted in his attempts to kill himself by the outwardly naive and interminably optimistic Kafuka. This satisfies the first twelve minutes of the series as it then goes on a journey involving stalkers, hikkikomori, escape routes and courting rituals but most of the time it concerns itself with nothing in particular: a multicoloured collage of gags, perceptions on life and randomness. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has very little to say and has a damn good time saying it. The series doesn't cover a specific time frame or tell a coherent story, it is a staccato whimsy of wordplay and wonder; a möbius strip of pop-culture references and banter on the thralls of modern existence. If all this sounds like the series occupies a different existence to the rest of the world, you wouldn't be far off the mark. An episode can focus on one specific topic, often meandering along the way, veering off on tangents of logic but ultimately digging through an obscure subject such as what can be accepted as minimal culture, or clearing away impurities or escaping from blame and responsibilities. Other episodes which make up the majority of the twelve episode barrage concern themselves with frittering away on whatever shiny issue takes its fancy, the opening episodes concern themselves with introducing the core set characters and their associated archetypal personality quirks then strobing fanservice, insults, family members and all points in between. Episodes are sometimes over before one knows it, other times the closing animation can be just a punctuation mark before it continues, seemingly unabated.