Arakawa Under the Bridge, SHAFT’s quirky, surreal comedy series, is not a very serious show at the end of the day. Yet little moments such as the one here give the series a magical whiff of beauty and sentimentality.
After all, the core of Arakawa Under the Bridge is an unlikely love story, one that bears little resemblance to the overripe teenage/lonely otaku fantasy romances of many anime. Not that it’s any less fantastical either—this is a woman, after all, who thinks she’s from Venus and is notably deadpan while the man is a screaming, narcissistic neurotic. They are more comic exaggerations than believable human beings, which is not usually a good setup for sincerity.
The scene in question comes after an entire episode in which Kou at last realizes he has never been on a proper date with Nino, and is determined to Do It Right. All to the great amusement of the audience, of course, since Kou is as inexperienced and clueless as her, getting his tips from manga and advice books. She is decidedly unimpressed with the resulting display, and doesn’t even know what a date is: “sounds unlucky,” she says. In a way, this is a relief. We like Nino because she does not fall for the stereotypical charms Kou attempts to affect. She is someone of substance, and it is her individuality that really draws Kou, and the audience, to her.
Only when he finally asks her where she wants to go does she respond positively: and it’s for the mouth of the nearby river. Only when he finally starts listening to her and not simply imposing his image of a “perfect date” does it work out, and he gives her the dress…and she puts it on.
Nino putting on the dress correctly is presented as a surprise. It is a vulnerability, a crack—which is how, as Leonard Cohen famously wrote, the light gets in. Dresses swaying in the wind: a very typical anime scene, of course, but the moment is earned after an entire episode of comedy. We learn some hints, possibly, about her, and Kou wonders just what kind of mysteries are hidden in this woman from Venus, so to speak. It’s the only part of his plan that “works” because in some ways it is the most ordinary thing he does, after all the extravagance he plans.
The scene is immediately followed by the memorable ED by Suneohair, which I have already gushed about at length: its wistful lyrics provide a fitting counterpoint to the show’s sweeter moments, of which this is a fine representative for the year.