I recently read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as an assignment for an English Class. It was a fun enough read, and the obvious joke of the situation revealed itself fairly quickly, but after i was done I really didn’t think much of it.
Jump to a few weeks ago when I was scrolling through Crunchyroll’s relatively small selection of manga, and I end up finding an absolute gem in the form of Arakawa Under the Bridge. I’ll admit that I have not read through most of it, only about 40 or so of it’s relatively small chapter’s, but what I have read has intrigued me in a way that most Manga I have read before simply did not.
Now, let’s not beat around the bush, Arakawa Under the Bridge and Waiting for Godot share many similarities, both in their genre and characters. The more obvious similarity between the two is their genre, which can be most easily classified as a Tragicomedy. The Tragedy is Godot comes from the book’s perspective on expectation, where the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait everyday near the same tree for a man named Godot. And while it is true that this expectation also ends up being the comedic payoff, from the perspective of those characters, It is very sad. Both of them sit their everyday, hoping that their aspirations of finally getting to meet Godot, it never happens, and they simply continue to sit their, disappointed. The Comedy also comes from the idea that a lot of different ideas can be projected on the man named Godot, most notably God.
Arakawa also shares a similar comedic setup in it’s reliance on expectation, but the expectations play out in a much more lighthearted way. Kou Ichinomiya is supposed to take over his father’s very successful Company, but one day after being bullied by a group of kids and having his pants hung from the top of a bridge and then trying to retrieve them, he falls in the river and almost drowns. When he wakes up, Kou realizes that he’s been saved by a girl who live under the bridge. As the story goes on, we see that Kou has quite a few expectations about both Nino, the girl who saved him, and the rest of the people living under the bridge. Some of his expectations are right, and some are wrong, but in both cases his expectations create great comedic payoff and a furthered sense of connection. The Tragedy in Arakawa’s case comes after the expectation. As soon as you realize how likable a character like Nino really is you start to wonder why it is she’s homeless under a bridge, or why she insists that she’s from Venus. It also comes from realizing that as much as Kou might want to, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever really fit in with society under the bridge.
It may not seem like Something you would read in English Literature class and a comedy Manga from 2004 have much in common, but they do. Both have two main characters that play off each other and provide fantastic comedy relief, and both have broader societal commentary about what it is we should be valuing in life, and about what it is we really seek to achieve.
I write all of this to say that if you have not read Hikaru Nakamura’s Arakawa Under the Bridge then you should, but also to provide some interesting points of comparison between a book you probably have read and a manga you might not have.