Tannhäuser and Arakawa Under the Bridge

November 10, 2010

Some time ago, Wabisabi once wrote briefly about Wagner’s Tannhäuser and its possible influence on Arakawa Under the Bridge [click to read]. It’s a fascinating observation, one that I wish to explore further in this post.

For Kou there is the ‘normal’ world, and the world under the Arakawa bridge. In Tannhäuser there is Wartburg (world of reason, intellect) and Venusberg (world of madness, ecstasy).

Wartburg is a protestant society, demanding people to live a life dictated by religious and moral codes. The people of Wartburg are made to live a virtuous and sensible life, just as Kou has lived his life according to common sense. Looks, wealth, social positions. They are mere social constructs, murky clouds of vain illusion which Kou shrouds himself around in. What is common sense anyway?

"Fly to the cold world of men, from whose feeble, cheerless fancies we gods of joy fled into the warming depths of the earth's womb" -Venus, Tannhäuser

On the other hand, Venusberg is where Tannhauser finds himself free from those social constructs and do whatever he please, and Nino and her friends too have gathered under the bridge where they are free. This is where Hoshi can become a shining star by singing crappy himo tune, a haven for Potechi to draw awesome gekiga styled manga instead of moe rubbish. It’s where Kou can become Riku, Nino’s fiance, and someone who can give without wanting something in return. Funny how some of us must wear masks just to be ourselves.

While enormous efforts are usually put into differentiating Venusberg and Wartburg musically and artistically, Arakawa focuses almost entirely on the random absurdity of the world under the bridge that is presented in Shinbo's typically erratic style (although lot more tamed than his Saynoara Zetsubou Sensei).

But what is Tannhäuser trying to say? Why did Tannhauser leave Venusberg and all its freedom? And why did Elizabeth (his fiance) forgive him, despite the fact that his sins could never be forgiven in such a morally strict society?

All the ecstasy and freedom of Venusberg couldn’t stop Tannhauser from returning to Elizabeth in Wartburg, and no moral codes could make Elizabeth punish Tannhauser, no matter if one is a saint or sinner, jesus or alien from cosmos. Because one’s compassion for another is what makes us whole.

Apparently the manga is only starting to give hints about Nino’s origins after 10 volumes, and it’s uncertain how many seasons will be produced to finish the anime series. But I feel fairly confident in the way Shinbo has been leading this series, so I will be keep following to see how it all turns out in the end.

Come out from those clouds. There is no need to hide. On this plain without a single tree to hide behind, I am the one who is afraid.

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8 Responses to “Tannhäuser and Arakawa Under the Bridge”

  1. VucubCaquix Says:

    There are moments when the sentimentality of this series is near transcendent. As you alluded to in your previous post, I don’t think it’s wrong at all to expect more from gag anime, given that we’ve seen time and again stellar examples brought forth. Even for example, Shinryaku! Ika Musume and it’s stellar 5th episode which forwent dialogue in one section to convey meaning and emotion purely on the strength of its visuals and the musical score.

    Of course, it’s also up to us to support these gag anime that try a little harder than the rest, so hopefully we can continue to expect more.

  2. gaguri Says:

    Usually I find the most poignant moments of Arakawa in its opening narration. But they are quite disconnected to everything that is going in the series, almost feels like stand alone short segments.

  3. Madeleine Says:

    I am sorry for posting this in the comment section but I couldn’t find an email contact. You guys seems extremely educated on this art form and I am desperately looking to hire an Anime artist for a short film. Can anyone help me it seems impossible to get info on the web.

  4. gaguri Says:

    You have better chances of finding help in this forum at Anipages Daily http://www.pelleas.net/forum/ (although I don’t guarantee it).

    They may have some animators looking for work, or at least give you better direction.

  5. Madeleine Says:

    Thanks heaps Gaguri!

  6. vendredi Says:

    “Usually I find the most poignant moments of Arakawa in its opening narration…”

    Part of what makes Arakawa so amusing is that the narration is too overblown as to be parody, but at the same time really do present the themes grappled with. Whether or not you take it as parody or not is part of what makes the entire thing so absurdist. There’s definitely a morality tale partly intermingled in Arakawa, but the entire presentation is always in something of a self-conscious or a self-deprecating manner.

  7. gaguri Says:

    Yep, overblown enough to almost be considered as separate shorts…

    I think some of the themes it depiects has been explored in the series, not all, although we’ll see how much deeper Shinbo is willing to go (without its mix of drama and comedy becoming too jarring)


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