Arakawa begins with Ko, the young heir to a global company, standing on a bridge in his boxer shorts. Ko is extremely arrogant and lives by his family's motto, "Never owe anyone, anything," even when it means climbing an unstable beam to grab his pants from above the bridge. The beam collapses, trapping Ko in the river below. Just as he's about to drown, a young girl named Nino rescues him, leaving Ko with the greatest debt of all, his life.
Ko learns that Nino is a homeless girl living under the bridge. Although Ko has enough money to set Nino up for life, she turns down his offer. Instead, Nino asks that Ko become her "lover." Soon after, it becomes apparent that Nino doesn't understand what a "lover" is nor is she right in the head. First, she claims she is from Mars, then she shows Ko her velvet bed (and the drawer she sleeps in).
As part of the debt, Ko agrees to accompany Nino into her community under the bridge. Compared to her fellow bridge dwellers, Nino seems completely sane. There's "The Chief," who insists he is a centuries-old kappa, even though it is pretty obvious he's just wearing a costume. As part of his initiation, The Chief bestows the nickname "Recruit" (or Rec) on Ko. Then there is Hoshi, a washed-up musician who wears a star mask, and Sister, a ex-soldier who wears a nun's habit.
The group of characters is unique, but relatable in their own ways. Each has a human side, which makes Arakawa a great story despite the lack of a solid plot. For example, Sister is a gun-totting ex-soldier, but goes to pieces at the sharp-tongued Maria's words. Episodes are grouped into interconnected packages, called "Bridges." Each focuses on a different character, slowly introducing the cast. The first Bridge introduces Rec and Nino, as well as The Chief. The next introduces Sister, and so on... It is a cool setup and always comes with a pay off.
Rec/Ko is the constant straight man throughout the entire series, allowing the characters' bizarre personalities to really shine. However, the act gets tiresome and predictable. At the same time, I didn't mine the repetition as much as I thought I would. Arakawa is outright funny. The gags are bizarre and tend to come from beyond left field, yet they never feel outlandish or out of the realm of possibility, which is nice for an anime.
There's also a nice love story running through each Bridge. I'm usually not one for mushy romance, but I liked the courtship between Rec/Ko and Nino. It is obvious enough that you realize it is happening, but never in your face, which I liked. It is awkward and just sort of grows.
Arakawa is different from most NIS releases for a few reasons. First, it is a DVD/ Blu-ray combo pack. The episodes are exactly the same on both formats, though with the Blu-ray copy, you get an added bit of shine. Either looks great, but the Blu-ray version adds just the right bit of "pop" to the picture. Colors look better and everything is much sharper.
The combo set also includes commentary, which, as far as I can tell, is a first for an NIS release. As always, NIS has included a full-color book featuring character biographies and breakdowns of each Bridge. Considering the characters, the bios are a great reference point, or at least a way to validate what you thought your heard/read on the screen. Some of the episode commentary is also funny.
I really liked Arakawa Under the Bridge Premium Edition and cannot recommend it enough. It is different, but in all the best ways possible.