Aria the Animation
In the near future, Mars has been terraformed into a paradise, where the city of Neo-Venezia rests. Though due to a bit of an accident, around 90% of the planet now consists of a watery surface.
It is here that we find Akari Mizunashi, an Undine single. Travelling by gondola through the watery streets of Neo-Venezia, she and her two close friends -- Aika and Alice -- are following their dream to be great primas some day.
Aria is, for me, a show I've been wanting to see for a long (well, ok, not THAT long) time, ever since I finally gave in to curiosity and bought the manga. The manga didn't quite manage to ignite any sparks when I browsed through it quickly in stores. It was only later, as I put my faith in it and purchased the three current volumes released by ADV's manga lineup, that I pretty much fell in love with what it offered.
And Aria IS a bit of a hard sell. Girls rowing gondolas in what appears to be a replica of Venice, right down to the name? Doesn't sound like anything quite worth your time, does it? It might take a little bit of effort to get into the show, but as the show will eventually show you, a little bit of effort can go a long way.
To get the complaints about this show out of the way as soon as possible, I'd like to talk about the visuals for a while. Because as far as failings go, this is where Aria falters a little. You see, Aria has chosen to blend cel animation with rather obvious CG, namely the oceans and waterbeds of Neo-Venezia. At the beginning, they don't really blend all that well, which often lends to spartan backgrounds with some coarse waterlines.
Also, animation tend to suffer occasionally in the mid-to-late episodes. (Well, the later ones of the ten I've seen so far, that is.) On the other hand, I really like Aria's character designs. (Though, admittedly, I do wish there would be less use of pastel colors, but I'll live.) Oddly enough, the jucidious use of SD modes never really gets old or out of hand.
The music, on the other hand, is excellent. Aria has chosen a rather interesting way of integrating the intro theme as a manner of introducing each episode's particular theme, which makes each and every intro unique for the show and saves you the trouble of having to skip the intro theme each time you watch an episode. That the intro theme is a very pleasant song is just a very pleasant bonus. And in the show itself, we are treated to various instrumental pieces of great quality, mostly soft jazz, but with the occasional piano piece and even some Italian folk music-like ditties. Much like the way I love Haibane Renmei's music, Aria's music has also found its way into my heart, not to mention my CD collection.
What's more, the Japanese actors really do a good job on this show, in particular the VAs for Akari and Akira. Akira's stern and strong voice carries all the warmth of the character she carries underneath the tough exterior without losing any of her personality no matter what mood she's in. And Akari's actually managing to play a somewhat ditzy character without it becoming majorly annoying, which is a pretty hard task to succeed in. Her perpetually cheerful personality is a lot like Honda Tohru's, and it's just all I can do to keep the grin off my face every time she goes "EEEEEEEH?"
The show itself is mainly character driven, as we're taken through various days in the lives of Akari and her friends and mentors. As such, the show tends to be rather episodic, the passing of time only shown through the changing of seasons. As of yet, there has been no double episodes with cliffhanger endings (though the heaven knows the previews make me hunger for the following episode.) Aria IS mainly very lighthearted stuff, though calling it contentless is most certainly highly inaccurate. Sentimental at times? Sure. Moralistic? Not really. Sweet? Oh, definitely. Fast paced? I'd have to say...... no.
In fact, the first five minutes of the first episode pretty much sets the mood of the entire show right then and there. Akari wakes up in the Aria company building, full of wonder over her new home and all the sights and sounds there. As the episode continues, she meets up with Ai, a rather desolute and quiet girl who is lying in Akari's training gondola demanding a ride. The curious and relentlessly optimistic Akari, after giving in to her demands, gives it her best to try and cheer the somber girl up. Things go rather bad at first, but after meeting up with Aika and going on a few unplanned side trips, things seems to turn for the better. A baked potato in the park and a frantic row after the self inflicted castaway of President Aria (who's a cat, just so you know) where they nearly get run over by an incoming spacecraft landing in the sea (I guess Aria DOES have some action scenes after all), she finally comes to love the town and its inconvenient, old-fashioned ways.
The show, unlike the manga, doesn't waste any time introducing the main cast. Aside from the optimistic-to-a-fault Akari and the slightly cynical Aika, who tends to make a habit of telling Akari that "tacky/embarrassing lines are prohibited", we also have another quiet and, at the beginning, out of touch with herself girl in Alice, who despite professing amazing rowing skills is still a trainee wearing two gloves. The three girls also have each their respective teachers (sempai) in each of the three members of the "three water fairies", Alicia, Akira and Athena. (Does everyone here have names starting with an 'A'?) Rounding off the main cast is the somewhat eccentric Akatsuki, who works as a Salamander -- a weather station overseer and controller of sorts, working on a special space station going in orbit around the planet Aqua, formerly known as Mars.
I could probably ramble on forever about this show, but I've probably made my point by now. I'll have to admit that Aria is a show made for a certain audience. Hardened cynics will probably hate it for what it is, while the restless ones out there might find it a bit slow and boring for their tastes. And those who like to give their minds something heavy to chew on might want to look elsewhere as well. Aria is a show about life, about friends, about everyday situations and challenges and about all the small things we sometimes take for granted. And for that, I love this show. Just so you're warned, I'm going to put my personal bias into my rating of this show, and if you belong to any of the groups mentioned above, deduct the amount of stars that you feel is right.
A personal fan favorite which almost never fails to put me in a really good mood. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: I really can't think of anything questionable to say about this show. It's completely devoid of anything even resembling violence and any fanservice is so light as not to be worth mentioning at all.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, sub only
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Aria the Animation © 2005 Kozue Amano / Mag Garden / Aria Company
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