So this week is one of my favorite series of all time, Aria. I’ll be covering all three anime series for Aria. Those being: Aria the Animation, Aria the Natural, and Aria the Origination, and kind of treating it like one big series since it could really be seen as one giant series. Aria the Animation aired from October to December of 2005, Natural aired from April to September of 2006, and Origination aired from January to March of 2008. There was also an OVA in September of 2007, which this review will also cover (in passing at least). Aria is animated by Hal Film Maker… who I’ve honestly never heard of before. However, looking through their works, I do recognize a few titles that I’ve seen, such as Macross 7, Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan, Sketchbook ~full color’s~, and Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora. Kind of a wide variety of shows there, though nothing really high-profile sticks out. Like my review last week, it’s another slice of life series. So let’s get this out of the way (again). It’s boring. There’s no action, no suspense, no drama (… well, kind of). If you’re looking for a compelling story with twists and turns and whatnot, Aria is not for you.
Okay, now that I’ve scared away nearly everyone… Aria isn’t an exciting show. It’s not meant to be. That being said, it’s not a bad show. It’s one of my favorite series for a reason. You just have to approach it with a specific kind of mindset. Slice of life shows aren’t like other shows in that you watch for excellent action or engrossing drama. Aria is highly episodic in nature and more often than not these episodes are about nothing more than Akari’s observations and interactions with the world she lives in, in the capacity she lives in it. I suppose if there’s anything engrossing about the show it’s the setting. Aria takes place in the far future, on a terraformed Mars. She lives in a place called Neo-Venezia, which is supposed to model Venice on Earth. To that end, there’s a thriving gondola business, of which she’s a part. Since the pace of the show is quite slow, there’s a lot of enjoying of the scenery going on. I don’t know anything about architecture, but the style of buildings seems to be older… Venetian, if that’s a style? Maybe Victorian? Regardless, the scenery is quite pretty to look at. The whole Venice setting replicated on a terraformed Mars has this simultaneously futuristic and rustic charm to it that mixes quite well. More often than not, it’s the rustic charm that stands out, though.
Anyway, let’s get a bit into the plot, or what little there is of that. As a preface, all of these points apply to all three series. For a basic understanding of the situation the show finds itself in, there are three main characters. Akari, Aika, and Alice. They’re all trainees to becoming gondola operators, or Undine in Neo-Venezia, each working for one of the three gondola companies, Aria, Himeya, and Orange Planet. Like I said earlier, the plot is episodic. By that I mean that each episode is a self-contained plot, with no real sense of a temporal linkage between episodes (with some notable exceptions). So for the most part, there’s no overarching story present in Aria. And Aria is not a comedic series (though there are a few segments), so unlike something like Azumanga Daioh or Nichijou, it cannot fall back on strong jokes. Instead, Aria deals with appreciating the everyday. You could almost say to the extreme, with the kind of character that Akari is. Most episodes involve Akari meeting someone, and both Akari and that person walk away from the confrontation spiritually or emotionally or mentally enriched, somehow. Indeed, one of the most important themes of Aria is that of an encounter. It doesn’t have to be with a human, or even a living organism, but just some sort of encounter. And that’s what most of the episodes of Aria are like. That being said, there are a few episodes… I wouldn’t call them plot per se, but they shape events in future episodes to a degree. For example, at one point Akari graduates from Pair (a trainee) to Single (… a super trainee? She can take some clients, kind of). And so the show continues on almost identically to before, but a Pair wears two gloves, and a Single wears one, and that’s reflected in all future episodes. And that’s how “plot” works in Aria. The adventures are the same, and while major events may have happened earlier (such as a character cutting her hair) that’s reflected in all future episodes, it doesn’t quite impact those episodes in any meaningful way.
Before I leave the topic of plot entirely, I want to mention that while Aria plot may be lacking in the traditional sense, the real enjoyment of the show isn’t really found in whatever end goal the show offers you, but instead the journey it takes to get there. In a nutshell, I would say the show is more about slowing down and appreciating what’s around you.
Anyway, on to the characters. There are three important characters, and a fairly vibrant supporting cast, though I’ll just cover the three. The main character is Mizunashi Akari. She’s kind of a slow and simple girl, but I think she’s all the more lovable for it. She… It’s kind of hard to describe her, actually. She’s very earnest and heartfelt, and is pretty intuitive insofar as her surroundings are concerned. Too intuitive, though, almost so much that she’s a little bit of an airhead? Anyway, she’s a cute girl that gives her all, all the time, and as a main character I think she’s great. I will say, though, that she’s not all that interesting by herself. While it’s fine to hear her be introspective for a little while, it gets kind of difficult when she does it the entire episode.
Moving on from Akari, Aika S. Granzchesta. While Akari works for Aria Company, Aika works for and is the heir to the Himeya company, the largest on Aqua (the name of terraformed Mars). While I hesitate to say she’s a more vibrant character than Akari, I would say she’s more… Proactive, loud, and exciting. She brings a loud voice to the series, which at time is sorely needed. She’s a close friend to Akari, and they often practice together. I would say that out of all the characters, she’s the most grounded and, fairly often, has to bring Akari back down to earth.
The last character is Alice Caroll. She’s a prodigy that works for the Orange Planet Company, a rival up-and-comer to challenge Himeya. Aria Company isn’t very important since it’s tiny (only Akari and Alicia work in it). Unlike Aika and Akari, Alice is much younger, and actually goes to school. However, she has the same rank as the two of them and often joins them for practice. Her characterization is fairly difficult to pin down. She’s fairly monotone, and while that doesn’t mean she doesn’t show emotion, she definitely shows less than the other two characters. She often plays a middle ground to Akari’s earnest air-headed nature and Aika’s boisterous nature. Besides that… I would say she’s the main character explored the least, next to Aika and Akari. She gets several episodes dedicated to her, and while we learn some things (for example, she’s disliked in her company because she’s so talented at such a young age), I would say she doesn’t get nearly as much development as the other two characters. Still, the three of them together make for a fairly entertaining bunch.
Now for the art and animation. The art itself, technically… To my knowledge, it doesn’t seem super impressive. Not that it’s bad, but it’s not the best I’ve seen. However, one area this show really blows me away are the settings. They’re gorgeous in terms of color and design. Neo-Venezia is a beautiful city at daytime or at nighttime, and the show represents that quite well (though I think the manga does it better). So there’s a bit of a contrast there between the art and art direction again. The animation on the other hand… If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. While I don’t really keep an eye out for animation as I watch shows (unless it’s particularly notable) Aria’s didn’t really blow me away. It’s not that it’s bad, and I don’t think this show would really benefit from having top of the line animation, really, but the animation for this show isn’t the best. While I don’t particularly care, and the show doesn’t need it, that’s the category.
Lastly, the music. I love the music. It’s great, so great. It’s done by Takeshi Senoo, who I’ve never heard of outside of this (kind of like Kamichu!) but the work is stellar. They’re all pretty calm pieces, which fits the theme of the show. The opening and ending themes, however, are where it’s really at. All three opening themes (for all three series) are done by Makino Yui, and they’re all really wonderful calm songs. In order, they’d be Undine, Euforia, and Spirale. I think they sound gorgeous. The ending themes, too, though they’re done by different people. There are four ending themes, Rainbow, Natsumachi, Smile Again, and Kin no Nami Sen no Nami. The first two are done by Round Table ft. Nino, the third is done by Hazuki Erino, and the last one is done by Arai Akino. Mostly unfamiliar names (except for maybe Makino Yui) but all stellar tracks. I’m not sure what else to say, the music’s just really good.
I don’t do this often, but I’d like to offer a closing statement. Reviewing Aria is a little difficult since I’m torn between my personal feelings for it, and reviewing it on my personal scale, and a more objective view of it, and reviewing it on an objective scale. This is a review, and I admit no technical mastery in the categories I’m reviewing, so obviously there’s a fair bit of subjectivity already, but it’s difficult to reconcile the two halves, particularly when it comes to plot. Slice of life, insofar as the kind Aria is, is not the most popular genre, and the plot is generally seen as boring. As such, I’ll review it on my personal scale, assuming you know what you’re getting in to, and compare it to other works in the genre instead of to anime as a whole.
Studio: Hal Film Maker
Director: Jun’ichi Satou
Character design: Makoto Koga
Music: Choro Club, Takeshi Senoo
Original creator: Kozue Amano (manga)
Original run: 5 October 2005 – 28 December 2005 (Aria the Animation), 2 April 2006 – 26 September 2006 (Aria the Natural), 8 January 2008 – 31 March 2008 (Aria the Origination)
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