Drift peacefully into Neo Venezia, a city on the planet Aqua (formerly known as Mars). By the 24th century, humans have found a way to colonize the previously uninhabitable planet. As futuristic as that sounds, Neo Venezia is still teeming with rustic beauty; gondolas on wide canals and waterways are the main mode of transportation. The city itself is a faithful replication of Manhome's (the planet formerly known as Earth) Venice.
To make sure that residents and tourists alike get the most from Neo Venezia's many wonders, companies offering guided tours via gondola were formed, one of which is named Aria Company.
This is the workplace of Akari Mizunashi, a free spirited teenager from Manhome who is now a novice Undine (the title given to tour guides). Join Akari as she becomes intimately acquainted with other Undine, tourists, Neo Venezia's residents, and even the city itself, learning many valuable life lessons along the way, such as the wonderful truth that there are such things as manmade miracles.
I'm quite surprised that no one's actually written a review for this yet.
I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect from this show. The synopsis didn't really give any clues as to what I should expect, and that is probably the best thing about it - it isn't quite what you expect.
The story takes place on what used to be Mars (the first thing I didn't expect), in a place called Neo-Venzia (New Venice), and is about a girl training to be an Undine (the story uses the term to refer to a female gondolier rather than a water spirit). The
story itself isn't linear in any way, as each episode is a story in it's own right. Normally this is a recipe for disaster in the anime world, but it works in this show - I'll explain why in a bit.
The art and animation are of a very high standard, and the city and it's surroundings are beautifully rendered - and you will see a lot of the city in this show. The characters are very well depicted, even when they show their chibi side, and the best bit is there's not a panty shot in sight - hooray!
The sound is one area where this show excels. Everything is there if you listen, from the sound of the waves to the hubbub of of a crowd. The music is ideally suited to the show and, unlike many anime, actually heightens the viewing experience.
The characters are extremely well realised. I can't think of one character I actually disliked in the entire show. One of the things I liked about the show was how each character actually fits into the story, and the world in which they exist - even the cats have a purpose. One of the other things I liked was the use of fairytale and mythological creatures in the show. The females gondoliers are referred to as Undines, with the top three being called the Great Fairies. The weather is controlled by salamanders, the gravity is controlled by gnomes, etc. One thing that puzzled me was why the female characters names begin with A (except Grandma, however her real name is Akino), but that's by-the-by.
So the important question is: Will you enjoy the show?
If you're an action junkie, or into horror or angst, then this is not the show for you (although it never hurts to give it a try). This show is funny and quirky in many ways, without going over the top, but the one word I would use to describe the show is RELAX. It took me two weeks to finish this show and it's sequel (which is a long time for me by the way), and this is because this show is so relaxing that I was falling asleep whilst watching it. Normally it takes a lot for me to fall asleep, and even boredom doesn't work, but somehow this show just relaxes you to the point where you just drift off to dreamland without a second thought, and never once was I bored with this show.
Overall this is a show that deserves to be watched, as it has a unique appeal that the like's of Sketchbook ~full colour'S~ and Kokoro Toshokan just can't quite match up to. The reason why the non-linear story works well in this show is because it's so relaxing that you honestly just don't care about the fact there's no real plot - which is a rather refreshing perspective to have.
The best way to watch the show? Have a shower, have a good meal, get comfortable, and relax...
I stumbled upon Aria years ago when reading a review about the manga and made a mental note to check it out later. Positively drawn in by Kozue Amano's original work, I soon picked up the anime as well. For a reason I still can't recall I dropped the show nearly three years ago, and it wasn't until just recently that I finished what I started back then. And though not much had changed for either better or worse from what I remembered, I'm glad I did so.
Aria the Animation is not for you, who prefers a clear cut and classically constructed storyline that moves
from point A to point B with some key events in between. Aria the Animation is not for you, who requires relentless action and constant fast-paced happenings from their anime. And most certainly Aria the Animation is not for you, who finds little to no enjoyment in just sitting back and watching as a close-knit group of girls, not in their bra and panties with guns ablaze, but with their gondolas and oars go through ordinary day-to-day activities instead of epic adventures and intense situations.
But on the good chance you are the type to approach your anime with an open mind and the patience to watch and see the magic in the moment, you are likely to find the company of Akari, Aika, Alice, and the rest of the undines and undines-in-training much to your liking. Because that's what Aria the Animation is ultimately about: a journey to uncover the joy of the obvious, the excitement behind the mundane, and the possibilities underneath the sorrows.
These scenarios are played out to us by a cast of characters who depict a variety of different personalities. Akari is the naive amateur who treats all she experiences with childlike wonder; through her most of the show's message is brought across to the viewer. . Aika is her best friend and almost her exact opposite: no-nonsense and feet firmly on the ground-kind of girl who constantly berates Akari for her dreamy ways. And Alicia is their mentor and the big sister-type of character, who's there to provide insight and help the juniors along the way. They're surrounded by a pack of friends who similarly have their quirks and qualities defining them and making their role contributing to what the creator is trying to tell us.
You're right if you argue that the story is boring and seemingly pointless at times. Saying the characters being archetypes of their respective personalities (and almost exclusively female as well!) is cliche and overused is valid. Complaining that having cats as business company presidents is just plain stupid and ridiculous is justified.
But as one who no doubt has already seen quite a bit of anime in their life, you have for sure come across these common failings before. And in case you've reached the point of having made peace with them, or feel like challenging yourself to do so, Aria the Animation may prove to be an eye-opening experience for you that anime can be good even if no heavens are pierced.
*This review pretty much spoils everything* (Also, WARNING! This review is over 8800 words long!)
There are quite a few slow burners in anime, and Aria is one of the slowest.
Even for the people the show’s magic works on, it doesn’t always hit immediately. Things I find traditionally boring or undesirable are prominent in this series. With that in mind, this show admittedly goes against a lot of my subconscious “rules” for what I look for in anime: there’s little conflict (what’s there is a touch of shameless melodrama), there’s seemingly little focus on the actual goals of the core characters at times,
and the story moves at a glacial pace.
But Aria was a different type of show than anything I had seen prior. It’s risky in how it appeals to a niche audience, though over the years that audience has slowly grown, winning the hearts of more and more anime fans.
It’s one of those “experience shows” and it has a tendency to help kindle or keep aflame a passionate love of life for some, as well as foster tremendous boredom in others. One of the most common criticisms for Aria I hear is that it brainlessly beats a dead horse from start to finish, though I can’t really endorse that perception much. Though Aria has a pretty consistent theme and set of motifs throughout the series, I don’t find the show redundant at all.
Aria’s focus lies in plain sight; each episode offers somewhat detailed perspective on viewing the simple pleasures and facets of human nature and society, though admittedly some do with more success than others. But that’s a given, right?
Now, there’s something I feel I should address before I really hop in. I’m well known for my habit of fawning over the Aria franchise. We won’t go far as friends without you hearing me reference the show at least once. With that, it’s not abnormal for me to be taken to task and be asked to explain why I hold such an immense appreciation for this series. Every time I attempt to answer sincerely, I’m certain I come off as confused, scrambling for ideas worth sharing. Aria is not an easy show to describe in brief, and in this review I can only hope to scratch the surface in illustrating the show’s identity. For my rewatch of the whole show, my goal is to more clearly discover my true opinions and set them in stone by writing, so I hope this goes over well.
For those of you who have heard about Aria, not just in name but in description at least, you likely have heard it be described as a remarkable slice of life series. Even more specifically, it’s an “Iyashikei” anime, a tale that for the viewers is intended to be a refreshing, perhaps healing experience. While even slice of life anime aren’t strangers to conflict from episode to episode, Aria has such meager stakes that it’s rare for your concern for its characters to dramatically spike at individual moments. To put it simply, there is a clear lack of urgency and I think it contributes greatly to a pleasant viewing experience.
As I mentioned before, it sort of broke that conflict rule I mentioned before. I enjoy tension and struggle as much as anyone else, but what struggles exist in Aria do well to fit the type of show it is. A calm, contemplative experience with ideas one could easily apply to their own daily living. In a story with a focus such as this, I can’t see this lack of intense, dramatic conflict as a fatal flaw.
So with that, I’m going to try and explain in detail what I think the show accomplishes, and why it at least works for me. However, the only way I can do this with confidence is by discussing individual episodes and moments, since portraying the show’s magic without specifics and spoilers is pretty much impossible. So with that, please walk through Aria’s first season with me.
QUICK THOUGHTS GOING IN
That was a false start. To quickly explain, Aria takes place on Mars, which has gone through terraforming to become Aqua, a planet now mostly covered in water. It has a sky and atmosphere similar to Earth as we know it, titled Manhome in the show. We follow a trio of apprentice gondoliers as they train to become Prima Undines, and have many experiences along the way, such is life.
The show’s first season is Aria the Animation, which in thirteen episodes establishes a simple, yet detailed world. Each one is a story that sheds light on an aspect of living in the town, mainly portrayed through the lenses of our main cast members.
The characters of Aria are plenty loveable, though my biggest criticism of them is that they don’t go through a satisfying amount of development in merely thirteen episodes. Thankfully, this isn’t problematic since I view the season in context with the two that follow: Aria the Natural and Aria the Origination. The journey of each individual is in the complete package.
Akari is the kind-hearted, gentle, and optimistic leading lady of the series. She is an apprentice training to become a Prima at Aria Company. Though the series is about the journeys of the three apprentices, her story easily gets the largest amount of focus. She is quite childish despite being fifteen at the start of the series, but her childlike nature creates a fitting viewpoint to experience the story from. Her passionate, graceful appreciation for her surroundings makes for a perfect vessel, allowing the viewer to slow down and think at her pace. Akari embodies the spirit of the show, and it’s vital to your enjoyment of the show that her positivity grows on you.
Her character also does well to usher in the series. At the beginning of the first episode, Akari mentions how the sounds of a new day really set a warm tone for the early morning. It’s a sort of detail I might’ve been expected to point out myself in this review, but she got to it first. A lot of what Aria prides itself in is pondering over each minute of the day and appreciating small discoveries, all of which it hopes to share with its audience.
It’s important for a first episode to introduce the viewer to the world and characters, hopefully without forcing all of it down the viewer’s throat. Aria’s does so with great success, easing us in. Despite all it conveys during individual episodes, the series never feels like it’s in a rush to do anything. Before the opening theme plays you can already get a clear picture of what the rest of the show might be like. There’s no suspense nor gripping hook to get you leaning in. Just a girl waking up one beautiful morning and exchanging an early day greeting with her cat.
Each episode conveys a pretty simple message, which is first alluded to before the episode even begins. A montage of shots that appear in the following episode opens up each story, with a few characters delivering lines that in some way implicate the plot or message we will experience ahead.
“Saying ‘nice to meet you’ to someone becomes a sort of pact between you, doesn’t it? People meeting other people is a wonderful miracle. That’s why you treasure that moment and never let it fade.”
The first episode of Aria is about making connections, and how a meeting can become something special depending on how you value the experiences you share with others. This also is directly relevant to the viewer having their first with the show.
Akari discusses how Aqua is a new world, and therefore is a fresh opportunity for her to test her skill and follow her dream, yet the series actually starts when she’s been there for twelve months already, half of a full year on the planet. However, Akari is still only a trainee, not being allowed to take a passenger on her own due to her inexperience as a professional gondolier. That rule is immediately broken thanks to Ai, a young girl who is on vacation from Manhome. She sneaks a ride while Akari intends to go train for the day. Despite the awkward scenario, Akari attempts to start at least a bit of conversation with the girl. She doesn’t manage to cleanly break the ice, and Ai even accuses Akari of interrogation, causing the Undine to pull back for the time being. It’s an odd first test and a failure in communication.
Along the tour, we meet Aika, a blue-haired apprentice who trains under Himeya Company and happens to be another major character. In this scene, we can immediately determine how Akari and Aika differ from one another. Aika claims that her rowing skills far exceed that of Akari’s, which causes Ai to command her to row the gondola in her stead. Aika is identifiably more confident than the easily shaken Akari. She also refuses to be taken advantage of, being more stubborn. But thankfully Akari encourages her to make friends with the little girl, swiftly demonstrating her compassion and general positive regard for others.
Despite that confidence from Aika, we soon see that she rocks the boat equally. Aika isn’t quite heads and shoulders above Akari in the talent department. She merely has more fire in her belly.
Akari decides to speak, giving the verbal tour so that she can do part of her job. Immediately, Aika criticizes Akari’s delivery. During this exchange we learn bits of information about the planet they’re on, the city they’re rowing through, plus we can understand more about what the Undines do in their work.
Also worth mentioning for this episode is that we get to see how optimism fuels Akari’s passion. She views the city of Neo-Venezia as “a city of miracles,” which even intrigues the initially distant Ai. Aika deflates this conception with her more grounded, almost hyper-realistic personality.
Later on in the episode, we get one of the only moments in Aria where there is a clear danger, though it’s not quite extreme. Before Akari can save the president in time, Alicia gracefully rescues him. The group reaches Akari’s mentor, and we see how receptive she is upon seeing Ai even though it reveals Akari has broken a rule, letting Ai freeload on her gondola. Knowing that Alicia and Akari are Prima and apprentice, we can immediately connect how Alicia’s compassion affects Akari’s habits and general outlook on life. Their bond and connection is displayed and easily detectable in a single moment.
After the trip ends, Ai thanks Akari and Aika for the experience. She claims she snuck on because she wanted to have an experience of her own. Apparently, she had become used to having heard her sister brag about riding on Alicia’s gondola, making her jealous. Akari interjects, claiming that Ai’s sister may have only trying to tell her about the wonderful time she had on Aqua.
The episode ends with Ai claiming that she wants to ride in Akari’s gondola again. Her experience with Akari and Aika was something she could claim for herself, and that special memory is something she wouldn’t trade for anything else.
“Those who stand on others are tough on themselves and easy on others. At least that’s how I want them to be!”
“Tough on themselves? That’s an important attitude to have if you want to be a Prima Undine. I’m impressed, Aika!”
“So why won’t she go easy on me for a change?”
Noticing Aria Company has flooded, we learn that the tide on Aqua rises exponentially at this certain point in the year. Nearly everything in the city shuts down, allowing people in town to relax (moreso). Things like this happening early on in the series allow for such interesting worldbuilding and insight just right off the bat.
Also worth mentioning is how throughout the rest of the season, we continually hear from Ai via the email conversation she maintains with Akari. We see that she remains interested in Aqua every day, applying her experience to her daily life. Normally narration can be immersion breaking if it intertwines with the normal action of events too much, but Akari’s works for me due to how it does more than just express her laying out the situation before us. She instead has a back and forth with Ai, making the show have a sort of reflective, video diary style.
Continuing on, in this episode, Akari is tasked with obtaining more food for President Aria. This allows her to explore the now different Neo-Venezia. She even goes to visit it on foot, which creates some variety to how she participates in her environment. The streets are invisible, and she seems to walk on water.
Eventually, the rain begins pouring down, and the scenery changes once again as a result. Due to this, we get an excuse to go indoors, but since we’re in the city now, we get to see another location in Neo-Venezia.
Akari meets up with Aika inside Himeya Company, and the two spend some time together. While conversing, Aika continues to show off her intimidating side by quizzing Akari. We know from episode one that she takes things a bit more intensely and with more realistic temper than Akari, so this just allows us to see that behavior in a friendlier context.
Enter Akira. She’s can quickly be identified as a tougher mentor on Aika than Alicia is on Akari. She insists that Aika be rigorous and continuously productive at all times. Once she notices Akari, Akira begins commenting on how Alicia is so lenient. This scene allows the audience to see how these two character relationships (Akari + Alicia and Aika + Akira) work.
We’re only in the middle of episode two when we already see Aika fighting with her mentor. I’ve referred to Aika’s more realistic portrayal prior to this, but I should reiterate that her character right off the bat appears less idealistic and more conflicted. Akari’s conflictions tend to be less consistent and are more often just little things that turn up now and then and dissipate afterward.
These connections and interactions between characters are simple but meaningful. Aika has a fondness of Akari’s mentor due to a memory of having Alicia give her company on a day where she was particularly down. That allows the mentor & student character pairs in this series to overlap with other ones, strengthening their relationship as a group, and not just a clashing collective of characters with predictably unriveting affiliations. Besides each one’s role, we also have more.
This scene also allows the writers to inject some backstory, demonstrating another character relationship. Since her apprentice has spent the night at Aria company just to be under the same roof as her childhood rival, Akira has a reason to have a humorous and childish reaction, that being her jealousy for Alicia, which Aika and Akari are able to witness. Alicia is portrayed idealistically, but Akira provides a great contrast with her tenser, more rough personality.
This episode resolves with Aika spending time apart from Akira and thus realizing what she treasures about their relationship. It’s a bit quick, to be honest, but it’s not too jarring. Aika decides that she will return to continue and try her best, appreciating the intentions of Akira if not how she comes off on the surface.
Aika’s not the only one who has a change of tune. Akira thinks about her pupil and begins to consider why she might like Alicia more than herself. That sense really depresses her. Understanding the perspectives of Akira and her pupil both was the key to making this story work.
Something I’ll say quickly is that the show has a gimmick that covers up a problem quite safely. Due to its sentimental and passionate, artsy fartsy nature, many events in this show prompt Akari to say something really sensual or dreamlike regarding the situation before them. Aika tends to be there in that moment to say “not allowed!” This gag stops me from being able to be even mildly bothered by the cheesiness. However, I’d imagine for other people the problem would be masked with another problem, that being the issue of repetition, but for me, I find it amusing and hardly grating.
“When you’re alone for a long time, you start to feel separated from your emotions. Maybe it’s because you don’t have anything to smile about. So let’s be friends, Alice!”
“You’re really nosy.”
The second summer has arrived. Akari begins practicing during the day with Aika. In the last episodes we saw Akira having some tension towards Akari and Alicia, but thankfully by now it’s settled and the apprentices are beginning to use each other in order to improve.
It’s while they are in this phase that they come across Alice Carroll, the third gear in the lovely mechanism that is this cast’s main trio. Here we get to see both Akari and Aika’s distinctive personalities working outwardly instead of merely towards each other. Akari focuses on trying to make conversation, hoping to make quick friends with this new girl, but Aika is clearly a bit egotistical, trying to find a way to look down on her.
Alice is actually my favorite in the show. She’s archetypal like many of the characters, satisfying the vacancy for a stoic and distant figure. The girl seems quite full of herself in the beginning, at least to the others, but in reality, she’s just focused. That level of hard work really changes how you react to confrontations. But she’s not a bad person.
There’s a moment in this episode where she is confronted with requests for autographs. Alice turns her fans down, not because she looks down on others, but because she doesn’t think as highly of herself as you might at first glance believe. The Undine seems detached from her popularity.
Now, to explain, Alice is the youngest of the three and still attends middle school. She’s one of those characters who has to learn to smile. Honestly, I almost always love watching somebody figure out how to produce a smile on his or her face.
This is also something that connects her to Akari later on in the episode. Alice is attempting to change and ends up using Akari as a model, this being due to her knowing the girl does it in excess. It’s a logical way for their characters to converge, giving them a proper first step towards being friends.
While Alice follows Akari and Akatsuki, she begins to slowly break away from that independent mindset. Though she observes Akari’s flawed skill in giving her customer a tour, what’s important here is that she is beginning to focus on others, not sitting in her own mental cell.
In this episode, Aria even jokes about one of its main draws. For the tenth time, Aria thrives on peering at the insignificant and finding something to appreciate about it. During this episode, Akari makes a weak and contrived attempt at observing random people walking by the city, insisting what they’re doing is “people-watching,” a way to insert some fun into their afternoon. Akatsuki grabs one of Akari’s pigtails, criticizing her for trying to turn something insignificant into something greater. The poor Undine replies that she understands, but it’s kind of her specialty. Perhaps Alice got the referential joke, because it’s in this moment that she smiled genuinely for the first time in the series.
“Even people who are far apart and can’t speak to each other directly can let their feelings be known. That’s the job of the postmen and the Sylphs. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? I wonder if we Undines could do it, too.”
“Yeah, I’m sure we could. If it’s just feelings, they shouldn’t weigh all that much.”
“Unless they’re really big feelings.”
Yes, Aria focuses on the relationships between the Undines and their Primas a lot, but part of worldbuilding is seeing the main characters respond to their environment. Throughout the entire series, characters will interact with people and their surroundings in countless ways, some of which you wouldn’t imagine would merit a full-length episode anywhere else. Yet episodes like this one still manage to get across the importance of making connections.
Akari follows President Aria through alleys and ends up at a glowing square where she meets a young girl. She gives Akari a letter about god knows what, pleading that she deliver it to god knows who. This gives Akari incentive to speak with one of the city’s mailmen, who stands to represent yet another major facet of Neo-Venezia, and on a larger level, communication. It’s also another method to help tie Akari with the environment. If she just talked to other Undines and customers all the time, she wouldn’t seem as much a part of the city, I think. Neo-Venezia isn’t just supposed to be the setting for this show. It’s the location that inhibits the spirit of Aria, and its characters are often influenced by it.
Back to the story, Woody takes Akari on his bike, and they fly high above the water to get to where the letter must be delivered. With it, Akari carries the desperation of the young girl. Also, getting to leave Neo-Venezia is a breath of fresh air. Throughout this show, I never get completely used to the scenery. It rarely gets stale enough that I’m no longer exasperated nor still in love with the world of Aqua.
Every aspect of the setting is contemplated. The ocean, the boats, the architecture, the wind, the animals, the people, the time of day, the time of year, the weather, the smoke that emerges from the tops of chimneys, winter sunsets, worn down homes, and so on. The world breathes and its residents are aware of it.
Towards the end, we learn that the intended recipient of that young girl’s letter passed away years ago. Akari decides to complete the delivery regardless. She removes the data card from the letter and inserts it into a reader to watch its contents. Akari’s such an angel that she even points the screen towards the grave of the man the letter was addressed to.
For some time, this letter never got to where it was intended to be sent, but by a stroke of luck, Akari was there to send that young girl’s feelings. Even if she could not do it herself or receive satisfaction by getting a reward for it, the girl had the pleasure of knowing that her words would travel and reach its intended recipient.
“Wondrous things. When you’re a child, you’re sure they exist. But before you know it, that certainty turns into a wish that they could be real.”
“Why? When do we stop believing in them?”
“You still really seem to have a lot of faith in them, Akari.”
Obviously, this episode discusses fantasy. It begins with Akari telling Ai about Neverland, as well as how to her as a child, it wasn’t even a fantasy. In the present, she receives an invitation letter to go to Neverland (umm).
She rows over the water to reach an island, once again traveling beyond just the city. The previous episode hinted towards future episodes of the series expanding the series out of its main setting of Neo-Venezia, but thankfully we didn’t have to wait too long.
Akari ends up at an uninhabited island. She quickly finds out that Aika and Alice were apparently given invitations, so the Undine trio all begin to explore the island together. They end up at a white sand beach, a paradise not even Neo-Venezia can boast, where they meet up with Akira and Alicia.
Crushing the belief that they’ve ended up on a paradise island, Akira begins giving them the training session of their lives. The Neverland is at first false since the group was blindsided with a difficult and unexpected, strenuous challenge, but it’s Akari’s excitement and hope that allows her optimism to remain bright.
In times like this, Akari’s passion really shines, because it isn’t just there to remind the viewer of her nature. That nature fuels her outlook during every minute, and it rubs off on others who seek to find a point to any of their troubles. She reinforces the idea that their being together makes the experience special. A shared experience heals the toughness of struggle. It’s Akari’s ability to recognize this in select situations that makes her so fun to watch. Plus I found it engaging, this being probably the first time we got to see this many characters hanging out at once. In Aria, it really is “the more, the merrier.”
When you’re a child, Neverland might be a specific, single location that you might hope to reach someday. But if you manage to maintain your childlike optimism with age, you can find your Neverland in any special moment or experience. It’s something Aria hints at later in this season, though the message is told a bit differently.
“Subtle acts of kindness aren’t always easy to spot. That’s why most people go through life without noticing them. But once they realize it, they can see a glimpse of warmth in the face of the one who helped them.”
In arguably my favorite episode of Animation, we meet Athena, Alice’s mentor who harbors the voice of an angel. This episode does well to enhance the relationship between the cast members who make up the final third of Aria’s troupe.
Akari is practicing with Alice, and she figures out that Alice is in a bad mood. By this time, it’s likely Akari considers herself to be a possible big sister to Alice, and hopes that this will prompt the young Single to not be afraid to share things with her.
Finally conceding, Alice tells Akari that she has a really clumsy left hand that affects her ability to scull a gondola. She even relates that to things like writing and using chopsticks, extending the problem. Alice really considers her left hand to be dead weight, forcing all the work on the right hand. This is a simple examination of personal flaws or shortcomings. For every flaw one has in their character or skill, the natural thing for him or her to do is hope that they have some quality to make up for that. We’ll get back to this.
Later in the episode, we see Athena enter Alice’s room without asking. She somehow makes a mess out of water, clumsily spilling it onto the wooden floor. We already know her to be Alice’s mentor, so right off the bat she’s distinctive from the other two Primas.
She isn’t only distinct as a character, however. Athena and Alice’s relationship is tougher to watch than Akari and Aika’s with their respective mentors. Akari gains Alicia’s positivity and compassion whereas Aika gains Akira’s assertive and more imposing nature. However, you can’t really tell at first what Alice gains from Athena. Some of this is based on them not likely knowing each other for nearly as long.
Eventually, Alice begins to learn that her left hand might not be as useless as she deemed it to be. It “stays in the shadows” taking the smaller role. She thought less of Athena since she assumed her to be dimwitted and silly. Useless like her left hand, but through the experience of trying to hide Maa, she learns that her mentor does care about her, and is willing to support her Undine even if it’s merely from the shadows.
Alice’s left hand doesn’t accomplish the same task as her right, and just like that left hand, Athena is taking the lesser road, not trying to gain appreciation in order to feel better about herself. She’s a different kind of mentor, one who has her own distinct way of addressing her Undine. The two of them weren’t as close of friends, but this experience really helped them to grow together.
“Entertaining tourists is a lot of work, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I hear it all the time… Becoming a pro takes strict training.”
“Aika, you should be grateful to Akira for training you so hard, then.”
This is another episode where the Undine trainees are put to the test, and I think this episode does a much greater job shining a light on that than episode five. Their hard work has been implied as well as shown a handful of times, but in this episode, the stakes are raised purposefully. The audience even gains a vessel to examine the demands of the gondoliers’ work from.
Beginning this episode, we get some words from Ai, who tells Akari about how her mother scolds her for taking too long to do anything. Following this conversation, Akari runs up to the practice session with Aika and Alice, where she is immediately scolded by Akira for her tardiness.
The three apprentices get the opportunity to watch Akira host passengers in her gondola and are instructed to help her out while also learning. We learn of the Crimson Rose’s great reputation as well. We’ve heard before of how revered Alicia was, but could only before assume the other two Undines’ popularity.
They get to see that what a real gondolier does is present the city to customers, making conversation, altogether giving them a pleasant tour which further compels them to visit certain locations in the city. Akira even shows them a place not mentioned in the guidebooks. It hints towards there being numerous secrets within the town, not just a garbled collection of random locations. Plenty of surprises to be found.
Following the tour, we realize that the woman enjoyed it so much that she would even like to experience it immediately following its end. During this appreciative exchange, the husband claims that anyone could do an Undine’s work, putting him in quite the hot seat. The couple ends up partaking in an exercise, sitting in the gondola as the three Undines take turns sculling. They are immediately accustomed to Akira’s tougher side, watching the trio’s rigorous training. This puts into perspective for the couple and audience both that the Undines are required much toil and effort to succeed.
This challenge they go through forces them to improvise. Due to the tide having risen, they need to find a way to get to point B in the city without getting blocked off by the bridges, which now sit too low for them to travel underneath. They manage to find a way through and are greeted by the beautiful sight of the setting sun, almost welcoming them at the end of their at least somewhat successful journey.
After they finish, the Undines are confused at their reward, being quite aware of the fact it took them far longer to succeed than what was likely expected of them. However, Akira immediately displays her more compassionate side, revealing to the group that she sees no use in scolding those who have already had time to reflect on their screw-ups. Everyone realizes that Akira’s strictness actually comes from how much he cares about others and wish them the best of success.
She recognizes that the most important thing a teacher can do is not discipline, but encourage people and be willing to appreciate someone else’s willingness to tackle the task they’ve been given.
“Alicia, what sort of work does President Aria do every day?”
“Hmm… I’m not exactly sure myself.”
“Oh. I think I’d like to know…”
On paper, this is a filler episode. Being one about the mascot of the show, a character who tends to act as a light comedic addition to the cast, you wouldn’t expect President Aria to carry an episode on his own… if you were presumptuous. No, like many parts of Aria’s world, the president is yet another thing the series has chose to highlight sometime throughout his runtime. And it makes for a pretty amusing episode, surprisingly.
Now, since this episode highlights a character who does not utilize proper English, part of the story is expressed through text that describes his motivations, feelings, and actions in a charming, storybook-like fashion.
Being the President, Aria intends to help out with cleaning duty on the select day they’ve chosen for it. He endeavors to set a good example despite how he has the mannerisms of a child, and well, is a cat. Plus, him being the president seems to moreso be an honorary title. Yet this is enough to encourage him to make himself useful. After numerous failures to assist Alicia and Akari, he can’t help but feel shameful at his increasingly visible lack of value in this company.
Feeling less than necessary is a common dilemma we face, and Aria’s turn with it is cute if anything. In a series where many find this character to be annoying and useless as an addition to the cast, this episode did wonders to help me better care for his presence.
Now, this one episode actually adapts two separate chapters of the manga. The second chapter is a story where President Aria becomes interested in a fictional hero character and begins role-playing in response to such inspiration.
Really there’s not much to say about these episodes on what they do for the story other than show President Aria interacting with his environment. He seeks to gain more confidence in his own personal value, doing so more successfully in the second story. By deciding to be something greater than he thought he was, the president managed to make someone happy, and that’s what a hero does. Help others and put those people before themselves.
Anyways, the charm shines as usual, and this episode is generally meant to be a fun watch to put a break between two more serious episodes. By this point in the series, you should be well acquainted with the way this show tells individual stories. So hopefully you won’t stumble upon this episode and suddenly realize that it operates one little story at a time, and this really isn’t a change of pace other than both how it focuses on President Aria and how it’s divided into two stories.
“If you have to get old, then I want to be a wonderful old person. (how insightful) Now matter how old I get, I’ll be the nice sort of old lady that everyone admires!”
“If that’s your dream, does that mean it’s okay if people don’t admire you now? You’ll be fine, Aika. Even if no one looks up to you now, I’m sure one day, uh… Hmm…”
Akari tells Ai that it has become autumn, and the change of colors for the leaves on trees makes for a beautiful scene. Nine episodes in, it feels like I already got to see so much of Aqua, and the change of scenery provided by the seasons really adds more to that sum total. Viewing this same change and realizing time is passing quickly, the Undines become inspired to get more serious with their training, continuing to push forward.
This episode features a near-existential crisis from Aika, who feels as if the three of them are suffering from a lack of progress. She informs the other two apprentices of her dream to surpass all their mentors and become the greatest Prima in Aqua history. Things lead to them learning about the legendary Great Water Fairy, who happens to be the original founder of Aria Company.
The trio ventures from Neo-Venezia by train to go find the esteemed gondolier. When they meet the lady, they are very excited to meet her, Aika perhaps the most so. Aika insists that they need to learn from the woman and rigorously train in order to become Primas as soon as human possibility can grant them. Grandma gives them very simple tasks, and Aika humorously finds a way to assume them to be more than that.
However, in the end, the only lesson Grandma has for the three young Undines is for them to take in all the rough moments in life and allow it to change themselves. Taking all troubles in with the happier moments, allowing your love for the world and everyone entirely to shine in your work, will therefore benefit you and those nearby.
This very simple concept speaks miles of truth. Nobody’s outlook on the world is entirely based on only their good or only their bad experiences. To let only the good change you is to eliminate potentially a major part of who you are.
“Akari, let’s go to a hot spring! A hot spring!”
“A hot spring?”
“It’s a big bath, like the size of a pool.”
“We can invite Alicia too!”
Aqua is reaching winter. It’s certainly going to get more and more difficult to scull a gondola, so that puts the young Undines at odds with what they’ll be doing for the entire season.
Akari and Alicia end up retrieving firewood in the forest. During that operation, we and Akari are introduced to snowbugs, insects Alicia says appear once winter is on the fringe. They live under ash tree leaves in the spring, and they move to white fir roots in the summer. Then when it starts getting really cold, they come out briefly and signal the coming of winter. Details like this really help me to believe this planet is actually in a legitimate state of transition like the world really is alive.
A particular snowbug becomes attached to Akari, following her around almost to give her a long welcome to Aqua’s winter. The cold season is arguably the most visually distinct of the four, and this phase of Aria the Animation really paints its world in a new, beautiful light.
However, the most important thing the winter does in Aria is bring the characters closer together. Up until this point in the series, Akari and Alicia were not even spending that much time together. Alicia was busy with other customers, and Akari arguably even spent more time with Akira, training with the other Undines before her own supposed mentor (her character is easily the least present of the main six).
So, this cold gives them some excuse to stay indoors, tending to the fire or even going out only to do errands. This, of course, does not stop the Undines from spending time together once again, now visiting a natural hot spring in Neo-Venezia.
This intimacy does affect Akari, since when they visit the hot springs together Akari is forced to remove much of her clothes to get inside, and prior to this occasion she had not become accustomed to public bathing. Added to this is her uncomfortable feeling about relaxing. Even on a vacation day in winter, Akari feels it wrong for her to be relaxing. Aika has rubbed off on her quite a bit, seemingly, but Alicia tells her that to get through the winter she’ll need some refreshing.
As Akari decides to steadily take on the winter, the snowbug which followed her along much earlier in the episode leaves her, telling us that winter has made its complete entrance.
Very little happened in this episode, admittedly, making it one of the weaker ones in the season.
“This time we call ‘now’... No, never mind.”
“What’s wrong, Alice?”
“Don’t just leave us hanging like that”
“Really, it’s nothing.”
“I’m curious now! You know, when I’m curious about something, I can’t even swallow my food right!”
“This time we call ‘now’... No, never mind.”
Far deeper into winter and it has become quite harshly cold. I believe the last episode and this one are the first and second where all six characters are present in the same location, adding to that intimacy point I made earlier.
This episode really brings that to the forefront, actually. The Primas begin to discuss their pasts and lament over their inability to spend time together consistently as they get older. The writers also picked a perfect time to include this episode: near the end of season one.
Next, we get to peer into lives of the Primas, years ago. These flashbacks follow after those we already saw back in episode two, where we got to see Akira and Alicia’s connection. So naturally the focus this time around is on their first impressions of Athena, at least at first.
After a bit of flashbacks, we begin to detect the nostalgia. The Primas discuss how those days are fleeting, and Alice puts it together that someday the same will happen to them, the Undines. They won’t be able to see each other every day for practice.
Athena attempts to comfort her by noting that a lot of things change with time, but not everything changes, necessarily. She still enjoys her work plenty. Alicia’s addition brings into focus one of Aria’s core messages: there’s no use in losing sight of the fun you’re currently having by getting trapped thinking of the fun you used to have. Nostalgia may place you in a positive mood, but an overreliance on it can cause you to lose grasp of what you currently have, therefore negating your chances of treasuring your current good fortune.
“If you enjoy what you’re doing ‘now’, then ‘now’ will always be the most enjoyable time.”
You can see after Alicia says this that Akari blushes, clearly in admiration of her mentor.
Afterwards, the Undine apprentice trio walks out, and they consider how the Great Water Fairies were just like them when they were their age. The song Symphony plays as Akari separates with her friends for the night when she realizes how important they are to her and gives them an emotional farewell before they can get too far ahead.
“What is this place? Is it Neo-Venezia? This is Aqua, isn’t it? Is it winter now? Who are you? Why has the water in the canals dried up? This is a very mysterious place.”
As we near the end of the season, we see that Neo-Venezia is now covered in ice, plus pure white powder, as Akari describes. Right as Akari and Alicia finish shoveling snow, they realize its futility. Snow continues to fall. They decide to take the day off and Akari uses this opportunity to visit a place in town, President Aria by her side. It’s an ordinary old bridge, but Akari assumes that maybe it could have something special about the thing.
This episode acts as a sort of a prelude to season 2 of Aria, where there are much more supernatural story elements in the core focus. Akari seems to enter another world when she comes out on the other side of the bridge, though she learns from the female photographer she immediately meets that it is still Aqua.
Akari learns that the canal in this town is going to be releasing water soon. It’s only when they begin discussing what’s on the other side of the bridge that Akari begins getting suspicious. The weather is drastically different on both sides of the bridge, and the floating island of Ukijima is almost indistinguishable from what she recalled.
It’s easy to pick up that they’re not accustomed to seeing much water. The canals are bone-dry and everyone is anticipating the change. Akari determines that she has somehow traveled to Aqua’s past.
Knowledge of this prompts her to speak with confidence, remarking that Aqua will indeed someday be a beautiful planet full of water. Shops will begin to open, and tourists will come in flocks to visit the new handmade planet. “A world built by the hands and sweat and hopes of countless people,” she promises.
“People who never gave up despite countless failures. People determined to create a world overflowing with happiness. So many miracles occurred as if to answer to their wishes. And now we have the Aqua we have today.”
Seemingly triggered by Akari’s optimism, water finally begins flowing into the canal. Everyone gasps and yells in excitement. In this moment, I take a bit of issue. Hearing the same song, “Symphony,” at the intended emotional climax for two episodes in a row does kind of lessen the song’s impact.
But moving on, experiencing this sort of origin story for Aqua, Akari feels inspired, seeing the water flowing, almost directly into her heart as she once again falls in love with this planet. The people also view this as them being accepted by Aqua.
This episode is quite strange, being one of many supernatural episodes in the show that doesn’t quite explain how it occurred. There was also episode 4, but the unanswered questions are hard to ignore. This just merely happened to Akari. The woman who Akari spent the evening with even calls her “my Avvenire” which translates to “my future,” indicating that she somehow is aware that Akari is not from her time. This moment suggests that we did not just watch Akari go through traditional time travel. It’s quite confusing and I don’t know what to make of it, but it was certainly an interesting way of shedding light on the history of the planet, rather than having Akari read a book or hear the tale out of some old person’s mouth.
“That was another wonderful year, wasn’t it?”
“You’re supposed to make resolutions at the end of the year, aren’t you?”
“A really wonderful year is over now.”
“Alice… It’s a little sad that it’s all over, but all the wonderful things will live on forever in our hearts…”
“NO SAPPY LINES ALLOWED!!”
It is New Year's Eve on Aqua. Supposedly there will be a town gathering for this occasion in the Piazza San Marco square. After hearing the full version of the opening theme, a party begins.
Ai manages to join the group for New Years. The way she counts people she recognizes from Akari’s stories demonstrates that she has been paying close attention to Akari’s emails. Ai’s return just makes for a great bookend and unique character development. Being only offscreen for all but this and the first episode, it still seems like she’s changed so much.
It’s a satisfying closer for the season to see all these characters come together for a celebration. Even though we have only seen one quarter of the series’ adventures by this point, it still feels like we got to know a lot of people. It only makes me excited for what’s to come, becoming more and more familiar with these locations and people. Really with this season we’ve only experienced a small fraction of what Neo-Venezia has to offer. Brief looks into certain locations.
The episode about the girl giving the letter to Akari (ep 4) and the last one where we met the girl from the past connect to this story since we see a shot of Aqua’s past again. It’s assumed to be a sign of Aqua welcoming Ai back.
Minutes later, Akari comments on how she feels spoiled. Alicia replies, “wonderfully spoiled,” a seemingly oxymoronic revision. But my view is that though it may seem that this is a sort of utopia, the consistent good fortune these characters continuously face does not disqualify the show from having any sort of great value. The show may be ultimately ultra positive, but it’s hard to really call it out as problematic. What some see as a flaw, I see as the show’s great achievement.
And with the final moments of Aria the Animation, the cast welcomes the new year’s sunlight enthusiastically, hoping that the next year will be as beautiful as the last, as I sit and hope the next season is.
Like many things in Aria, the soundtrack is magnificent to behold. I should specifically say that never in my years with anime have I encountered a series of which so much of its identity can be credited to its music. Based on what I’ve seen, Aria’s musical footprint is one of the show’s most unanimously appreciated aspects.
Not even addressing their incorporation into the show, the tracks are impressionistic, majestic, and even spiritual. As a result, even despite the organic instrumentation, it somehow has a distinct, otherworldly nature. I’m certain a person who hasn’t a minute of experience with the Aria series could listen to “Mangetsu no Dolce” (Sweetness of the Full Moon) and be instantly transported to another world. The gentle piano introduction, the patient cello, and the way the pianist resorts to higher notes to fill in the details. The elegance of songs such as this demand gasps from me, and help to make the soundtrack seep into my soul. The effect makes the music at times feel enormous, even if the compositions aren’t pulse-pounding or heavy.
Just as Neo-Venezia is romanticized visually, its music conveys the same. Organic instrumentation dominates over synthesizers, and the mixing is as clear as it gets.
Songs like the title theme “Aria” do more than well to properly indicate moments of glorious beauty, magnifying a gasp-worthy sight, guiding the viewer alongside Akari and the others as they go through their daily adventures. In fact, nothing about Aria’s soundtrack does anything but magnify moments properly. The soundtrack of a film or show is meant to guide the viewer emotionally, and even in moments throughout the show where it would seem to be unnecessary to carry the audience alongside the cast, the soundtrack finds a way to keep me in bliss.
Even in tracks like Gensou Carnival, Gyakuakogi Queen, or Kanki no Machi where the tempo picks up to make things into more of a coordinated ruckus, things never become too tense or startling. Just something other than the standard fare of early morning lullabies.
Now, onto the lyrical numbers: Aria the Animation’s opening is stunning. “Undine” is a lovingly composed, delicately performed piece that feels like the start of a new day each time I come across it at the beginning of an episode. Listening, I feel like I’m waking at dawn, stretching as the first verse begins and am fully up for the day as the song reaches its chorus. I teared up the first time I heard it, and now and then it still gets me. I should say opening theme instead of opening, cause the show doesn’t really have a decided singular beginning sequence. The visuals include a display of shots of Neo-Venezia that alternate from episode to episode. It’s a nice way to take advantage of the extra minute and a half. For example, in episode two when Neo-Venezia is flooded, we get to see what the city looks like during that phase. There’s also an episode that takes place in the dead of winter, and an alternate version of the song plays where we have a wordless rendition and quiet mix of the song playing instead to complement the cold of winter.
The ending doesn’t offer the same alternating shots, but the music still offers plenty of enjoyment, personally. With “Rainbow” we get a sweet, acoustic guitar and minimalist percussion pop song that’s so friendly I want to hug it. The track is remarkably cute and catchy and isn’t skippable either. Both the opening and ending themes play their second verses in the second half of the show as well, which allows for a bit of variation despite the series being only thirteen episodes long.
Continuing with vocal tracks, we also have “Just for You,” a fun, bouncy pop number that appears in the last episode to soundtrack the town’s New Year's celebration, and while it can seem vastly strange in context with everything else musically, it grew on me a bit over time and it definitely adds some fun flavor to the party scene it plays over.
The last one I’ll mention is a song titled “Symphony.” The track is lovely and ballad-like, so there are not really many complaints I have with the music itself. However, I’ve mentioned before in my episode write-ups that it plays at the emotional height of two episodes in a row, which lessens its impact slightly the second time around.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Aria really changed what I thought a show could do. This season is only the first leg of that journey, so at this point in my initial watch I might not have felt this great an attachment to it, but on my rewatch I found plenty more to respect about it.
The characters are admirable, the setting is magical, the visuals are splendid, the premise is unique, the stories and messages are heartwarming, and the music is a godsend.
Whether I’ll like this show ten, twenty or fifty years down the road is something I can’t answer, but for where I’m at right now, I can’t see myself giving this show anything but more praise as it continues to be a part of my life. Much love, much love.
Slice of life anime are difficult to represent to audiences in an entertaining manner without being a boring spectacle; that's why most of these have dramatic or romantic elements, or a lot of fanservice in them in order to be appealing to the viewer. But then there is Aria: The Animation, a slice of life in its purest form, that proves that such type of anime doesn't need any of the above to be succesful. Having dived in without any expectations whatsoever, I was pleasantly surprised: it was proven how wonderful and relaxing such a simple anime can be.
The premise of Aria: The Animation is
of simple nature: Akari Mizunashi, a teenager who moved from Manhome to the planet Aqua (formerly known as Mars), joins the Aria Company to become a professional Undine - or a professional tour guide - in Neo Venezia, a flawless presentation of Venezia itself. This may seem as something totally uninteresting, learning how to become a undine, yet while it certainly is an aspect of importance, its main focus lies in the interactions with the people in the city, in addition to world building of the location.
Another interesting aspect is the fact that it is a planet covered in water and while it gives the impression at first of being a simplistic and somewhat regressed humanity technologically wise, it is for the matter not: it is mixed with futuristic vehicles and devices such as gigantic airships, or flying machinery, whereas everyday tools are simple, which gives the viewer a feeling of attachment to the setting itself, as this may be something that would happen in the near future. Now it must be said that not much of the world and how it came to be is revealed, which will maybe be done in the sequels.
As mentioned earlier, the story focuses on the different interactions with the people of Neo Venezia, and naturally fellow apprentice undines, as well as professional ones. It doesn't stop there: world building is done through the different, but intricate people of the city necessary to maintain a working society. Audiences may think that this anime has the approach of "cute girls doing cute things", yet with Aria it doesn't give this impression at all: they're just humans living their everyday life. These interactions are truly fascinating and heartwarming to watch, as it is in addition very relaxing as it also represents the ups and down life has.
The cast of characters in Aria: The Animation is not big, and is by no means necessary; in fact, it fits well with the story to have a better and more realistic fleshing out of a handful of characters, than to have an excess of those. It must be mentioned that the fleshing out is limited and nothing outstanding, as well as character development itself. The characters are simple and have distinct personalities, that fits well with the setting and different relationships between the characters.
What however stands out in Aria are the character interactions: these are very well presented, in a realistic and soothing manner. These are heartwarming and varied, nothing overly dramatic, which relay simple messages as enjoyment of the simple things of life, or realization of your own flaws through your environment and relationships with the characters. Which leads to other great aspect of the anime: the females are in no way sexualized, which is a huge plus to the anime.
Other aspect that was really soothing and amusing to watch were said interactions: these were often witty and funny that managed to make me smile, and sometimes even blurt out quite often, which was something unexpected. These can be in addition quite emotional as well, as viewers observe how some of the characters are affected by their environment. What also struck me was the fact that the anime didn't seem to focus on Akari, rather her friends and companions as well.
~Animation and sound~
The animation of Aria: The Animation (ha, animation) was well done, character movements being fluid, at times even being surprisingly well done. The art style itself is average, but fulfills its purpose well, having distinct character design and well drawn backgrounds that represented well the world and atmosphere the anime was trying to convey to the viewer. Another bonus is the smooth transition between the introduction and opening of the show, as well as the ending: it never felt an abrupt change.
What however really stands out is the soundtrack used: besides the wonderful opening and ending songs that matched well with the story, were the individual OST's used. These were particularly of high quality to what the show was trying to convey, in addition to not being overused throughout the show. The voice actors performed their role well, matching well with the personalities of the characters and was relaxing to listen at.
What I initially thought to be a boring show about Venezia and how to become a undine, proved to be so much more interesting and relaxing than ever expected. The narrative and interactions with the characters, the humor and wonderful OST did a fantastic job to have a wonderful experience. The fact that it was no "cute girls doing cute things" type of show, in addition to females not being sexualized in any manner, was a huge bonus to the show. It certainly lacked in character development and having any type of story which I usually am no fan of, however the story set out what it meant to do.
Some may wonder why I only gave it a score of only 8 despite all the positive things I mentioned in the review: this is mainly because nothing really happens, it is purely oriented on slice of life with no goal apparent. World building was a bit lackluster as well. I could recommend to anyone with an interest in the slice of life genre, just don't expect anything groundbreaking.
No matter how awesome an anime's opening and ending songs are, you probably start skipping them after the 2nd episode. But don't skip ahead just yet - these 11 anime openings and endings change over time. Watch closely, now!