On the planet Aqua, a world once known as Mars, Akari Mizunashi has just made her home in the town of Neo-VENEZIA, a futuristic imitation of the ancient city of Venice. The technology of "Man Home" (formerly Earth) has not entirely reached this planet, and Akari is alone, having no contact with family or friends. Nonetheless, the town, with its charming labyrinths of rivers and canals, becomes Akari's new infatuation, along with the dream of becoming a full-fledged gondolier. Reverting to a more "primitive" lifestyle and pursuing a new trade, the character of Akari becomes both adventurous and heartwarming all at once.
Aria was first published in English by ADV Manga, who released 3 volumes from April 1 to November 1, 2004 before dropping the license. TokyoPop republished the series and released 6 volumes from January 8, 2008 to December 28, 2010 before publication was discontinued. It was also published in Spanish by Ivrea España from July 2006 to April 2010.
For the purpose of this review, I’m going to write a review for both people who have watched the Aria anime already, and who have not and are only reading the manga.
Review for those HAVE NOT watched the anime:
Aria is a very nice and relaxing slice of life manga that definitely deserves reading.
One interesting thing about Aria is that it can be a bit hard to recommend to other people. Basically you follow the 3 main characters: Akari Mizunashi, Aika Granzchesta, and Alice Caroll as they work hard to become great undines… which are basically tour gondola rowers.
While that might seem a bit odd,
in the world they’re in, it actually fits pretty well!
Like most slice-of-lifes, besides the goal of becoming better undine, there is no big concrete “plot” to follow. Basically every chapter is a new adventure through the relaxing yet mysterious world of Neo-Venezia. A majority of the chapters consist of the main characters interacting with each other, or doing random things that people in regular life do today like visiting a coffee shop. However, there are also a bunch of “supernatural” events that happen throughout the story, and they usually involve Akari and… cats. But they’re still entertaining and they fits well with the fact that Aria is already a whole new world to the viewer.
Even if in most of the chapters there is “nothing that happens”, make no mistake, the characters themselves still get a good amount of development throughout the series, and it’s very nice slow and smooth just like the series.
Speaking of the characters, I would have to say every single one of the characters is very likable, including the minor characters. However, the 3 main characters and their mentors are easily the best characters in the show, and their likable personalities will definitely keep you interested throughout the story.
Overall, Aria is a very likable manga series with some nice stories, great characters, good character development, and it just knows how to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. I definitely recommend reading it!
(This is my first review. If you can, If you put whether you thought this review was helpful or not can I have some constructive criticism of why you think so? Thanks!)
Review for those HAVE watched the anime:
Basically the majority of the actual content is about the same. There are a whole lot of differences though. A lot of the content featured in Aria the Animation is actually covered in the manga “Aqua”. The character “Ai” was actually a filler character in the anime, and does not appear in chapters where she would normally appear in the anime… except for the last chapter, since the author decided to put her in.
The actual order of the chapters is actually quite a bit different compared to the order the episodes aired in each season. Not only that, but you may get a few chapters that you saw in Aria the Natural then all of a sudden you may get a chapter that was from Aria the Origination or Animation or vice-versa.
As you go through the manga you’ll notice that there are a whole bunch of episodes missing.. that’s because each season had about 3-5 episodes of filler each.
Also, there are roughly 5-8 chapters that were not covered in the original anime. I’m actually a bit surprised that they left these out since all of them were great, but I suppose it may have been a bit hard to find a nice spot to fit them in. Probably the most important one (in my opinion) is a slightly better resolution to the whole “Cat Sith” ordeal. If you wanted more of this particular character, definitely read the manga for this.
One thing that I actually liked about the manga more was that it was a bit easier to read at your own speed, since the anime tends to go a bit slower than the original manga chapters (however you may or may not agree with me).
I’d say if you enjoyed the anime a lot, it definitely would not be a bad idea to read through Aqua than through the Aria manga.
(This is my first review. If you can, If you put whether you thought this review was helpful or not can I have some constructive criticism of why you think so? Thanks!)
Poets and travel agencies abound that describe places as having a character of their own; books and anecdotes aplenty consider cities to be living entities. A place, then, is something that one may get to know better, and something familiar that seems to share - and have a share in - one's own life.
A depiction of little more than the life of characters within their setting, Aria has often been described as being fully character-centric. It is not nearly the only manga to have been given this description, but seldom has it been a more apt one - as long as the reader keeps
in mind what might be meant with 'character' in the first place.
-= Characters =-
As far as the obvious characters go, the reader is presented with a small group of three young girls and their wider world, who have come together in the manga's setting for the sake of apprenticing themselves and learning a profession. There is no greater goal, no overarching deed that needs to be done, so that the manga can focus simply on their everyday lives as they strive towards graduating from their apprenticeship. While there is nothing particularly innovative or even endearing to a series showcasing daily life, there is in Aria's characters at least a sense of purpose, which means that there is room for them to work towards something and, hence, grow.
At first, what is presented is little beyond the wonders and tribulations of everyday life. Blessedly untroubled and unhurried as their lives are, the characters all tend to be shown in just about any chapter in more or less the same way, displaying how generic most of them actually are. The main character, Akari, is sweet, a bit of an airhead and someone who delights in just about anything; her friend Aika remains a bit boisterous while hiding a tinge of uncertainty; the third of the group, Alice, juggles a still somewhat childish mentality with a more mature work ethic and intellect; etc. In all, their thoughts, actions and emotions are far less extreme than is common in anime and manga, and while this tranquillity is certainly a major selling point of Aria that should be taken as an example of how to portray characters correctly, the uniformity of actions and reactions can be a bit predictable and, eventually, uninteresting.
That does not take into account, however, the slow, slight but very sure development of the characters over the volumes. Over the course of multiple years the three main protagonists are seen to slowly but certainly mature, becoming more steadfast and certain in their thoughts and behaviour, without them losing their personality or undergoing major, inexplicable changes - in short, their development reflects the actual maturisation process. In the same time, their mentors slowly fade out of their guiding role, gently coming to stand on a more equal footing with their protégés. As a whole, this development is highly satisfying and convincingly portrayed without having to resort to sudden influxes of disaster and trauma.
Still, most of the time the characters as such remain somewhat flat, not so much acting out of themselves as reacting to their environment. That's to be expected, as Aria as a whole makes very clear where it's focus lies: to depict the life in a fictional world. It's really no exaggeration to say that the world of Aqua, and more in particular the city of Neo Venezia, is the real star of the manga.
And what a world it is! Though it seems as if every one of the chapters of the manga shows a different part of the city and its wider surroundings, at the end it still feels as if there are hundreds of nooks and crannies left to explore, some right behind the corner. It's a rich, vibrant and very much living city, with a new 'wonderful encounter' at the end of each alleyway.
Many tools are employed to attain this sense. The simplest, and most powerful, is the very simple fact of temporal change. Seasons change and with them part of the economy of a city to quite an extent dependent on tourism; festivals come and go; people seen once before return later in a slightly different role; and slowly the characters themselves grow up, reflecting on the passing of the seasons as they continue their business. Another tool is the amount of people passing by, many of them nothing but background actors but all engaged in meaningful activity. Because they are so omnipresent the switch to empty back streets become very much pronounced and enhances the fairytale feeling of some of the chapters.
This fairytale aspect, in turn, helps make Aqua so nice to explore. With no visible crime or squalor, Neo Venezia becomes a little kid's adventure site, filled with delightful moments of discovery and mystery - every chapter containing the native and intelligent Aquan cats and their community in particular enhancing the feeling of mysterious yet benign otherworldliness.
-= Visualisation =-
The manga renders of all of this in gorgeous panoramas, capturing the glory of the city in black and white and many, many shades of grey, in such a manner depicting the very human and living alongside the hazy and mysterious. Not only, though, is the drawing style often simply gorgeous and is splendid use made of the effects of different greys, but Aria just might be one of the best manga out there in terms of its graphical style representing the focus of its story.
Most effectively, it does so by employing differences in scale between chapters, and even between panels. Though most panels, as with almost every other manga, are focused on the characters, showing only their immediate surroundings, ever so often the view widens to show whole buildings, streets, even entire city-scapes. At the same time, angles shift, and one looks up from below, passing the weathered stone of walls to see the sky visible above alleyways, or watches from above or far away the quays of the city. The difference in scale in such scenes is even more pronounced in the manga than in the more widely-know anime based on it, for the simple fact that a page of small panels may be suddenly followed by a two-page panoramic spread.
There is always at least one human figure present, but it's a rarity that the figure is placed in the centre of the shot: the small human person is present only at the sides, looking at something bigger than himself, forming only a small part of the bustling city, the brilliant sunrise or the pristine, newly discovered grounds that command the attention of both the eye and the story filling the chapter's pages.
Equally consistent is the use of backgrounds to emphasise the present focus. Whenever the story is more strongly focused on the characters, the presentation of the background takes a backseat. Colouring becomes more monotone, the environments are more generic (such chapters also more often take place indoors) and there is little differentiation between the buildings, squares and canals. Whenever the story becomes more strongly focused on Aqua and Neo Venezia themselves, though, suddenly there is added detail to all environments and, in particular, a far more pronounced contrast between light and shadow, displaying every little nook and cranny of the setting. Some of the stronger chapters strongly favour this playing with saturation of greys, giving every set of panels its own distinct mood.
Of course, beyond such tricks, the design of the setting itself contributes to its appeal. As a whole, Neo Venezia appears as a sun-drenched city, filled with buildings that are just weathered down enough to become scenic, quaint little alleyways and stairs leading up to yet another bright new spot. Fog rises up from unspoilt fields to enhance mystery, to clear whenever it is called for. Tools, modes of transport, accoutrements, everything is deliberately outdated, to evoke a setting of a more leisurely age. It has all the charm of a tourist brochure, but none of the downsides of the actual place.
Perhaps deliberately, perhaps less so, the presentation of Aqua as a world of exciting new vistas and people to meet, almost wholly devoid of any threat that should hamper exploration, is mirrored in the graphical design and presentation of the characters. It's relatively uncommon to see anyone appear more than mildly annoyed, while in the few instances that it does happen use is made of a deliberately deformed style that takes off the edge. Moreover, more so than in most manga, the design of the characters' bodies is devoid of extremes, and of angles: there is a very 'soft', curvaceous look to most of them. Yet, while a certain basic feminine attractiveness is present, it remains well shy of any implication of sensuality or sexuality.
-= A note on the anime =-
Here, a bit of attention should be given to a comparison of the manga with the anime based on it, as I consider the manga to be by far the better of the two. This at first seems to be a bit strange: Certainly the anime should be better able to use colour and movement to fully visualise the splendour of Aqua?
Well, no. For much of the first two seasons of the anime, the palette was somewhat garish, lines weren't as strong as they should be and the animation itself resulted in some distortions of perspective, something that is highly detrimental to the depiction of the city. Moreover, as a result of infusing colour, much of the play with light and shadow was lost, resulting in a Neo Venezia that was more strongly relegated to the background. Worse, exactly at the point where the quality of the animation went up, the focus of the anime shifted drastically, as more and more episodes were devoted to the characters only, with less attention given to the setting, meaning that the manga is superior in depicting the integration of the characters with their setting.
Much of this is the result of pacing. A few of the very best chapters in the manga, such as 49, are just a bit too dependent on single shots, meaning that any adaptation in anime format would have very little to work with: the chapter just cannot fit within an episode. Yet it is exactly chapters such as that one, showing Akari's reflection on her life on Aqua and her moving through the streets and the seasons, that most clearly show how much the characters form a part of their world, how all the 'wonderful encounters' are the result of both giving and taking and not solely the result of one-sided searching.
-= Final consideration =-
Aria as a whole is peaceful, charming and a tremendous joy to read, a manga to be thought of with contentedness and satisfaction. It matches a very simple premise and a lovely setting with a presentation that can be called mostly flawless in its integration of character and world, which by the end has become a living character of itself.
"Today, with the same smile as always, with the same outfit as always, with the same partners as always, I'm happily heading off to the same training as always."
These words, spoken by none other than Akari Mizunashi, the protagonist of Aria, reflect just about perfectly the core theme in Kozue Amano's quiet and serene story about three young undine trainees.
In a world and culture highlighting constant action, adventures, and excitement as the correct way of life, Aria is like a deep breath of fresh, calming air. In Neo Venezia, where the manga's story is set, one's fulfilling daily dose of excitement can just as well
be a thorough walk through town instead of a thousand bungee jumps in a row. Whereas a travel around the world could be considered to meet the definition of an adventure in "real life", a quest through shadowy sidewalks and a trip to the underground world fit the same bill well enough in the life of Akari Mizunashi and her friends. And if with action one usually associates a car race, gallons of alcohol and rough sex, a simple day at the beach or a gondola practicing session seems to do the trick just fine if you ask any of the girls in Aria.
Let it be known, if it isn't clear by now, that Aria isn't any no-brainer action flick you watch on Saturday night to unload the stress of a rough week. Rather, it is a soothing breeze you allow into your consciousness to cleanse away the burden that's built within you due to the hectic days were accustomed to. Whereas the world might sometimes promote "life" to be something for which you must constantly be on the move to have, to never stop to actually look around you, Aria takes exactly the opposite approach on the matter.
Through her creation Kozue Amano carefully guides us to see the value and richness in what we have and that which surrounds us every day. A breath-taking sunset seen from the highest point in town, the feeling of sharing a precious moment with all your loved ones, the sensation of drawing your lungs full of air on a clear, crisp morning, and so on. Aria is like an altar for all these seemingly mundane things, and if you're a person who hasn't earlier appreciated them much earlier in your life, Aria will make you wonder why you haven't.
But Aria is not just about watching a group of girls sipping tea and chatting. Though appreciating the quiet moments is a clear corner stone in the series's overall atmosphere, there are enough obvious fantasy elements to keep all sorts of readers interested. Cats intelligent enough to interact with humans on some level, vivid dreams and visions of events filled with otherworldly magic, some real and some not. These fantasy elements are carefully kept in control from stealing the show entirely, giving it a tasty spice instead of becoming the actual meal. And it is good to be so, for the occasional touch of fantasy helps accentuate the manga's more mundane magic; something which would be lost if Aria was a constant parade of the sort of stuff you see in spades in any fantasy fiction.
A drawn work as this is, one cannot go by without giving a word about Kozue Amano's visual achievements. The artist's handiwork is simply gorgeous, with clear and smooth character designs, a tremendous amount of care and detail put into the sceneries, and overall well-flowing drawings instead of the sprawling panel arrangements and such so characteristic for many other mangas. Serene and easily viewed images for a series meant so be serene and easily taken to, one cannot argue with the sound logic here.
I might've gotten carried away a bit when I said fantasy elements are scarce in Aria. Aria is a fantasy fiction through and through, even though no dragons and wizards and whatnot are there dancing around day and night. Fact of the matter remains that most of the time the manga tries to show us just how magical plain daily happenings can be, those scenes are highly romanticised. Be it through extremely groomed scenes ("scenery porn" one might call it) or actual fantasy elements, there's always the feeling you're just watching a very sweet dream. Knowing real life will never be as simple and beautiful almost adds a touch of melancholy to the story. But if you can accept it, if you can stomach the childish naivety radiating throughout the series, Aria has many valuable and very real lessons to teach you in that dream.
Fresh, pure, magical! That's how it feels to take Aria's journey. (And Aqua too :P)
Hey everyone, so I just finished to read Aria today I felt the necessity to write some kind of review since it's a piece that deserves it. Absolutely.
If you normally read reviews when not sure if to start some manga, it's simple: just go ahead! This is something so worth to read, an experience so worth to have. I myself am really glad, proud and thankful I found it and I could go trough it. So yeah, GO for it! :)
First of all, let's talk about the art. Amano uses a
very soft and flexible style which enables her to easily express emotions and in a manga of this kind this is very important because the story flows trough frames full and full of emotions. But this stays behind the way of drawing the backgrounds and choosing the points of view which is the key to describing the exact feeling at the exact circumstances and all this work is led magnificently. And we may not forget that the whole"scenery", the whole world the characters live in is simply beautiful and mostly breathtaking. No, seriously - you'll just fall in love with it and the way everybody on it interacts with it because it's just amazing.
This leads me to talk about the story and the characters. As you'll see, it can't be told it's perfect since there are some clichés too but the way it's narrated is, in general, pretty original. As I mentioned before, it all lays around interactions - and if it's not between the main characters it would be between each one of them and the environment which would let you get a really high identification and you'd just stay there and let the power of imagination guide all these brilliant sensations to you. (At some cases may be memories too). No loss to it. Characters may not be something so much oustanding but you got to love them from the first moments. REALLY LOVE. They're all "special" on their own way and it's something you'd easily find out. And once you add to them all the good flow and all the magic and all the mystery elements and all the peaceful moments and combine it to all the enjoyment of life they all are having... you just obtain this huge LOVE.
I said it at the beginning but FRESH is the best way to describe the way you enjoy this manga. Fresh and powerful, fresh and peaceful, "a breath of fresh air", the fresh breeze coming out of the sea, the fresh sea always present in the story. Fresh and unique, fresh and adorable.
Fresh and lovely.
Fresh and lay down, open the book and just enjoy this masterpiece :)