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R1 DVD Reviews
Friday, 09 October 2009 00:00
ARIA the ANIMATIONSlice-of-life shows. High-speed pacing has never really been a feature of them, but ARIA the ANIMATION (all those capital letters are the official spelling, and who am I to argue) takes the artform to a new level, with a show that seems designed for insomniacs. That's not a criticism, though, as ARIA definitely has that 'must watch' factor that so many shows are missing. I wonder if I can get my 3-year-old to watch it...

For full episode summaries and screenshots, check the following pages of this review. Welcome to Neo Venezia, a recreation of old Venice on the watery planet of Aqua (previously known as Mars, until it was terraformed). Like its Earth-bound namesake, Neo Venezia is a tourist mecca, and amongst others the Aria Company is there to meet the needs of those who want to see the sights by gondola. Enter Akari Mizunashi, trainee undine (professional gondolier). One day, while out practising her rowing skills, Akari picks herself up a free-rider - young girl Ai, just arrived from Manhome (that's Earth, to you and me) and wanting to experience what it's like to be in a gondola. Even if she has to blackmail a rookie to get the chance...

The first thing you notice about Neo Venezia is just how close to reality the setting is. I've been to Venice a couple of times, and the attention to detail that's gone into recreating the real thing is impressive - Piazza San Marco? There, and amazingly accurate. Rialto bridge? Check. Offshore islands, in the same themes and Murano, Burano and Venice's other outlying areas? Neo Venezia has equivalents, used to good effect in the story. Seen from the air, the city doesn't have the same layout as real Venice, but that just adds to the authenticity - an island city created during the terraforming of Mars is unlikely to have the same coastlines as its Earthly inspiration, and that just makes it even more believable.

There's even been thought given to the major differences between Earth and Mars, or Manhome and Aqua as we should get used to calling them. Aqua is smaller and further from the sun - it should have lower gravity and a colder temperature. No problem - the setting includes the gnomes and salamanders, specialised professions that work to maintain an artificial gravity field and atmospheric warming that keep the climate close to Manhome's. It's that attention to detail again, leaving no stone unturned.

But enough of the background details. Star of the show Akari is a native of Manhome, and has come to Neo Venezia to become an undine - although since her trainer Alicia is in such high demand you have to wonder if it'll ever actually happen. Also introduced are Alicia herself, and their counterparts at the Himeya and Orange Planet: Akira and Aika, and Alice and Athena (yes, all the female names in the series begin with 'A'). The characters of each pairing are surprisingly similar - Akari and Alicia are airy and absent-minded; Akira and Aika are fiery and determined; while Alice and Athena both have big reputations, and real-life attitudes that don't quite live up to them. The characters are all slightly dysfunctional - their lives may be normal, but they're not, quite - and that brings a certain amount of humour into most situations that just stops the laid-back feel from completely taking over and adds to the interest.

As for the stories... This is 'day in the life' stuff in every sense of the word - each episode just takes a fairly typical day in the girls' lives, and lets it play out. They work, they play, they usually meet people who may or may not have a story to tell, and then the day and episode end. Rinse, repeat. What stops this from becoming as boring as hell? Ask me later when I've worked it out. There are two episodes which play games with the flow of time, as a way of explaining Aqua's past, but for the most part there's a firm grounding in the reality of the setting, which is really just background to add a sense of wonder to what would otherwise be fairly normal lives.

ARIA is simple, straigtforward entertainment. It's designed to allow you to unwind, to watch without getting involved in the minutae of plot twists and turns - you finish each episode free of the world's cares for a while, and without having been taxed in any way. By its very nature its pacing is slow, and that will limit its appeal for a lot of people - but if you can, at least give it a try. Personally, I love it, and ARIA comes highly recommended.

Rating - ****