ARIA the ANIMATION Print
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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 - ****

1 - That Wonderful Miracle...
Welcome to New 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, New Venezia is a tourist mecca, and amongst others the Aria Company is there to meet their needs. 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...

Akari & AliciaRowing hard

2 - On That Special Day...
Akari wakes up to find Aria's offices flooded - seems New Venezia suffers from Aqua Alta every so often, just like the original. Not a disaster, then - just an inconvenience of life in the city, and an excuse for Akari to take the day off. With waterproof boots on she heads out to see what the city looks like underwater, with President Aria (the company's cat) in tow. While out, though, the President sees an aristocratic cat that catches his eye - the president of Himeya, Aika's company, so Akari stops past to say hello. However a run-in with her trainer, Akira, soon leads Aika to start looking for a new employer...

President AriaAika

3 - With That Transparent Young Girl...
While Aika and Akari are out on a training run, they're overtaken by a young girl they've never seen before. Her uniform indicates she's from Orange Planet, another of New Venezia's undine companies, and that she's also a pair - a trainee - so seeing that she's so far ahead of them in skills really gets Aika's hackles up. The girl's name is Alice, and she initially brushes off any attempts at friendly conversation, but her brief encounter with Akari soon begins to have an effect on her...

Alice, annoyedAlice, attractive

4 - That Undeliverable Letter...
Sylphs are like a special sort of postmen in Neo-Venezia - "wind messengers" who carry messages and packages around the city. Woody is one of the Sylphs that Akari knows, and it's just as well she does - while out in the city one evening, she's handed a letter by an unusual-looking young girl and asked to deliver it for her. Unable to carry out the task herself when she fails to find where the addressee lives, and having gotten no joy out of the post office, Akari turns to Woody for help in fulfilling her promise to delivery the letter...

Ghostly AmiWoody


5 - To That Island Which Shouldn't Exist...
After receiving an invitation to 'Neverland', Akari heads out to an apparently uninhabited island named on this invitation, and goes ashore to explore. She soon finds herself lost, though, only to run into Alice and Aika, who have received similar invitations. Where the invitations genuine, or was someone just playing tricks on them? A little exploration soon leads them to a beach like none they ever soon before, where Alicia and Akira are waiting for them - and they don't have fun in mind. Akira has some extra-special heavy training in mind...

Service, service!Altogether now

6 - That Which You Want to Protect...
Akari's paying her first visit to the Orange Planet company, where Alice stays, and at first sight it's impressive - a huge castle-like building, as imposing as you'd expect from one of Aqua's largest undine companies. Alice has a problem, though: the company's dorms have a strict no-pets policy, but Alice has adopted a stray kitten, and is determined to keep it. The chances of no-one noticing the kitten are remote, too, when her roommate is Athena - Orange Planet's chief undine...

AthenaSleepover

7 - Doing That Wonderful Job...
Akira is leading Akari, Alice and Aika in the latest stage of their training, where they'll get to ride in her gondola while she's carrying passengers, to see how they should be handled. Their passengers for the day are a newly-wed couple, and given how strict and harsh Akira can be when she's not around customers, seeing her turn on the charm is something of a revelation to the other girls - but while her charms work wonders on the wife of the pair, the husband quickly finds Akira to be an annoyance. A few hours in the girls' company, though, soon changes his mind...

LovebirdsOuchie!


8 - That Melancholy President... / That Cool Hero...
It's time for a clearout at the offices of the Aria Company, and even the President's gotten into the cleaning mood. Quite an achievement for a cat - and after all, a President should lead by example. When it becomes clear he's better at making a mess that at tidying one up, though, Akari gets to wondering what the President actually does all day - and realising that he's not much good at anything gets the poor President rather depressed. Later, he develops an obsession with superhero comic Nyan-Nyan-Puu, featuring a crime-fighting kitty cat. But does he have what it takes to become a superhero himself? Nah...

Home cookingWho is that masked cat?

9 - That Starlike Fairy...
It's autumn in Neo-Venezia - the air is growing colder, the leaves are turning brown, and the girls are finding that just when they should be putting more effort into their training, the changing seasons makes them just want to do less. Aika's blaming Alice and Akari for the slowdown, and tries to inject a little bit of urgency into her two friends - they'll never reach their dreams of surpassing the Three Fairies at this rate, after all. In an effort to motivate them, Alicia arranges for them to visit Aqua's greatest-ever undine, now retired and living away from the city. But somehow the legendary Great Water Fairy, now answering just to the name of Grandma, isn't quite what they were expecting...

TravellingGrandma

10 - That Warm Holiday...
It's winter in Neo Venezia, and the girls are feeling the cold - there's a chill breeze on the water of the city that really makes it hard to keep warm. According to Alicia, it's only going to get colder, too, and so the pair head out to stock up on supplies for the coming cold spell. Their shopping trip sees them pass a travel agent, though, where an ad for a hot-springs resort proves too much for Alicia and Akari to resist...

CollectingHotsprings


11 - Those Orange Days...
The cold has seen business dry up for a while, so after some cold-weather training the girls retreat to Aria's offices to warm up. Athena and Akira have also dropped by - while the three Water Fairies aren't seen together all that often now, they were great friends back when they were trainees, just as Akari, Alice and Aika are now, and conversation turns to how Alicia and Akira first met Athena...

HuffSorrow

12 - That Soft Wish...
Another cold & slow day sees Akari being given some time off. There's a bridge she's been wanting to visit, and now she finally has the chance. The bridge is a covered one, very old, and located in an uninhabited area near Neo Venezia. It's not really notable for anything, but Akari has felt drawn to it somehow since seeing a picture of it. Passing through the bridge, though, seems to transport Akari far away from Neo Venezia, where she meets a young woman, Akiko, who's just arrived from Manhome...

AkikoWaiting for the big day

13 - That White Morning...
It's New Years' Eve on Aqua, with 24 months having passed since the last one, and just as on Manhome it's a time for people to reflect on the year gone by while waiting for the new year to begin. Akari's heading out to the Piazza San Marco with the rest of the gang to mark the new year's arrival. There's one unexpected guest, too, in the form of Ai, who's travelled back from Manhome for the occasion. President Aria's disappearance part-way through the evening threatens to spoil the occasion, but when Akari and Ai go to look for him, they discover another aspect of New Venezia they hadn't discovered before...

Ai returnsNew Year celebrations


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