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ARIA the NATURAL #2 PDF Print E-mail
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R1 DVD Reviews
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 00:00
ARIA the NATURALTime for another soothing visit back to Neo Venezia, where Akari's connection with the mysterious Cait Sith seems to becoming ever stronger, while the girls themselves are continually learning more about themselves - with Aika in particular learning that life has its downs as well as its ups...

With this being a multi-disc set, you can find the usual full episode summaries and screenshots on pages 2-5 of this review - although I have to say, as ever with ARIA, that a screenshot really can't do justice to the look and feel of the show.

The set brings us another 13 episodes, which are essentially split into two main story 'arcs' - and I use the word hesitantly, as rather than being an ongoing story as such, the arcs are more a series of interconnected happenings. ARIA doesn't really do 'story' in the traditional sense, that's part of what gives the series its unique feel, and many episodes here can't be said to belong to either arc - they're just there, with their own happenings, to bring another 25 minutes of relaxation and wonder to you.

The first arc we'll look at involves Aika and the way she's growing up, maturing from a girl into a more self-assured woman - or at least, that's what she hopes the end result is going to be. The episodes that feature her all serve the purpose of teaching her that being an adult isn't necessarily easy - the girls are used to looking at Alicia, Akari and Athena as these three carefree, eternally-happy people who really don't have many cares in the world, and Aika wants her own adult life to mirror that image. That's not an image of reality, though, and its that realisation that provides Aika with a real challenge to deal with. She also has to learn that growing up isn't about outward appearance, but about the person inside.

These are things that most people have to deal with at some stage or another - I'm 37 years old, and I can look back on when I was in my late teens as Aika is and see the difference between who I was then and who I am now. For some people, that transition almost passes them by, it's only when they look back that they can see the changes, but Aika is trying to push the process and bring about changes that she can see in herself, which in many ways is a recipe for disaster. Along the way, though, Aika becomes possibly the most interesting and watchable character in the series - yes, it may focus on Akari, but Akari doesn't really change over the course of the series (more about that later). Aika does, and in doing so became my favourite of the trainee undines.

That's not to say that Akari is neglected, of course - she's still the star of the show and gets the lion's share of the screentime, but her purpose seems to be more to explore Neo Venezia's more unusual, supernatural aspects than to experience much in the way of character growth herself. Her connection to Cait Sith, the giant king of the city's cats, was established in previous volumes and is taken to the next level here - he's no longer settling for simply tolerating Akari's presence, but takes positive steps to see her, in one episode saving Akari from possibly being spirited away, in another inviting her to travel on his felines-only galaxy railway. For a being that most of the city's inhabitants consider mere myth, to Akari he's very real, and his appearances are never anything less than intriguing. Just what is there about Akari that draws him to her? What is he, really? These aren't questions that the show even tries to answer, leaving it you the viewer to use their own imagination - and given the show's nature, you can't help but think about it.

The downside of this is that Akari's as much of a ditz at the end of the series as she was at the beginning - she misses out on growing as a character by being too busy doing other things. There are perhaps the beginnings of the thought in her mind that she's more interested in the experience of meeting new people than in actually being an undine, but if that's the case it's not explored here - something for the next season, perhaps.

ARIA has been described by its director as a "healing anime", something you watch to put the cares of the world behind you and that allows you to pull yourself together. It does that through its characters and setting, and does it very well - although if you're looking for plot, you're looking in the wrong place. I can't resist its charms, though, and have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who has the little bit of patience required for it to start weaving its magic.

Rating - ****