ARIA the ORIGINATION Print
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Friday, 01 April 2011 00:00
ARIA the ORIGINATIONARIA gets its third and final season (complete with a pack-in OVA episode), and I'm a little sad that this is the last I'll be seeing of Neo Venezia. I feel another visit to the real thing coming on to compensate. The days of training for Akari, Aika and Alice are coming to an end, and some of the three water-fairies are looking to the future - meaning that it's all change for some...

I have loved ARIA since I saw the first episode, probably about 5 years or so ago now. Sure, it's one of those shows where for most of the series nothing really happens, but it's the setting (which combines with my own love of the real Venice to quite potent effect), the characters, and the laid-back atmosphere that makes it what it is. This season follows the pattern of the previous two, so if you enjoyed the first two you're not going to be let down here, but after the half-way mark there's a noticeable change in tone as things in Neo Venezia begin to change.

The trigger for that is that the girls have completed their training and, beginning with Alice (in the second-most-touching episode of the entire series) it's time for them to take their Prima exams and achieve their goals. It's what they've been after all this time, what they've trained for several years now to achieve, and as they each achieve that goal you would have to be completely heartless not to get a little emotional yourself. I do feel a little cheated that, in Aika's case, you don't actually get to see her take the exam - she simply meets up with Akari one morning, with the absence of her glove being the only clue of what's happened - but for Alice and Akari, full episodes are devoted to the exam and the resulting removal of their gloves, signifying their promotion. Excuse me while I wipe a little tear from my eye at the memory.

Moving quickly onwards. The rest of the season is filled with the same sort of standalone stories that ARIA is best known for, each taking a day in the girls' lives and following them working, training, having fun and meeting people - perfectly ordinary lives, just in a rather extraordinary setting. Some of the more supernatural stories that we saw in previous seasons are missing this time around - which means no Cait Sith, or trips into Neo Venezia's past - but I can't say that I really missed them. Instead, there's a slight focus on the Aria Company itself, and the Undines who worked for it in the past, before Alicia and Akari - building up the ethos of those people and setting the scene for Akari to take over the reigns, something that she ends up doing sooner than she expected when Alicia announces her own retirement.

I'd love to give ARIA a long review, but there's really not that much to write about it. It's very simple in premise and execution: "healing anime", a taste of something good that, once you've watched an episode or two, will clear away the cares of the day and leave you feeling a little better about yourself and the world after seeing perfection in the lives and world of its cast. The simple ideas are often the ones that work the best, and that's certainly the case with ARIA - unless you're a complete action junkie and can't handle the idea of 25 minutes of peace and relaxation, the simple feel-good factor that Akari and her friends (or perhaps I should use their new aliases, Aquamarine, Rozen Queen and Orange Princess) leave in their wake is enough to make watching the series more than worthwhile. An easy recommendation.

Rating - ***

Arietta
Akari's waiting at the Aria offices for Alicia, but she hasn't appeared when she was meant to - and hasn't contacted Akari to say where she is, either. There's a simple reason for this: it's because Akari is a Prima, and there's no need for Alicia to be there any longer. It's all a dream, of course - she wakes up and Alicia is there, as usual - but it leaves Akari in a thoughtful mood, wondering why Alicia chose her to be her understudy and whether she'll live up to expectations. Turns out that she's not the only one...

Feeling inadequateEnjoying the company

1 - That Imminent Spring Breeze...
The annual Carnevale has just ended - one of the busiest times of year for the gondola companies, and a great chance for the apprentices to get some hands-on experience - but now life is beginning to quieten down again and return to normal. Left with some free time, Akari, Alice and Aika are out relaxing around the canals again when they spot Al and Akatsuki at a canalside cafe - Akatsuki's got an promotion exam coming up, but his studying of it isn't going as well as he'd like. Later, the impending arrival of spring calls for a little celebration...

Study sessionJust qualified

2 - That Smiling Customer...
Akari's just taken a booking - and for the first time, the customer has specifically requested her to be the guide. Thrilled at this, she stays up late that night, planning the route she's going to take her passenger and the sights she's going to sho her along the way. Which of course means that, come the next day, she's wrecked. Aika and Alice have their own ideas of who the mysterious customer could be - a criminal hoping to kidnap Akari, or the legendary mystery examiner come to test her skills, but in reality she's a charming elderly woman by the name of Aramantha. Which doesn't stop Alica and Aika from trying to tail their friend to see what's going on...

AramanthaPursuers

3 - Those Feelings Within...
It won't be long to summer - it's the time of year that should cheer the heart of anyone, and also the time when restoration work in the city kicks into high gear. With many of Neo Venezia's buildings having been transported from the real Venice, there's lots of work to be done - and so the girls decide to go have a look around the changing city. On their way to Cafe Florian, though, they encounter a young patisierre, who in the following days seems to be in Akari's vicinity rather a lot...

Telling offPatisierre

4 - Those Who Aim For Tomorrow...
Akari's been busy looking at the Aria Company work schedule, and can't help but notice that Alicia does far more work than she does - she gets at best one or two days off each week, while Akari spends quite a bit of her time goofing off with her friends. The realisation gets her to wondering just how useful she's being to Alicia, and if there's anything else she can do. Alicia has an idea that might help improve her mood: to put her to work on the Traghetto for a while, the small gondolas that are used to ferry people across the canals. They're one of the few places where Singles are permitted to work without supervision and so, teamed up with three girls from other companies to deal with a particular crossing, she gets to work. But sculling a traghetto is a little different from working her usual gondola, while talking to the other girls about the Prima Promotion Exam only helps increase Akari's doubts...

Feeling uselessFace of determination

5 - That Keepsake Clover...
You know summer is coming when the winter uniforms are finally retired, and it's that time of year again in Neo Venezia. With the changing seasons can come changing moods, too - and not necessarily to more cheerful ones. After seeing Alicia and Athena in action, Aika suddenly realises just how talented the really are - it's a sobering realisation for her, and gets her to wondering just how Akira - who she doesn't see in quite the same light at the other two water fairies - felt being around them. A little overshadowed, perhaps? Just like she's beginning to feel around Alica and Akari...

Same thoughtsEven Akira feels helpless#

5.5 - That Little Secret Place...
With Alicia away on other business for the day, Aria Company is closed - but with Alica and Aika both tied up doing other things, Akari's been left to find her own ways to pass the time. She heads out for one of Neo-Venezia's purely residential areas, somewhere the gondola tours would usually never go, to take a look at the other side of the city - the side away from the tourist trade. Between laundry-filled alleyways and delightful backstreet restaurants, it's a day well spent - and when Akatsuki sees her and tries to catch up, he finds that Akari's faster than he'd though...

Day offIntruder

6 - That Wonderful Extracurricular Lesson...
It's no fun being scolded, even when you know you've done something to deserve it, and while Alicia has never scolded Akari ("Ara ara!!" ::giggle:: hardly counts), she's been on the receiving end of Aika's scolding enough to know that she doesn't like it. Learning that Alicia never scolds Akari does get Alice to wondering, though, just what it would take to push Alicia over the edge - or is she just too perfect? And so she decides to find out, by way of a little spying on the Aria Company offices...

ShockUnderstanding


7 - In That Gently Passing Time...
It's Aria Company's anniversary, and Alicia has shut up shop for the day to take Akari and President Aria out on a little trip. They're headed out to Neo-Burano, one of Neo-Venezia's outlying islands where the pace of life is even slower than it is in the city, to meet a woman named Anna, who many years earlier had been an Undine who was even more popular than Alicia. When she got married, though, she left Aria Company and moved to Neo-Burano with her husband - and making the transition from being an Undine wasn't easy. Alicia has a surprise in store for her and Akari, though, when Grandma drops by to visit...

Snack timeFateful encounter

8 - The Memories of That Precious Person...
Athena's taking Alice on a picnic - or perhaps that was the other way around. Anyway, the idea is enough to get Aika and Akari's imaginations fired up (even though they're not invited), and Alice is clearly looking forward to the big day, having planned it in detail in advance. Like all finely-laid plans, though, this one goes horribly wrong when it seems that Athena loses her memory...

Happy dayIgnorant mode ON

9 - Surrounded by the Orange Wind...
Alice has finally graduted from middle school and, once she's provided keepsakes for the various members of her fanclub (and it's a wonder she didn't go home naked after that), she's finally free to concentrate on becoming an Undine for a while. Aika and Akari are waiting for her at the school gate after the ceremony, and after only a little goofing around, it's down to the serious business of gondola sculling - which of course allows her to spend time with her friends. Athena, though, invites her on a picnic - and that's a prospect that Alice can't turn down. While there are no amnesia tricks this time, though, Athena has another surprise in store...

GraduationBirth of the Orange Princess

10 - The Excitement on that Moon-Gazing Night
Summer has passed its peak, Autumn is on its way, and following her promotion it's Alice's first day as a working Prima - and with Aika and Akari watching her every move, a little dose of nerves could be forgiven. She's badly nervous, though, and even though her customers are full of praise for her Alice herself doesn't feel as though she's been doing all that good a job. It's a times like this that a girl needs her friends, and so Akari suggests a moon-gazing party, the perfect thing to do at this time of year. But for Aika, moongazing is interrupted with a little romance - and an unexpected trip to the bottom of a well...

Spying not allowedTrapped

11 - Those Ever-Changing Days...
Akira's beginning to think of Aika becoming a Prima, although the first order of business in promoting her - coming up with an appropriate alias - is proving a problem. Princess Not Allowed just doesn't cut it, for starters. Alice's unprecedented two-step promotion is the talk of the Himeya dormitories, with a lot of the girls thinking there's no way Aika could be pleased with being jumped over like that, but her cheerful outlook certainly seems genuine enough. If anything Alice's success seems to have gotten Aika even more fired up about becoming a Prima herself - and so Akira decides it's time she took the Prima exam. Alice, meanwhile, is still finding it difficult to adjust to being a Prima - and the increasing difficulty she's having in finding time to spend with her friends...

Comforting handLonely

12 - Embraced by that Blue Sea and Wind...
With Alice working as a Prima, it's just Akari and Aika at practice sessions these days - until one morning when Aika turns up at practice, looking very saddened and apologetic. A look at her hands quickly tells Akari the reason: Aika's passed her Prima exam, and the time for practicing has gone. Akari's genuinely pleased for her friend, carrying her new alias Rozen Queen and the tough job of being branch manager for a new Himeya office, but Akari doesn't have too much time to dwell on the subject, as Alicia drops a small bombshell on her: her own Prima exam will be the next day...

It's timePrima Aquamarine

13 - To That New Beginning...
Akari's become a Prima, but the news has been somewhat overshadowed new that Alicia will be leaving Aria Company to get married - which of course would leave Akari in charge of Aria Company. Given Alicia's profile, the news has taken the city by storm, and Akari's a little overwhelmed by the responsibility that's just been dumped on her shoulders - at the moment, Alicia's still on hand to ask questions to and give guidance, but all good things must come to an end...

HandoverPair Ai


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