Saturday, March 2, 2013

ARIA Series Review

Overall Ratings:
Aria the Animation: 8.0/10
Aria the Natural: 7.5/10
Aria the OVA: Arietta 8.0/10
Aria The Origination: 9.0/10

The whole Aria series is a slice of life genre anime with some comedy, a bit of a drama, a very little of romance and close to zero plot development. If the genre alone isn't enough reason for you to stay away from this series, you should also consider that it goes for as long as 54 episodes (including the Special and the OVA). As for me, I became interested in the Aria series only due to the third season's (Aria the Origination) outstanding ratings. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was "oh, it's probably because only the most stoic fans kept on watching that till the third season it has that good average score". But a simple research on the season's popularity showed that it's not the case. And so, one evening I caught the right mood and start watching the series.

A floating islands and a spaceship above the city of Neo-Venezia
The setting is distinct and appealing. The early 24th century, Mars, now known as Aqua, was colonized and terraformed into a blue planet, more than 90% of its surface is covered in oceans. Advanced technologies grant humanity control over Aqua's gravity (it's maintained to match those of Earth, so there is no 0.38 g stuff) and climate, however those facilities are hidden underground and on the floating island respectively. The city of Neo-Venezia on Aqua, where the story takes place, is a cultural and architectural heir of Earth's Venice. In this city of many channels and waterways, gondolas are the primary mean of transportation for people, goods and even mail delivery (there are also air bikes, but they are far less common). Food and most of the goods in Neo-Venezia are produced by manual labor. The only things that constantly remind it's the 24th century and not the 20th is the Ukijima island, which floats in the skies above the city and spaceships with tourists from the Earth (now known as Manhome) which arrive and depart every day. An undine - a female gondolier acting as a tour guide - is an elite profession many girls dream about, but only a few are capable to become one due to the tight competition.

Mizunashi Akari, Aika S. Granzchesta and Alice Carroll in the only fleeting moment Aika had a nice haircut
The main character is an apprentice undine called Mizunashi Akari, who is employed by the tiny Aria Company along with her senior and close friend Alicia Florence, the current top undine in the whole industry.  Akari is cheerful and optimistic to the extreme. This defines the show's whole mood and atmosphere, since most of the show centers on Akari. Akari exchanges letters with Ai, a girl from Manhome, who initially didn't like Neo-Venezia, but changed her opinion of the city and Aqua thanks to Akari. This letters are cited in the beginning and in the end of each episode, and with every story Akari tells, Ai's affection towards Neo-Venezia grows, what is supposed to reflect the feelings of the viewer as well. Every episode depicts a different story from Akari's everyday life, what usually includes combined training with her friend Aika S. Granzchesta, who is the heir of Himeya, the oldest and the second largest gondolier company in Neo-Venezia and Alice Carroll, a one year younger prodigy from the third and the final gondolier company Orange Planet, which is currently the most successful. During their training, the girls together with the viewer learn more about the city of Neo-Venezia, its history, traditions, secrets and people. The other theme is girls' relationship with their seniors, "Snow White" Alicia Florence, "Crimson Rose" Akira E. Ferrari and "Siren" Athena Glory, known as "Three Water Fairies". Standing at the top and being the role models, as well as objects of jealousy for everyone, they struggle to be a good mentors for their juniors, despite constantly being over-occupied with customers. And that's it. The setting, well-written characters, light mood, beautiful graphics and music - that's all this show has. But, believe me, that's more than enough.

Look at how the snow on the back side of the stair is depicted, what attention to the details! 
A few words about the graphics and music. Despite having pretty low resolution , this show looks awesome even in the year 2013. Attention to the details is astonishing. The director Junichi Sato made a trip to Venice with his team prior to filming this show. That allowed him to include many architectural details in the anime, which were absent in the original manga. Depiction of rowing a gondola is also realistic and everything looks great in motion. The choice of colors is vise, a perfect balance between brightness and realism. The music is exclusively acoustic. The quality of the recording is very impressive, when I was watching this anime with my hi-end rig handling the audio part, it seemed that musicians were present in my room. All the instruments sound very natural and "alive" with no synthetics at all. As for the music itself, it just perfectly fits with the show. Most of the themes have light mood (as the show itself), though there are some heartwarming and nostalgic ones like "Mirai he no Kouseki" from the third season's OST.

As for why does the third season have the best ratings, the answer is simple: because it concludes the story. While I can only see the Aria series as a whole, every season ends on some logical point and there are some "specialization" between seasons. Aria the Animation introduces the characters and the setting, then shows a bit of everything. Aria the Natural is the main body of the series and shows Akari's life on her third year on Aqua (note that years on Aqua are twice as long than years on Earth due to the planet orbit). Aria the Origination is more about coming of age and shows the most character and story development of the whole series. When I finished watching the Animation, I was pretty satisfied with the show, but I thought that it ended just at the right moment after those 13 episodes. I had huge doubts that I would appreciate watching the 26 episodes of the same thing in the Natural. Yet, somehow it went pretty smoothly. After the Natural I had no doubts at all that I would appreciate the Origination and that parting with favorite characters would be sad. OVA: the Arietta is just like another episode of the Natural, or rather like on of the best episodes.
Continue to the second part (spoilers)

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