ARIA The Animation S1 Collection (Cert U)

3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 320 minutes approx.

Release Date: October 25th

Mars has been the one planet all sci-fi writers have chosen to either set their stories on or have its inhabitants invade earth. From HG Wells to Flash Gordon to Ridley Scott, interpretations of what lies on the big red planet’s hallowed surfaces vary greatly. Anime, not wanting to be left, has its own ideas about this as well.

In the early 24th century, Mars is now a habitable terraformed planet after 150 years of being covered by oceans and renamed Aqua. This story is set in Neo-Venezia, a harbour city where the streets are mostly water and travel is by gondola. Three main companies offer the service of water-guides known as Undine – Himeya Company, Orange Planet, and Aria Company – whilst Undine are young woman trained to a high standard.

Each company has a cat as its president and a Prima Undine of great repute known the Three Water Fairies. The subject of this series is Akari Mizunashi, a Single or trainee undine for Aria Company, a 15 year-old émigré from Manhome (Earth) for this purpose. Her mentor is Alicia Florence, one of the Water Fairies, a kindhearted woman with an easygoing attitude, whilst Akari also is close to company President Aria, supposedly a cat but looks more like a Moomin.

ARIA is based on the manga by Kozue Amano, which actually began life as Aqua until a name change occurred when it shifted publications. This adaptation was made in 2005 which will be evident by the 4:3 picture ratio and dated, or if you prefer vintage visuals and production values. It ran for three series, also taking in 4 OVA episodes, with a feature film due at the end of this year.

Not to be confused with Aria: The Scarlet Ammo, this maybe a sci-fi in concept but feels quite detached from this genre in execution. For a start, it is very laid back and seldom has anything resembling conflict in it; the reliance on futuristic technology is also kept to a minimum, with laptop-esque devices for sending emails and the odd mini spacecraft being the sum of this.

One facet of Japanese sci-fi that has remained in this show’s DNA is the philosophical nature of existence, though not quite as heavy and involved as some shows. Existential dilemmas are not on the agenda her, aside from a hint that Akari has some buried memories of Aqua before it was colonised by humans, maybe from her childhood or something deeper.

That’s as maybe if future plots explore this, for now, we have 13 episodes of gentle slice of life antics featuring Akari and fellow Singles, Aika Granzchesta of Himeya and Alice Carroll of Orange Planet. Aika is Akari’s first friend on Aqua, a forthright girl with the catchphrase “no soppiness allowed” whenever anyone is sentimental. This might be because her mentor, Water Fairy Akira Ferrari, is a strict and stern teacher, the opposite of her old friend Alicia.

Rounding off this rookie trio is Alice, the youngest and most taciturn of the group, which could be attributed to her mentor Athena Glory being a klutzy airhead, a surprise as she is the third Water Fairy. Together the three girls learn their craft, rely on each other, and have fun as a group when not experiencing their own daily troubles, but essentially, the star of the show is Akari.

Covering a calendar year, each episode provides a learning curve for Akari whether it is as a Single or life in general. The first episode sees a young girl from Manhome named Ai turn up at Aria Company wanting a ride with Alicia who is busy, and as a Single, Akari is not yet allowed paying customers. So, Ai sneaks aboard Akari’s gondola when she goes for a practice, getting a free ride.

From this, an unlikely friendship is born, maintained via email for the remainder of the run until the last episode. This allows Akari to narrate her feelings whilst providing the show was a method of recapping events without taking up too much time. During the course of this series, Akari and friends continue to train, meet a legendary Undine, learn about the past, and resolve some family issues, yet still manage to include beach and hot springs episodes!

Being a product of its time, the animation isn’t as slick as today’s CGI output although the artwork is still pretty, with the shimmering blue watery vistas which create a relaxed and dreamy atmosphere. The character designs suffer from some of the cast being too similar looking whilst the overall facial aesthetic is reminiscent of Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess! And with humour being a prominent factor, the cast regular drop off model to exaggerate their reactions in true anime style.

However, for this writer, Aria the cat is the most fun character to watch. Despite his unconventional appearance and not sounding like a cat, his presence lifts every scene he is in. If not playing a background role or a comic relief distraction, such as trying to romance Himeya’s feline president Hime with no luck, Aria gets an episode to himself – in the first half he runs away from home after feeling unappreciated, the second he plays superhero. It’s absurd and almost surreal but a hoot nonetheless.

With no apparent overarching plot present, it is left to interpretation whether there is an end goal for this series, regarding Akari’s journey. Hints that her story runs much deeper than what is shown here implies either something from the manga hasn’t been adapted prior to this point in the story, or the next two seasons will have more substance to them narrative wise.

Despite not knowing what to expect from ARIA The Animation before watching and finding an unexpected treat, I am keen to see where it goes from here. For now, if you want something gentle, comforting, heart warming and funny to lose yourself in, ARIA does the trick.

 

Extras:

Japanese Language 2.0

English Language 2.0

English Language 5.1

English Subtitles – Yellow or White

Disc 1:

Episode 3 Commentary

Apprentice Undines Interview Pt 1

SATOJUN’s “Venice, I’m Sorry!” Pts 1 & 2

Disc 2:

Episode 6 Commentary

Apprentice Undines Interview Pt 2

SATOJUN’s “Venice, I’m Sorry!” Pts 3 & 4

Disc 3:

Primas Interviews pts 1 &2

SATOJUN’s “Venice, I’m Sorry!” Pts 5 & 6

Commercial Collection

Clean Endings

 

Rating – *** ½ 

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