Aria the Animation–Anime Review

3.5 Stars
This is not the show to watch if you are looking for searing drama, tearful heartbreak or gut-clenching action. It’s more like the ultimate feel-good show, a cheerful vision of a future world in which people are nice to each other and nothing really bad happens to anyone. I don’t think I could stand to marathon this series, but I find that an occasional episode is a good way to regain my emotional equilibrium after watching something like Neon Genesis Evangelion.

This is another example of Nozomi Entertainment’s publishing strategy: find a quality show that has languished unlicensed for several years; license it cheaply and release it without a dub as an inexpensive DVD box set.

  • Original Title
    ARIA
  • Genres
    Science Fiction, Comedy, Slice of Life
  • Languages
    Japanese with subtitles
  • Demographic
    Shounen
  • Contents
    13 Episodes on 4 DVDs (1 box set)
  • Based on
    A manga by Kozue Amano
  • Director
    Jun’ichi Satou
  • Series Composition
    Jun’ichi Satou
  • Character Design
    Makoto Koga
  • Art Director
    Junichirou Nishikawa
  • Chief Animation Director
    Makoto Koga
  • Animation Studio
    Hal Film Maker
  • Broadcast
    TXN 2005
  • Region 1 Publisher
    Nozomi Entertainment

Parental Advisory

There is absolutely nothing here that is likely to frighten a child or offend a parent.

I am generally not a fan of English dubs, but it this case it is rather unfortunate that one is not provided. Unlike the vast majority of animes published in America, this one would be suitable for children who are too young to read the subtitles. (They might not understand everything but they could still enjoy it.) Without a dub they are out of luck.

Premise and Characters

AquaSeveral centuries from now humans have succeeded in terraforming Mars (changing it into an Earth-like planet.) For reasons that are not clear to me they decided to flood the place and change its name to Aqua. Ninety percent of the planet’s surface is now covered by water.
Earth is now called Manhome. We aren’t told much about conditions on Earth. Manhome Some casual remarks suggest that it is fairly polluted, but it is obviously rich enough that its inhabitants can take a vacation on Mars at least as easily as a present-day American can take a European vacation. Indeed, tourism from Manhome seems to be one of the mainstays of Aqua’s economy.
Neo VeneziaThe main tourist destination on Aqua is the city of Neo Venezia which was built as a recreation of twentieth century Venice.
Potato StandOddly, the inhabitants of Neo Venezia seem to be predominantly Japanese. Or maybe that isn’t so odd. If the real Venice were to sink into the mud, who would be more likely to create a replica as a tourist destination? It would be just like the real thing, except cleaner.
The people of Neo Venezia seem happy to live a primitive early-twentieth-century lifestyle.Primitive Telephone Of course this is mostly an illusion, since they control technology that is vastly more advanced than ours. To these people, having one’s house inundated in a flood is merely an interesting diversion.
UkijimaUkijima, the floating island, hovers in the sky over Neo Venezia. It contains the climate-control machinery that keeps the planet at an Earth-like temperature.
UndinesAmong the most popular attractions of Neo Venezia are the Undines, female gondoliers who serve as tour guides and entertainers.
Akari Mizunashi, the main character of the story, came to Aqua from Manhome hoping to become an Undine.Akari She was lucky enough to get a trainee position with the Aria Company, the smallest of the city’s three gondola companies. At the beginning of the story she has been on Aqua for almost a year and has advanced to the level of “Single”.
In the apprentice system used for Undines rank beginners are called “Pairs” and wear gloves on both hands.Pair More advanced students are called “Singles” and wear one glove. Fully-qualified gondoliers are called “Primas” and work bare-handed. Only Primas are allowed to carry paying passengers by themselves.
AkariAkari is a cheerful and somewhat naive girl. She is constantly gushing about the beauty of the planet. She finds it more awe-inspiring than the natives, who naturally tend to take it for granted.
She is also sensitive to something else: the spirits of the pioneers who began the arduous task of terraforming Mars 150 years ago.Pioneers These spirits seem to act as benevolent guardians, demanding nothing except perhaps some reassurance that their dream of creating a better, happier world was fulfilled.
AliciaAlicia Florence is the Aria Company’s only Prima. She is one of the “Three Water Fairies”, the most popular Undines in the city. Clients love her bright smile and cheerful personality. She is always calm and unflappable.
Tradition requires that all gondola companies be led by a blue-eyed cat. (Cats are very important on Aqua.)President Aria President Aria Pokoteng is the head of the Aria company. A strange-looking cat, probably the product of genetic engineering, he is unusually dexterous and seems to understand Japanese, though of course he doesn’t speak it. His duties include eating, sleeping and getting into things.
AiAi is a young girl from Manhome who is not enjoying her family vacation on Aqua. In the first episode she tries to stow away in Akari’s gondola. They become good friends and spend the rest of the series corresponding.
AikaAkari’s best friend Aika Granzchesta is a Single for the Himeya Company, a much larger organization. Aika is competitive and unsentimental, often responding to Akari’s gushing comments with “No sappy lines allowed!”
AkiraAika calls her trainer Akira Ferrari the “Devil Instructor.” She is a demanding, no-nonsense taskmaster, but an Undine of the first rank, one of the “Three Water Fairies.” She and Alicia are long-time friends.
AliceAlice Carroll [1] is a new recruit at Orange Planet, the largest Gondola company. Though skillful at rowing the gondola, she needs to work on her people skills. She is shy and unusually suspicious, always expecting the worst of people in a world that is notably devoid of villains.
AthenaAthena Glory is Alice’s senior at Orange Planet. Though quiet and awkward, she is also considered one of the “Three Water Fairies” due to her amazing singing voice.
AkatsukiAkatsuki Izumo is a “Salamander” who works in Ukijima maintaining the climate. He likes to hang around Aria Company, trying to get a date with Alicia. He teases Akari, calling her “Momiko” (Sideburns Girl).
WoodyAkari’s friend Udo “Woody” Ayanokohji is a “Sylph” who makes deliveries on a flying motorcycle.
Grandma“Grandma” (Akino Ametsuchi) was the founder of the Aria Company. Now retired, she is still revered by all the Undines.

DVD Notes

Don’t skip over the opening credits. They aren’t a stock sequence; the beginning of the episode is happening behind them.
Director in VeniceDirector Jun’ichi Satou travelled to Venice to collect background designs and find out the correct way to row a gondola.
GondolierHe notes that today’s gondoliers are all men since the job is physically demanding and requires a lot of upper-body strength.
LogrollingSo how do the Undines do it? Has genetic engineering made women stronger without changing their appearance? Probably not, given the difficulty the girls have rowing logs. My guess is that advanced materials are used to create lightweight gondolas with reduced friction.

Other Releases

There were three seasons of the anime: Aria the Animation, Aria the Natural and Aria the Origination. Nozomi plans to release all of them as box sets. There was also an OVA called Arietta but I don’t know if there are any plans to license it.

Links

ANN Encyclopedia entry.

Wikipedia entry.

Notes

[1] Yes, the works of Lewis Carroll are quite popular in Japan.