Reviewby Luke Carroll,
Aria the Animation
In the early 24th century, Mars has been terraformed by mankind into a sparkling planet covered in water... Akari Mizunashi, at the age of 15, has left everything behind to travel to that reborn world, now known as Aqua. More than anything, Akari wants to be an "undine" - a female gondolier who navigates the canals of the Aquan city of Neo-Venezia. As she begins her training with the prestigious Aria Company Akari be up to the challenges that await her on the path to achieve her dream?
Like an aged bottle of alcohol you keep for special occasions, Aria is an anime that requires viewing over an extended period of time. Much like that bottle of alcohol, the reason you don't have too much too often isn't because it tastes so good that you will crave for more with every glass. But rather the fact that with every glass you have, you quickly chip away its special meaning until all you are left with is a foul tasting bottle of rum. Unfortunately for me I didn't learn about that tidbit until quite sometime later (teaches me for not researching first), however thanks to the wonders of a rather busy social schedule, I have been gifted some extra time to reflect and ultimately readjust my views on this rather strange series.
If I was ever asked to describe this series in three words, it would be simply "girls rowing gondolas". Give me five words and I'd reply "ridiculously happy girls rowing gondolas". Now that might be a bit mean sounding, but trust me when I say that you will be spending an incredible amount of time watching the cast have private talks as they row their boats down canals on seemingly flat waters. You will also be puzzled by the lack of storyline even if you can find it. And to top things off the world that Aria is set in is so peaceful and pleasant that it can be almost sickening at times.
In saying all that there is a silver lining. As I mentioned earlier, I made the mistake of watching this series in completely wrong way. It is by nature a rather simple anime that runs at a very casual pace, so viewing it at light-speed was always going to wind up in problems. Watching it at a general pace produces an entirely new beast, where the lack of storyline means there's really nothing to think about with each episode and the ridiculous pleasantry becomes sort of uplifting after a hard day out.
This makes liking Aria a very subjective thing. Whilst there are many anime out there with similar casual slice-of-life ideas, none take it to the level Aria achieves. It's so clean and happy that the world it's set on could have its name changed to Heaven. Heck, not even the fabled beach episode features any skin (unless generic one pieces are your thing). On the bright side, this of course means the series is also very child friendly. In fact many of the episodes have really simple story lines that boasts lessons of kindness and good deeds.
The series also looks wonderful. Boasting a world designed with the blueprint of Italy's picturesque Venice, Aria prides itself on calming visuals. Colours are soft and simple, and the detail work is not overdone. Unfortunately however, the character designs are a little on the generic side of things, and the occasional ugly CGI effect does rear its head in at times. However these rarely detract from what is a wonderful -if slightly dated- viewing experience. On a minor note, the subtitles for this release are surprisingly hard-coded to the video and unfortunately I did come across a handful of minor compression issues during my viewings, thankfully they were very brief in nature.
Where Aria shines brightest is in the music department. Although only released as a 2.0 audio track, the series makes full use of its Venice atmosphere to bring forth an array of piano and soft guitar strums to really drill home the gondola feeling. The series also uses the often overlooked feature of having the opening song actually integrate with each episode, providing a nice notion not to hit the skip button. As with a few of Siren's recent releases, Aria is Japanese only. Thankfully the seiyuu all hit the marks with their characters and do well in giving each of them a personality of their own.
Extras wise, Siren have wisely thrown everything onto a disc of its own for Aria. Included are two two-part interviews with the voice actors, a six-part travelogue of director Junichi Sato's research trip to Venice, a couple of commercials, a preview of season two and finally two clean endings (which not only barely differ from each other, but thanks to a tacky English only credit screen, aren't even used for any of the episodes). The interviews and travelogue are certainly the meat of it all and coming in at over and hour and a half of footage combined will keep you busy with the series for just that little while longer.
Whilst it may not attract the attention and praise of other mainstream titles, it's hard to deny that Aria is a breath of fresh air to the anime world. Its peacefulness and lack of a storyline will certainly turn away a number of viewers, but those craving for something simple, charming and kid friendly can do little wrong. Regardless of its popularity, Aria will certainly go down as one of the slowest, kindest and anti-dramatic series to ever be produced.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : A
Music : A
+ Immersive music, constantly uplifting and positive, kid friendly.
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