ANN Junichi Sato page

My average ranking: 8.14

Director Pantheon: Junichi Sato Rating
Aria - The Natural (TV) Very good

The second season not only gets straight down to business but it also has 26 episodes, rather than the 13 of Aria the Animation, to steadily develop the characters of the undines and to explore the wonders and mysteries of Neo Venezia. And it's Neo Venezia itself that, in many ways, is the central star of the second season. The famous waterways, bridges, plazas, towers, churches and cafes are obviously spectacular but everywhere the characters turn there is a secret place to discover, revealing a beauty not previously imagined: a meteor shower viewed from the rooftops; the radiance of an abandoned railway carriage; a puppet theatre on a distant island; a local community where strangers pitch in to roll up a giant snowball and build a snowman; or a flooded building that becomes a meeting place for cats. Cait Sith, the gigantic king of cats weaves his way through the season, magically guiding Akari and protecting her in the franchise's only seriously perilous moment. We never get close to Cait Sith, which is as it should be, but there is always something reassuring about him. He may seem corny but like so much of the franchise, corny works surprisingly well.

For sure, Aria continues to move at a leisurely pace, but that has the paradoxical effect of creating a sense of grandeur that is hard to explain by the simplicity of its individual parts and by the absence of any serious conflict. It is an immersive world that seductively draws the viewer into its secret places. One minor complaint. In this season only, in profile the characters appear to have a pronounced underbite, creating a petulant and goofy look.

Aria the Animation (TV) Good

Things happen slowly in New Venezio on the planet Aqua. The seasons come and go (at half the pace of planet Earth) and the young female gondoliers, known as undines, learn about themselves and the world as they learn their craft. It may sound dull, and perhaps it is, and the sentiments can be cheesy at times even if the characters frequently cop the admonishment, "No sappy lines allowed!" Nevertheless, the series is surprisingly moving, culminating in episode 11 when the older undines reflect on their days as apprentices. Like all the other episodes not much happens but the emotional impact is powerful. Clearly, we are in the hands of a very clever story teller.
Aria the Avvenire (OAV) Good

Aria the Origination (TV) Masterpiece

One of the pleasing things about Aria is that it steadily gets better over the three seasons. Although the last season returns to a 13 episode format (well, 14 actually), it brings the franchise to a glorious conclusion. In some ways Aria is like a sonata: the first season is the exposition, the second is the development, while the last contains the recapitulation and coda. (In fact, each episode follows much the same structure, being framed by the email discussions between Akari and Ai.)

The series abandons the magical elements of the previous two seasons and loses nothing by it. Instead we get something new: drama. For sure, it's not earth shattering stuff. Will the three apprentices realise their dreams and become Primas? How will their lives change if they do? What will become of the three Great Water Fairies? By this time, I had come to know the six characters so well, with all their lovable traits and forgivable shortcomings, that I cared enough about the outcome to be thoroughly moved by the unfolding drama. As the series concludes each character has moved forward with her life. It's bittersweet in that some things will be lost but there is an unrelenting optimism that even more has been gained. That's what change is all about, says Aria: embrace it and appreciate it. Yes, again I admit it can be corny, but it works a treat. One of the reasons it gets away with the preachiness is that it never takes itself too seriously. The messages are mostly delivered goofily and, more often than not, Aika lightens the mood with a typical admonishment, such as "No sappy lines allowed!"

One thing the final season does keep is the wider aspect and painterly style of the OVA. Thankfully it brings the characters' facial profiles back on model. It also maintains the first two seasons' sense of wonder. The vision of the wysteria in the flooded convent is, for me, the most sublime such moment in the franchise. And then there's the last episode, a coda where everything is turned on its head but somehow makes perfect sense. The final revelation of who the new apprentice is ends the franchise on a perfect note. No unresolved final chords for this Aria.

Aria the OVA ~Arietta~ Good

Not only does the OVA finally gives the franchise a 16:9 aspect ratio but the artwork is more beautiful than ever - more painterly and avoiding some of the prosaic perspectives that were minor imperfections in the first two seasons. At only half an hour it is really just a bonus episode and not a particularly noteworthy one at that. Akira and Alicia explore the Campanile at night and, typically, the setting is a metaphor for the lesson the younger undine learns. It's hard to judge one 30 minute episode in isolation from the three seasons, given that it necessarily lacks the context and exquisite emotional build-up of the three TV series, so all I can say is that it's averagely good for the franchise.
Junkers Come Here (movie) Very good

Simple but emotive tale of Hiromi, a young girl quietly going to pieces as she learns that her frequently absent parents are planning a divorce. A welcome intervention comes in the form of her wise, communicative dog, Junkers. While the style is reminiscent of Isao Takahata, the signature magic and humour of Junichi Sato infuse the film with a warm glow. Despite the simplicity of the artwork, the film is a visual treat: frames are composed so that important aspects are highlighted against a subdued background palette - a style that works perfectly for Sato's message.
Princess Tutu (TV) Masterpiece

Starts off as a delightful magical girl anime with potential and ends up not only living up to its promise but also delivering much, much more. It doesn’t just go beyond the magical girl genre, it completely blows it out of the water. And it doesn’t do this by undermining the genre, or satirising it, or becoming an otaku moe-fest. It follows the simple route of completely transcending it. It doesn’t hurt that the main character is both lovable and interesting, whatever her transformation – duck, ballet student or Princess Tutu. It also doesn’t hurt that our understanding and appreciation of the other three protagonists (Mytho, Fakir and Rue) end up in completely different places from where they started. Or what starts as a children’s story ends up going to some dark places indeed. Or that it plays some very adult post-modern games with our expectations. Or that who ends up with who defies normal fairy tale conventions. Or that some wonderfully surreal things keep popping up before our eyes. Or that the fate of the main character is satisfyingly apt, if bittersweet. Above all, Princess Tutu is a celebration of the joy and wonder of anime. Classical music (ballet scores for the most part along with large doses of Pictures at an Exhibition) is an integral part of the story and accompanies all the climactic scenes that are inevitably resolved through dance. The sheer beauty of it creates an intensely emotional response.