Company: ARIA Company/Hal Film Maker
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 10/6/05 to 12/29/05
“This city is made of miracles . . .”
Set in a future not terribly distant, the planet we now call Mars has become Aqua — terraformed into a beautiful water world, much as classic science fiction portrayed Venus. Neo-Venezia is a city of canals, a replica of Venice, where pretty young girls row gondolas for tourists from Earth, or “Man-Home”. Apprentice “undines” learn the ropes as professional gondoliers, and learn about people. And about cats, too, naturally.
summary by Papa-san
Reviewed: 10/05/14 by
Highs: stunningly beautiful artwork and animation; emotionally gripping stories; very real characters
Lows: the very real characters are difficult to distinguish sometimes; slow pace; lack of male characters
The most glowing accolade I can give to this series, is that it portrays a very real world in which I would really, really want to live. Although the character drawing is fairly standard anime fare, the background artwork is just short of breathtaking. No off-the-rack backdrops here! With the look of watercolor landscapes, the city vistas and seascapes are convincing, original, and delightful. The ever-present water of ocean and canals is unobtrusive CGI, almost photo-realistic, and reflects the surrounding scenes brilliantly.
The 13 episodes are simple “slice of life” pastiches. The story’s focus is apprentice undine Mizunashi Akari, a recent arrival from Earth (“Man-Home”) working for Aria Company. Through her, we meet a number of tourists and Aquans. (Ep. 9’s “Grandma” is just delightful!) Oh, and cats. We also visit around Aqua, and learn some of its history. It is only vaguely suggested that there are other cities on Aqua besides Neo-Venezia, and that they too may reflect the different cultures of their founders.
Eccentrically, the different gondola companies keep blue-eyed cats (a good luck symbol) as mascots, honoring them with the title of “President.” However, it seems they have an importance even beyond that . . .
Although this is a future world built and maintained by Science (weather controllers are responsible for the ongoing terraforming), there is no lack of magic. Humanity always has a breath of the supernatural about it, and two episodes are devoted to the ability of the human spirit to transcend time and space.
There is, as with much anime, a bit of an environmental theme. The ecological state of “Man-Home” is not discussed much, but it is clear that old Earth is not the paradise Aqua is. The few clues seem to show a divergence not horrible, but perhaps more akin to the difference between, let us say, Tokyo and Hokkaido.
A slight quibble, there are a couple references to tides. Tides as we know them on Earth would be impossible on Mars, which lacks significant moons. Episode 2 depicts an annual event, “Acqua Alta” (High Water), where the city is flooded to the depth of several inches. The cause of this is not specified. Later, a gondola is trapped behind a bridge because of a high tide, which will not fall until morning.
Music is quite nice. Opening and closing themes are pleasant, but not particularly memorable. However, incidental and background music throughout is perfectly suited to the scenes. It varies from light ballads to simple solo guitar or piano melodies, often classical-sounding. I’ve said elsewhere it is the best kind, which you hardly notice at first. Then you realize how much it is making a scene.
There isn’t a lot of downside here. Alicia-san’s “Areh areh areh!”s get a bit overdone, maybe.
One weakness is that the girls all seem very much the same (to the point that all their names begin with “A”), and I found it sometimes difficult to keep track of who was who. And as delightful as the girls’ story is, there is not much in the way of character development, which I think must be one of the hallmarks of a great story, as opposed to one which is simply entertaining. The underlying theme is more one of continuance, the ongoing generations, which is mostly summed up in the last episode.
The only significant criticism I would offer is that the art style drops too often from the “realistic” into the humorous “wild take” style that characterizes much of Azumanga Daioh — very flat and simplistic, almost child-like drawing. To me, it just seems jarring and out of place in this series which is otherwise so natural.
President Aria, Aria Co.’s mascot, is much more anthropomorphic (in personality and behavior) than the other cats, and is so eccentrically drawn as to be hardly recognizable as a feline. In his case, this works well as a counterpoint to the naturalism — it is a constant, and not an interruption to the overall style.
Finally, this may be a bit too much strictly a shojou story for girls. Male characters are largely incidental. There is little in the way of cheesecake or “fan-service.” Even the visit to the onsen (yes, hot springs on Mars!) is accomplished wrapped modestly in towels.
All in all, this is a “must-see”, and I admit I’m looking forward to the sequels. It may not have the depth of some other anime, but it will leave you warm and fuzzy, and that’s something to be cherished these days.
Oh, almost forgot: “Embarrassing remarks are not allowed!”
See also Aria The OVA ~Arietta~
Aria The Animation can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.