First off, I want throw out a special “Thank You” to Tori over on the Otaku Spirit forums. Thank you so much for sharing this show. I’ve watched it three times to completion now, and it is still just as incredible as the first time I watched it!
Ever since I started watching anime, the slice-of-life genre has been one of the more enjoyable genres for me to watch. They are fun, relaxing shows full of humor and heart. Some examples of great SOL anime are Non Non Biyori, Kiniro Mosaic, Is the Order a Rabbit?, but in my mind the show that sits upon the throne of SoL is the gem that is Aria the Animation.
The story takes place on the planet Aqua (the result of terraforming Mars) in the city of Neo Venezia, a city replicating the city of Venice back on Manhome (Earth). We are introduced to Akari Mizunashi who is an aspiring undine, working for the tour business called Aria Company. The company consists of Alicia, Akari, and their cat “president” Aria. Alicia is the reigning number 1 “Prima Undine” (top rank of tour gondolier) on Aqua with Akari who is the rank of “single” (a step below Prima) as her pupil. The main cast is rounded out with Aika, a single, (the heir of the Himeya Company) and her mentor, the Prima, Akira, from Himeya, and the double Alice from Orange Planet, and her mentor Athena, also a Prima.
The story is about the journey that Akari, Aika, and Alice take on their quest to become Prima Undine. This anime is truly the epitome of “slice of life” as we get lots of little stories that interconnect and show what their lives are like. It is difficult for me to express how well constructed the story-telling is. There was not a single of the 54 episodes that I did not like. Every single one of them had something to contribute to the overall narrative. Whether that was world-building or giving us a chance to more deeply connect with the girls, nothing was wasted. That being said, there were parts that I found less enjoyable than others. The whole ‘mystery’ side of the narrative was perplexing at times and seemed slightly out of place, but I understand it’s necessity in building up Akari’s character as one that is “in-tune” with the city.
The characters are the best part of this show. Akari is adorable in her ditzy and air-headed nature, Aika won me over with her strength while also showing her soft side as well, and Alice was a joy to watch with her childish games and youthful questioning of the world. The mentors are all fantastic in their own ways, Alicia being my favorite. Smart, pretty, kind, and blond, she’s perfect in every way! Ai, a young girl we meet in the first episode that keeps up correspondence with Akari, is also very adorable.
All of the characters have their own little quirks that are extremely charming. Akari with her “Suteki” (wonderful), Alice with her “dekkai” (huge), and Alicia with her “Ara, ara” (my, my) are some of my favorites. I also love the shticks that some of the characters have, an example being when Akari says something embarrasing, Aika respons with “Hazukashii serifu kinshi!” (Sappy lines are not allowed!) with Akari following with an “Ehhhh?!”.
Visually, I find the show to be beautiful despite it showing its age. Aria the Animation came out 2005, with The Natural coming out in 2006. Aria the Arietta, the OVA bridging The Natural and The Origination, was our first look at the anime in 16:9 HD. The art is fairly simple, with a lot of Italian inspired architecture and a lot of time spent on water. The color palette is used effectively with a lot of blues, whites, and greys, making the moments when red, orange or green are used have a lot more impact. The character designs are great. I love the utilization of both regular designs, and what I would call a more “chibi” or cute design. It gives the entire show more of a relaxed feeling when these chibi designs are used, and I often find a good amount of the comedy comes from these moments as well.
The music and sound design are both great. The sound of water lapping against a boat or wall, the wind gently blowing through the street, the creak of the gondola as an oar pushes it accross the water, all contribute to the fantastic atmosphere that this show possesses. The music is perfect for the show, full of whimsy and emotion. The times that the characters do sing, the beauty of it gives me goosebumps. Athen’s singing in particular, I found very powerful and enjoyable.
This anime is also the only anime I have ever watched where I have not skipped the intro. I watched the intro every episode because they do a wonderful thing where the episode actually starts with the opening song. It certainly helps that all of the opening songs are fantastic!
For this kind of anime to be successful, they have to make the viewer become invested in the world and the characters. If you aren’t interested in either of those two things, then there is no point in watching. The beautiful thing about having 54 episodes is that you can take your time in building up your characters and world, bringing the viewer along and having them grow together. I wasn’t a fan of all of the characters when the show started. I didn’t particularly care for Aika, or President Aria. Damnit, though, by the end of this show I was in love with both of them. The last three or four episodes of this show make me cry every single freaking time that I watch them. I know what’s coming. I know how things play out. It does not freaking matter! I am so in love with these characters and and their journey, that their highest highs and lowest lows become mine as well. Alice becoming the ranking skipping Prima brought me to tears; Aika achieving her dream through hard work and dedication brought me to tears. Akari becoming a Prima and taking over Aria company as Alicia retires made me cry. Alicia’s retirement ceremony absolutely wrecked me. And seeing Ai come down those stairs, dressed in her undine outfit, and sit across from Akari, who looks at her the same way that Alicia looked at her? Just unbelievably beautiful.
Do I think that this show is for everyone? No, I do not. It’s slow at times, and there is almost no action to speak of. The romance is minimal, and there are annoying characters. There will be those that can’t watch this because of those reasons. If you can get past them, though, and allow yourself to invest just a little in this world, I promise you that you will enjoy yourself. There will also be more to enjoy soon with the 3 part OVA, Aria the Avvenire, releasing in Japan. The first part has had a theatrical release, and the other two are scheduled for release soon.
TL;DR: Aria the Animation is a fantastic anime about three girls and their journey of trying to become Prima Undine. The art and animation are charming, as is the music and supporting cast. The anime is full of heart and has many life lessons to teach. Absolutely worth checking out.
Aria the Animation glides over the water to: 5/5 Hearts
Recommended Age: All-Ages
Episodes: 54 (3 seasons, 2 OVAs)
Genre: Slice of Life, Drama, Coming of Age
Studio: Hal Film Maker
Aria the Animation – HERE
Aria the Natural – HERE
Aria the Origination – HERE