What They Say:
Akari, Aika and Alice are three girls who share a single dream: to become the most talented gondoliers in all of Neo-Venezia! Every day they train toward their goal, exploring all the wondrous sights that the water-covered planet Aqua has to offer. Whether it’s spending a wild day at Carnevale, sharing a beautiful sunset, or even crossing paths with the mysterious spirits that dwell in Aqua’s shadows, for these three friends, each day is a new adventure!
Contains episodes 1-13.
It’s a return to the world of Neo-Venezia where we’re able to sample the slow, smoothing and relaxing life of the Undines and their friends.
Nozomi’s release of the series mirrors the first season where it’s presented only in its original Japanese language format. While dub fans may be disappointed by this, the series presents itself well here in its stereo form encoded at 192kbps. The show is essentially all dialogue driven with little in the way of serious directionality to it and that gives it a very soothing feeling when combined with the generally mellow instrumental music. There isn’t anything aggressive in this show but it all maintains the right kind of atmosphere that it wants to present in order to keep you engaged with it. In listening to these thirteen episodes, we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The series is spread out across four discs in a 4/3/3/3 format with all the extras on their own fifth disc. The show isn’t one that has a really high budget so there isn’t a lot of detail or fluid motion to it at times, which allows for the bitrate to vary a whole lot more. Some scenes do show some noise in the backgrounds and a touch of mild blocking here and there, but by and large this is a smooth and solid looking presentation. The main thing people will notice more than anything else is some of the aliasing that goes on during the various panning sequences, but that’s even less so compared to the first season so it’s not much of an issue in general. If you liked the first season, this one is more of the same but just a little bit better.
Aria: The Natural Part 1 mirrors the first season of the series in its packaging which is a huge plus as that was done really well. The series is housed in a solid heavy chipboard box with each of the main panels featuring some great looking detailed artwork. The two main panels are different in approach, with the front panel having a portion of the secondary cast of characters set against some of the great architecture while the back panel has the main trio of characters and Alicia together outside in a field with lots of green that feels odd. Within this box are five thinpak cases. Each cover features a different character pairing set against a part of the city. The first has Akari and Alicia together in front of their place, the second has Akari and Aika together whilethe third has Alice and Athena and the fourth features the company presidents together with the younger girls behind them. The fifth cover for the extras is different as it’s a sunset hued piece with the main trio of girls holding their nightshine chimes as they smile. The back covers all follow a uniform approach with a lot of white space, some simple but solid shots from the show and the same summary for each volume. The individual discs special features are clearly listed and the technical grid runs everything through according to that volume. No inserts are included nor are there reversible covers.
Within the box we get one special item that’s included with each set, the “Neo-Venezia Episode Guidebook Part 1” which is done in full color non-glossy paper. black and white. The book runs about twenty pages and covers each of the episodes with character and setting artwork pieces, some shots from the show and a brief bit about a particular of that episode. After that, there’s a few pages of various trivia items that help to fill in little nuggets about the show that are discovered while watching it.
The menu design for the series is one that reworks the cover art for each respective volume and zooms in on it a bit while placing the navigation strip along the bottom. The colors and detail for each cover is much more vibrant here and the clarity really shines well. They’re not over designed menus with a lot of animation but they take the core piece from the cover and add enough flourish and design to it to tie all together in a solid way. With there being no language options here, the individual selections look a little meager but are easy to navigate. Player presets are obviously a non-issue but it is worth noting that you can turn the subtitles off on the fly should you choose to.
The first season spread its extras out across each of the volumes, but this set has decided to put them all on their own disc which certainly gives it a stronger value feeling. The extras are pretty lengthy overall and certainly worth checking out after taking in the series. We get a good five minute introduction/promotional video to the world which sets the mood just right. There’s a fun ten minute long interview with the series director, Junichi Sato, who is always fun to watch, especially since he’s asked right off the bat why they used the subheading of The Natural. There’s a nice seven minute interview with Yui Makino who sang the opening and closing songs as well as some of the inserted pieces where she talks about how she approached the vocals for the series. There’s also the clean version of the ending sequence that we get in these episodes. The technical crew gets a chance to talk as there is a really good seventeen minute video piece with the sound director, music director and Sato as they explore how they approached that aspect of the series. The Japanese cast isn’t left out either as they get an eighteen minute piece where they talk about their characters and views on the show which is very nice and almost sweet at times.
After the first season of thirteen episodes, Aria managed to nab itself a second season made up of twenty-six episodes. The first season introduced us to the world and its characters as well as the simple charm of a very laid back life. It was very appealing and relaxing to be sure, but it’s one of those series where very little really happens. That’s not a bad thing as it envelops you with the kinds of stories it tells, but it’s not something that’s usually brought over. It’s also an odd kind of series because in a way, even though we have over three hundred minutes of things going on, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about. The series is about these girls living their lives and talking about it is like talking about how your day was at dinner. You can say a few things, talk about some things in a bit more detail, but there usually isn’t anything that’s major.
The first half of the second season in this set is really more of the same and that is a good thing overall. So much of what made the show work the first time around is the atmosphere it gives off, This set continues with the discovery of Neo-Venezia and its surroundings as the girls go through their training and other events that come to light. With all the basic relationships set up now, we’re able to just glide through the stories with relative ease. Now that Akari, Aika and Alice are all good friends and have become close while working hard to become the best Undine’s out there, it centers more on their experiences together as they figure out their strengths and weaknesses. The only real change is that Alice is now attending school so she’s not doing the Undine apprentice piece full time at the moment, though she gets plenty of practice in with the others.
The framework of Aria: The Natural is similar to what we had before where Akari is writing her letters to Ai back on Manhome and expressing what she’s seeing and feeling as the bookends to the show. This gives it a very charming feel from the start, though you have to wonder how many people Akari would write to if she could considering how easily she makes friends. Through this kind of style, the series is able to take us to the “big” moments of the lives of the girls for the most part as we see the various festivals, carnivals and training things that they all go through. Through these kinds of events, we see more of the history of the city and those who are involved in it.
The stories can be small but interesting to be sure. One of them revolves around the elderly mailman that Akari has befriended as she ends up helping him out for a day on his rounds and she discovers just how many mailboxes there are in the city. It changes her view of things as she takes into account the way people like to write letters as opposed to email or other forms and that adds to the warmth and charm of those who live here. Another cute story involves her and Aika doing some practice time and they end up following President Aria down a previously locked canal so they can find out what he’s doing. It starts up the entire discussion about the secret kitty kingdom and how the cats all get together at various times to spend time with each other for whatever reason. Understanding of cats is never going to happen and episodes like this simply reinforce that belief for many.
So much of the series is really focused on the discovery of the city itself. The second episode is a prime example of this as it has the main trio of girls running around the city finding little treasure boxes with pieces of a map in it that’ll lead them to a treasure. You know from the start that the treasure will be the experience of searching itself and finding new things about the place in which they live, but they pull it together really well in a way that makes it engaging and fun yet still in that mellow tone. Another episode focuses on a festival of sorts where the idea is giving roses to someone in an almost Valentine’s kind of way. Of course, Alicia is cleaning up in this area as are the other women she knows, but the story follows more how things go between Akatsuki and Akari as well as Aika and Al since she has such an interest in Al who is completely oblivious. There are some really beautiful moments in both of these episodes where the world they live in is even more of a character than they are.
And that’s still one of the most appealing parts of this show. As much as I like the characters and their interactions, the setting that it takes place in is a huge part of what makes it work. The kind of structural design that they’ve used, the way they’ve given it such a history with the various festivals and events and the way they explore all of it really breathes an incredible amount of life into it. Much of it is seen through the eyes of the girls, and the letters to Ai, but that doesn’t diminish it in the slightest. Instead, we’re given a very engaging tour of what’s really a tourist attraction but one with so many people who live, work and play there that we get a real sense of what it’s like to be there. There are few worlds and places in anime and manga that you’d truly want to spend your life in, but this is one of them.
After the way the first season worked well on its own but still left more than enough open, going into a second and extended season offers up a lot of potential for what it can do while still keeping to the same overall feeling. Aria continues to be a difficult show to talk about but it is one of the more enjoyable shows out there when you want something very mellow, soothing and still engaging. Discovering the world of Neo-Venezia through the eyes of the three young women trying to become the best that they can is fun, cute, thoughtful and more. With so many stories to tell – stories that feel real and honest – Aria has so much potential ahead of it and it’s already tapping into it. It does look like something more may be on the horizon for the second half where things may change a bit more, but for right now this season is very similar to the first season but without all the introductions. It’s here that Neo-Venezia becomes even more of a character to fall in love with than before.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Promotional Video, Interview with Director Junichi Sato, Interview with Yui Makino, Aria and the World of Sound, Cast Reflections on Aria The Animation, Clean Ending 1, Trailers, Guidebook
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A-
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: January 27th, 2009
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.