Living the life of a gondolier on Mars never seemed so fun.
What They Say:
Akari Mizunashi, at the age of 15, has left everything behind to travel to a sparkling planet covered in water, 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, will she be up to the challenges that await her on the path to achieve her dream?
There is no dub track for this release, so I watched this in the Japanese 2.0 track. The sound was clean with no distortions or dropouts. As always, a 5.1 mix would be appreciated, but as this title is so dialogue based, it’s not a big deal. The dialogue did stay centered, though there was some directionality in the sound effects. The subtitles were easy to see, mostly in bright yellow, but some white when multiple people were talking at once.
This release is offered in its original 4:3, fullscreen aspect ratio. After so many years of widescreen releases at this point, it was a little weird to watch something fullscreen, but I got over it quickly. There were no technical issues that I noticed in the transfer, though the colors came across as pretty muted. I could not tell if that was an artistic choice or just a case of needing remastering. I do know it was disappointing, though, as I love the art in this, and there were some pretty impressive visuals. Brighter and bolder colors really could have made it pop.
This is a litebox release; all four discs are in a single-wide amaray case with two spindles on each side to hold the discs. As such, the discs overlap somewhat meaning that you have to remove the disc on top to get to the one underneath. I always find that a bit annoying, but I’m willing to accept the inconvenience for the compact packaging. The front has a picture of Akari rowing in her gondola, with Alicia and Aika along for the ride. Interestingly, the image is placed in landscape format, so it is sideways when the case stands up. The back has another shot of Akari in her gondola with the series summary, some screen shots, and the technical details.
The menu is basic, but functional. The top two-thirds of the screen is taken up by one of the main characters, with the selections for Play All, Episodes, and Bonus Features aligned along the bottom. The cursor is a big circle that sits to the left of each selection. While on the main menu, the OP plays in the background on a pretty long loop, so it won’t get old if you sit on the menu for a while.
There are quite a few extras spread out along the four discs on this release. There are a series of interviews with the various voice actresses, a bunch of commercials and previews, clean versions of the OP/ED, and a six part series titled “Sato Jun’s ‘Venice, I’m Sorry!’” which details series director’s Jun’ichi Sato’s trip to Venice to research and plan for the design of Neo-Venezia. It’s pretty funny in places, as well as informative. I love these bits that show creators going on their fact-finding missions. It’s always interesting to see just how much attention to detail they put into their designs.
I first came across Aria when I received a galley of the first volume of the manga ten years ago when it was still called Aqua and was being released in the US for the first time. I fell in love with that little volume, but I was unable to follow-up on it and stick with the series the way I might have liked, so I was definitely interested in checking out the anime. I missed it when Nozomi first released it back in 2008, but I’m glad I got an opportunity to check it out now.
Sometime in the future, humanity has terraformed and colonized Mars. As a result of the terraforming, Mars is now almost entirely covered by water and is now referred to as the planet Aqua. In the city of Neo-Venezia, the Aquarian version of Venice, a fifteen year old girl named Akari dreams of someday becoming a Prima Undine: a female gondolier, well respected in the city for their grace, knowledge, and ability to entertain. Currently, she is apprenticed at the Aria Company under Alicia, one of the three Great Water Fairies of Neo-Venezia. Alicia is known far and wide for her charm and positive personality and is generally considered the most popular of the undine. It is under her tutelage that Akari feels her dream can be achieved.
While there isn’t much of an overall idea behind the plot of Aria, it’s one of those anime that is about the little things more than it is the big picture. While Akari is ostensibly training to one day take Alicia’s place, this is just as much a coming-of-age story for her—and her two friends Aika and Alice—as it is a journey to her goals. As such, it is a very episodic anime, with little real narrative flow from one episode to the next. Instead, we are treated to the daily struggles and joys the girls go through as they try to find their respective ways in the world.
One area this anime is really strong is its characterization. While Akari is certainly the main character, we spend a lot of time with all three apprentices as well as all three of the Water Fairies: Alicia, Akira, and Athena. They all have very strong and unique personalities, but there is also a real sense of camaraderie between the six of them. Akira might be strict on the girls, but she doesn’t do it out of malice as it’s more her way of preparing them to someday be self-sufficient undines; Alicia is as graceful and laidback as her reputation suggests, giving the girls more of a motherly presence when needed; and Athena is quiet, and lends her advice and assistance in subtle ways.
What I really like is how the personalities of the Prima Undines are reflected in their apprentices. Akari is bubbly and out-going, and she never lets herself get too down because Alicia’s calming influence won’t let her. Aika pushes herself and is driven to succeed—sometimes to her own detriment—because Akira can be just as demanding of herself. And Alice is reserved, willing to take a backseat while gently guiding the other two as that is the way Athena guides her. It’s a wonderful bit of characterization that adds a lot of life to the characters.
I have to admit that I am a fan of President Aria too. Each Undine heads up a separate gondolier company, and since Aquarian legend says that blue eyed cats are good luck for sailors, each company keeps a blue-eyed cat as a pet and nominates them the company president. President Aria is the president for Aria Company—Akari and Alicia’s company. President Aria is the constant comic relief for the series. While the girls get into plenty of their own light-hearted humor, President Aria never seems to have any serious moments, always wandering around looking for whatever trouble he can get himself into, whether it’s floating away in a bowl when Akari’s back is turned or walking around the city pretending to be a superhero. Even when he tries to be dramatic—such as running away because he feels useless—it just comes off as adorable. He adds the right touch to a lot of scenes.
Aria is a series I have long wanted to see, and it more than lived up to my expectations. It is a quiet series, more about the smaller moments of the lives of Akari and her friends rather than any larger plot, but despite that, it’s not a particularly slow series either. While it has its moments where it pauses for some contemplation, it generally keeps moving at a good pace. As with any sub-only releases, I do wish it had a dub as I think this could have a pretty decent audience, but that’s really my only complaint. Highly recommended.
Apprentice Undines Interview Parts 1-2, Primas Interview Parts 1-2, SatoJun’s “Venice. I’m Sorry!” Parts 1-4, 30-second & 15-second Commercials, US Season 1 Trailer, Clean Endings 1-2, Season 2 Preview, Trailers.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: October 1st, 2013
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 Fullscreen
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System