Living the life of a gondolier on Mars never seemed so fun.
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.
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 suck, 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. My only real complaint with the packaging is that the disc number on each disc blends in fairly well with the picture on the disc, making it difficult to see what disc you have in your hand unless you know exactly what you are looking for.
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 for this release, which are given their own disc. There is a promotional video and a clean version of the first ED. Aside from those, there are also a number of interviews with Junichi Sato (the Director), Yui Makino (OP/ED themes), and the cast on their reflections on the series. Finally, there is also 20 minute discussion on the importance they placed on sound in creating this series. I found this interesting because one of the things I particularly noticed while watching was the almost constant presence of soothing music in the background, adding to the softness of everything going on, and the dramatic weight added when the music stopped. So it was neat to hear them talk on this and sound in general.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Aria is a title that I have long wanted to see since I read the first volume of the manga over ten years ago. I finally got the chance to check out Aria: The Animation (i.e. the first season of Aria) a couple months ago, and it lived up to every expectation I had. So when this set came out, I knew I had to check it out as well. I am glad to say that it is every bit as good as that first set.
Like Aria: the Animation, there isn’t really an overarching plot to Aria: the Natural. As a slice-of-life series, they have instead chosen to give us little tidbits of the lives of Akari and her friends as they grow and train to become Undines. So we get brief storylines such as Alice feeling she doesn’t fit in well with the others at Orange Planet due to her young age, Alicia showing Akari the beauty and wonder of Aqua outside of Neo-Venezia, and Akari’s first experience being requested for a specific job based on her abilities as an undine. The only specific theme that was revisited a few times was the legend of the kingdom of the cats and Akari’s fascination with attempting to meet the King of Cats, Cait Sith, but even that was usually a short diversion in a larger episode plot rather than an overarching plot thread of its own.
But the lack of a specific idea to drive the plot does not harm it in any way. In fact, I feel as if Aria would be lessened for it. It makes up for the lack of real direction with some strong, short burst storytelling and great characters. Akari continues to be the catalyst of the show (as you might expect, since she’s the main character), and we have a lot of great moments with her as she grows into her future role as an undine. The episode where Alicia takes her to the Japanese shrine and then to see the ruins of the old train station deep in the forest is one of the most beautiful in the whole series, and her helping the mailman do his daily deliveries when his gondola has a leak provides plenty of sweet moments of its own. The series really takes its cue from Akari’s personality; her sense of wonder and joy at everything new she experiences reflects the tone of the show.
In Aria: The Animation, I also loved the interplay between the Singles and their Primas, and that remains the same here. Though we see little of Akira in this part, we do get more screen time with Athena than we did the last time around, so we were able to delve more into the relationship she has with Alice. Alice is a prodigy, but if she has a flaw, it’s that she is convinced that she must do everything herself, and that drive pushes others away. Athena might be ditzy and clumsy in a lot of ways, but she understands Alice and spends a good amount of time trying to get Alice to open up to others and accept their assistance.
Having finally had an opportunity to finally check out Aria: The Animation a few months ago, I was really excited to get this set in my hands. As expected, it continued with what worked so well that first season and continued to be wonderful. The characterization and storytelling are fantastic; it really is a beautiful series, both in imagery and in subject matter. I can’t wait to see the next part in March. Highly recommended.
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
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: January 7th, 2014
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System