What They Say:
Akari, Aika and Alice continue to strive toward their goal of becoming Neo-Venezia’s top gondoliers. As their skills improve, they find themselves faced with new challenges. On their journey to become Primas, the girls will have to paint a palina, serve as hostesses at the Festa del Redentore, and even learn how to be brave in the face of a dangerous passenger!
Contains episodes 14-26
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 three apprentices along with Alicia standing in a field and looking up to the camera. Interestingly, the image is placed in landscape format, so it is sideways when the case stands up. The back has another shot of Akari 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. All but one of them are a series of roundtables and interviews with various members of the cast and crew talking about various aspects of the creation of the series. There are five of these things, though one of them is split into two parts. At fifteen-to-twenty minutes apiece, there’s a lot of stuff here to digest. There is also a clean version of the second ending.
Having fully enjoyed the Aria: The Animation and the first half of Aria: The Natural, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this set. And I wasn’t disappointed. This set continues to give us glimpses of the daily life of Akari and her friends as they work towards becoming Undines in Neo-Venezia on the planet Aqua, and it’s just as charming as it has always been.
This set gives us the first, multi-episode story arc as the gondola that Akari has been training on (and which Alicia trained on before) is ready to be retired as a tourist craft. This depresses Akari as it is the only boat she has ever trained upon and she has such great memories of piloting it. It’s really one of the amazing things about this series that they can take such a simple concept as her and Alicia selling that gondola and draw it out into such an emotional storyline. It’s just really well done from that perspective.
After acquiring a new gondola, Akari finds herself in a new set of supernatural circumstances that leads her to realize that she needs to come to some sort of understanding with Cait Sith. He has acted as her guardian spirit quite a few times, but she also knows that she does not truly belong in his world. So when she receives an invitation from him to take a ride on the Galaxy Express, she struggles to decide whether or not she should take him up on it.
As always, the strength in Aria lies with the relationships between Akari and all of her friends. When she is struggling to let go of her gondola, it is her friends that help pick her up by arranging to have a get together in celebration of the good times the gondola have brought. When Akari is concerned about the connection she has with Cait Sith, it is her friends that help try and sort her feelings out so that she knows what she should do when the time comes. And she is there for them whenever they are having a rough time of it too. It’s really an anime of the little things.
Aria continues to be a beautiful series. The relationships built between Akari and all of her friends serve to help all of the otherwise mundane details of their lives seem like some of the most important things they could be involved with. Considering that the six girls work for three different, rival companies, it seems natural that it could quickly degenerate into some bitterness and feuding, but Aria never even comes close to suggesting that. All are there for one another, and I love it for that. I can’t wait to check out the final part. Highly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Aria Company Roundtable Discussion, Himeya Roundtable Discussion, Orange Planet Roundtable Discussion, Clean Ending 2, Cast Reflections on Aria the Natural Parts 1 & 2, Director Discussion on Aria the Natural, 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: March 4th, 2014
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