What They Say:
As winter melts into spring, Akari, Aika, and Alice continue to work hard to become Neo-Venezia’s top gondoliers. Aika starts to take on more responsibility around Himeya; Alice travels up the challenging canal near Hope Hill; even Akari spends a day working on a huge gondola called a traghetto! But there’s still so much to learn… and the final test to become a Prima, which once seemed so far off in the future, might not be so far off anymore.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo while the newly created English language dub gets both a stereo and a 5.1 mix. All three tracks are done via the uncompressed PCM format so they’re all pretty much the real deal in terms of what was recorded for the project. 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. The music is where things get to stand out a bit more overall but even that’s kept a touch lighter and not as strong as one might think, keeping to the tone and atmosphere of the series itself. 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 1080p using the AVC codec in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The thirteen episodes are spread across three discs in a five/four/four format and there’s plenty of space to work with on each disc. We also get the original OVA on its own disc at the start and the new three-part OVA on its own disc at the end. Animated by Hal Film Maker, the first season has a really nice look to it as it maximizes what it does with little animation in a general sense. This is one of those shows about mood and dialogue, so it’s very relaxed and often with some near-still sequences to allow the atmosphere to seep in. The visual design is great with the backgrounds working a number of appealing designs and the characters look wonderful as well. The high definition presentation for it takes the colors and gives them a more solid and richer look where it can while giving us more detail overall. It’s like the series just has a stronger presence visually because of it and that helps to make all the other smaller elements come across stronger as well. The result is a beautiful show looking even greater.
The packaging for this set brings us a standard-sized Blu-ray case with two hinges that holds four of the five discs while the fifth is against the back The front cover gives us a really nice visual of our core three characters as they’re drifting along together with smiles on their faces and simply having it set against the more open area of the city. It’s bright, colorful, and definitely catches the eye since it’s not a visual you see regularly to begin with. The back cover is a little more traditional with lots of white space as we get a small selection of shots from the show along the right. The left gives us a brief but effective summary of the premise while the disc features are clearly listed as well. The technical grid breaks out things along the bottom in far too small a font for most people to read unfortunately and it doesn’t provide clarity to the format either for some aspects of it, which is mildly frustrating. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is an interesting one as we get an l-shaped bar along the left and bottom with some really nice blue and white elements that have the logo, the city, and some of the boats as well. The navigation is used along the bottom too with the soft waves linework that really is quite appealing. The rest of the screen is given over to the scenes from the show that takes us through the designs of the characters, the boats, and the city itself to highlight the appealing uniqueness of much of it. It’s just odd to get this kind of big block l-shaped design. The navigation loads quickly and works effectively with submenus and setup both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.
This series has a significant number of extras, enough so that there are some on each of the TV episode discs and a disc full of extras. The TV episode discs have spread across them the Picture Drama pieces which run about seven minutes each and are roughly like having radio dramas with pictures done to them while adding in some useful animation from the series itself if it fits. There are cute and quirky additions to the series that are more humorous than anything but with a restrained sense of humor. On these discs, you can also find the clean version of the closing sequence. The Arietta OVA disc has no extra on it but the last disc in the set is all about the extras. The first one is a big one that runs nearly fifty minutes where the three principal actresses sit down and talk about their experiences on the show, their favorite moments with clips playing through and some simple lighthearted discussions about what went into their roles and how it was working with the director. The choices they have are cute and they have a lot of fun talking about all of it.
Almost as long is the forty-four-minute feature where the series director, Junichi Sato, has a sit-down interview where he goes into the show at length, which is good considering how many episodes there are in total that he’s dealt with. It’s a show he definitely has a passion for and unlike some directors that just deal with surface-level things, he talks pretty in-depth at times about the franchise and where it came from and how it ended where it is. As they discuss each of the episodes, there’s a lot of good nuggets in there, particularly when they get to the final episodes and talk about it in relation to the manga. The rest of the extras are given over to the two episodes of SatoJun’s “Venice, I’m Sorry!” Returns feature. This is where he takes a trip back to Venice with lots of footage, though this time he has a discussion with the voice actress for Alicia. The trip has Sato and the voice actress for Akari going to Venice and exploring it once again in a cute way, including having a plushie Aria in hand. The first episode runs for about twenty-five minutes while the second one runs about twenty-seven minutes.
And last but not least, we get a good cast commentary from the English side.
This set brings the Aria franchise to a close as it contains the thirteen episodes of the third season, Origination, as well as the additional OVA Arietta which takes place earlier in the season. What bumps it up a bit more in attractiveness is that it also includes the recent three-part OVA series that was produced which was an out of nowhere kind of surprise when they were first announced. Aria has been a fascinating series as it plays both sides of the coin by talking about consistency and change at the same time and how the two relate. This figures heavily into the third season as at its core, Neo Venezia doesn’t change all that much while the people within it do. It’s difficul to trace the progress of the characters sometimes, especially as the passage of time is hard to isolate at times, but we’ve seen a lot go on over a period of a couple of years through the seasons and taking it in you realize just how much has changed.
When it comes to changes, one of the more drastic ones made to the series is that it’s finally in widescreen. While there are some that will still tell you that it doesn’t really make a difference if a show is full frame or widescreen, the way it can present itself can be quite dramatically different. Aria has looks beautiful from its first frame of the first season but here, with the wider canvas using the generally same overall approach to how the story is framed, it looks even more beautiful. The characters are captured in a way that makes them feel more a part of the world as it’s now an expanded world in front of us. The scope of it takes on a larger feel with more water or buildings seen that gives it a much more lived in place. The additional space brings us even lusher sunsets or blue skies. This is a big change to the show and a very welcome one even if it’s just at the end.
The consistency side is something that has been really appealing about this series from the start as Neo Venezia continues to be a beautiful character all its own. While we’ve seen many shows where the location is as much a character as those who inhabit it, Neo Venezia is one of the few that is so beautifully realized with its detail and exploration that it stands above all others. With three seasons to tell tales about the people, the places and the connections through the eyes of these girls, it’s become something that’s amazing to watch. When we have the girls going through their tours and highlighting the areas they know well, the areas that represent amazing places, we’re reminded of past episodes that have shown us so much of the city through the people that they’ve all met. There’s a wonderful consistency to this city as it’s very much like the girls themselves, a key player in all of it.
Across the thirteen episodes that make up the Origination season, it’s very focused on the characters once again as the seasons are passing a little more quickly as we go from spring to fall over the course of it. They delve into some moments of the past, such as when we see how Aika and Akira first met and how the course of the lives changed because of that meeting when Aika was so young. Another episode has Alice concerned about her relationship with Athena just as Athena loses her memory and the girls spend the day trying to help her regain her memories. Alicia’s past is touched upon as well as we see her days of training before she became a Prima, which ties in nicely to someone she worked with years ago that’s come back into Alicia’s life. There are a lot of little nods throughout these episodes that show how times change but many things stay the same as a new generation comes up to take the reins.
Where this season really shined for me is when it dealt firmly with the girls who are ready to take those reins, though they may not be aware of it. Some radical moments do happen, though they may not seem so to the viewer, as one by one we are shown how they’ve all changed and became important members of their various companies and as guides as well. The days, weeks, and months of regular practice they’ve had together is a reflection of what the three Water Fairies themselves did years ago so it was plainly obvious where it would go. What wasn’t certain was whether they’d actually move towards that in a firm way in the series or leave it as something that they could tackle in the future. Thankfully, even though the series is heavy on consistency, it also favors progress and lets us see the challenges they face before they can hopefully move on.
In all honesty, as it moves through all three characters, going from Alice to Aika to Akari, the ending of it all left me feeling very moved. Each of the elder women has a really close relationship with the younger ones, though it’s not always clear. When the testing phase begins, these ties become clearer through flashbacks and conversation that really works wonders in how it’s presented. Athena’s amnesia is key for Alice while the story of how Akira met Aika shows a bond that is quite old. The best is with Alicia at the end as she talks plainly to Akari about why she’s doing the testing now and all the other changes that are about to occur. All of this combined with the epilogue brings it all together beautifully while also tying it back to the very beginning of the first season in a way that tugs just right at the heart.
What had me most excited, but cautiously so, was the inclusion of the Avveniere OVAs with this set. These were produced for the three Japanese Blu-ray box sets back in 2015 and each set had one that came with it. They run varied lengths with 16, 20, and 27 minutes respectively, and each one is just a small little vignette. You don’t really expect much story from Aria to begin with and these lean into that by working the mood and atmosphere. The last one feels more like a whimsical recap of some of the basic character premises of the series while the first was just a nice time getting to deal with the characters in something fresh. I liked the second story the most as it dealt more with the elder Undines and the way that they’re unable to see each other much because of how busy their lives have become. It focuses on the fact that it’s Alicia’s birthday and trying to get a present to her isn’t happening because of the busy days. But it leans into a really nice “natural” moment that allows it to happen and you see the youthfulness and playfulness of this group from when they were the ones training years ago. It’s a nice moment and set in the quiet of the canals as the sun set just made it resonate all the more.
Aria has been a series that charmed me from the start, though it has had some lulls in the second season that were difficult to get through. With the third season, they fulfill the promise of the first two seasons and allow the characters to grow at their own pace and find out what they’re really going to be. And they do this through exploring every facet of the city of Neo Venezia and understanding it better than they understand themselves. And that city is even more beautiful this time around with its presentation. This was a bittersweet ending as you want to see more, you want to see where these girls go, but you also see this as an ideal place to draw the curtain closed and savor what we’ve been given. This is a show that is surprising in that it made it past the first season and survived over several years but the end result speaks for itself. This is a real jewel of a series that is unlike most others and it’s been exciting to revisit it again and get this fresh look at it thanks to the high definition aspect of it, which looks great, and a dub that introduces it to a lot more people. Add in the short OVA series as well and it’s just fantastic. Very highly recommended as a franchise in total.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Cast and Director Discussions, English Cast Commentary, SATOJUN’s “Venice, I’m Sorry!” Returns, Picture Dramas, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: June 2nd, 2020
Running Time: 494 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.