What They Say
After 150 years of terraforming, Aqua, the planet formerly known as Mars, now has over 90% of its surface now covered by water. A young girl named Akari Mizunashi arrives at the city of Neo-Venezia, an exact replica of the old Italian city of Venice, hoping to become an Undine, the most coveted job on Aqua. Follow Akari’s adventures as she discovers the wonders of Aria in this prequel to the Aria anime and manga series.
Considered to be the ultimate slice-of-life manga by many of its fans, Aqua gets off to a solid start within the first volume. Teenaged Akari Mizuhashi arrives on the terraformed planet of Aqua, formerly known as Mars, with a job as an apprentice undine already lined up. After a few mishaps involving a lost cat and a ride from a mailman who lets her practice rowing his “mail gondola,” she arrives at Aria Company and learns the cat’s true identity by the end of the first chapter. In essence, it takes an entire forty pages for our main character to make it from point A to point B–and those two points aren’t a huge geographical distance apart, nor is the space between them filled with some kind of monster that must be overcome. There is little to hook the average reader with that kind of summary, which is one of the problems with the Aqua series. Things do happen, but they happen so slowly that many readers may just be bored.
The following chapters continue the same trend; in the second chapter, Akari realizes that this rowing business is perhaps more difficult than she had originally realized, and befriends fellow apprentice Aika, whose determination to become an undine seems to have a little more edge than Akari’s. Other experiences include what is almost an environmental phenomenon for the non-native Akari, an adventure involving a mythical cat meeting, and finally, the tests for both Akari and Aika to take the next step in their careers as undines.
Again, although events do progress in a slow, relaxing manner, four of the five chapters seem to accomplish something in terms of creating a larger storyline. Yet it is the third chapter, in which little of consequence happens, which is the most charming one. Akari’s wonder at her new surroundings is in full force in this chapter, as she expresses her amazement at the flooded streets of the city and the beauty of Neo-Venezia. Having already read the three volumes of Aria put out years ago by ADV, I can safely say that things like this are the heart of the series. The lead character’s appreciation of the beauty around her, which others seem to appreciate less as they have grown up on Aqua and seen them all before, is infectious. Aika’s strong-willed determination to become an undine and Alicia’s kind, watchful manner make them both very likable characters. However, it is Akari’s ability to find joy in the smallest of things that makes Aqua such a delightful read for those who enjoy their manga calm and relaxing.
Kozue Amano’s artwork is strikingly beautiful on all fronts. Character designs are all appealing and consistent throughout, and the fairly regular use of SD in comedic scenes is charming rather than grating. Even more impressive is the background art, which gives a real sense of place to the story. Every piece of architecture is different from the next, and each is given some sense of detail, whether it be brickwork revealed from crumbling sheetrock, peeling paint, or side-by-side arched windows with lattices. The more natural surroundings also get their due; skies, in particular, seem to stretch on forever.
As the volume has almost no action to speak of, it instead keeps the reader interested in the art through the use of various angles and page layouts. One of the most striking moments in the entire volume, for me, occurs when Aika and Akari are in an abandoned building, and we see them through a multi-paned set of windows. Although taking up only a little more than half of the page, it places the attention on the peeling paint of the window frame as much as it does the two girls inside. Two-page spreads are given heavy detail and command attention when they appear, especially the ones displaying Neo Venezia’s architecture. A spread will sometimes be utilized only on the bottom or top half of the pages, while the other half will be split; nevertheless, the layout is never confusing or difficult to follow.
As per Tokyopop’s usual at the time, there are no color plates, which is a real shame. Much of the detail of the original colored illustrations has been lost in the transition to grayscale, leaving them looking murky. Other than that, the printing quality is quite good, although not excellent. “Extras” consist wholly of a brief summary of the second volume and a few pages for other Tokyopop manga.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: B
Age Rating: 1#+
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Release Date: October 9th, 2007