Aria the Animation

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Saturday, October 19, 2013

ariatheanimation

Since getting back into anime a few years ago, I’ve explored a little of each genre but have found that romance and slice of life tends to be my go to style. With that in mind, I decided to check out Aria the Animation via Hulu which is the first of a three season series based upon a utopian science fiction manga. Unlike some of the other anime that have gone for this same type of setting, Aria has no major conflict of any type and instead focuses on a laid back coming of age/slice of life story. It may be a bit too slow paced for some people and doesn’t necessarily stand out as one of the best anime out there, but I don’t think I have ever been this relaxed when watching a show before and really enjoyed this first 13 episode season.

Aria the Animation is set in 2301 AD on the planet Aqua, which has been terraformed into a habitable planet and completely covered with water in certain areas. The majority of the series takes place in the city of Neo-Venezia, which has been constructed to resemble Venice from Earth. Despite being set so far in the future, what’s particularly interesting about the setting is that the people on this planet don’t put a lot of emphasis on technology. Although there are job classes like the Salamanders or Sylphs who use technology to control the weather on the planet or deliver packages on air bikes, the general day to day life of the people on Aqua doesn’t seem too reliant on it. The main character even arrives on the planet in episode one on a spaceship, but later on takes a very traditional looking train to get to a location. I’ll touch on this more in a minute, but the overall vibe of the show is very laid back and relaxing and this is reflected in the plot lines as well as the way that all of the people in the world seem to be going about their daily lives. While almost every show based around a space utopia that I’ve seen previously has gone in a darker direction or tried to destroy the utopia, it was a nice change of pace to have a window into a world where the ideal utopia has actually been achieved and the current inhabitants are benefiting from it.

With this backdrop in place, Aria the Animation focuses around the day to day life of Akari who is an undine in training. An undine is a gondolier who ferries tourists around Neo-Venezia and acts as a tour guide, and Akari is in training at Aria Company, one of the three most prestigious water guide companies. She becomes friends with Aika and Alice, two girls who are training at the other two major water guide companies and the series spends much of its time focused on the three of them as well as their trainers (who also happen to be friends that trained together in their youth). You’ve probably already guessed it by now, but there is no overarching storyline over the course of the show and all of the events in each episode are fairly self-contained. There are a number of episodes based around a particular holiday or gathering, as well as a few where Akari somehow ends up in the Aqua of the past and gets to see firsthand some of the struggles and hopes of the people that helped to terraform the planet. The show provides an equal focus on the undine training and the world of Aqua and how it came to be, often providing the girls with some kind of small life lesson along the way.

I don’t want to go too far into specific situations as it seems like it would spoil the show for those who are interested, but the characters definitely are what makes it so enjoyable to watch. Akari is fairly spacey and has a tendency to say sappy or idealistic lines throughout the series, Aika is the louder and more outgoing one who chastises Akari for those sappy lines, and Alice is the quieter, more withdrawn one that begins to open up more once she becomes friends with the other two. The dynamic between them is well utilized and contributes to the lighthearted nature of the series. To put it simply, the way that the events and character interactions play out is sure to put a smile on your face and give you that warm fuzzy feeling from one episode to the next and it is rare for an anime to have done that to me for its entirety. Admittedly there are a few moments that drag (such as the episode that is all about the cat president of the Aria Company) and the storyline isn’t going to be one that I remember for years and years, but when I’m in the mood for a laid back and happy anime I’ll likely re-watch this one.

All the anime I have seen that was produced by Hal Film Maker has gone for a more subdued look and a fairly traditional approach, which makes sense considering the year that they were released. This works in Aria the Animation’s favor though, as the more subdued look fits the relaxed pace of the series and gives the viewer plenty of time to focus on the beautiful backdrops. From what I’ve read this was also the way that the manga was laid out, so it’s great to see that the studio paid the same amount of attention to the environments and made them look stunning in motion. There were quite a few occasions where I would just admire all of the scenery, and this reminded me of how P.A. Works has put together their series in recent years as there is a similar focus on making the backdrops as eye catching as possible. The character animation is consistently strong as well, and while there is a little bit of exaggerated facial expressions that fit the lighthearted nature the story goes for it isn’t overdone. Despite being eight years old, Aria the Animation has aged well and the animation style really helped draw me into this calm and relaxing world.

It’s often hard to predict what an anime will have to offer audio wise, as certain genres have a tendency to have very similar background music. That’s why I was so surprised that Aria the Animation featured some of the best music I have heard in a series in quite some time. The opening and ending themes along with the additional numbers that play during the episodes not only fit the calm, relaxing vibe but are also memorable pieces. There’s also an emphasis placed on song as one of the jobs of the undines is to sing for customers, and during a few episodes the character Athena sings a number that sends chills down my spine due to how beautiful it is. The voice acting is quite strong as well, as the actors for the three main characters gel together nicely and are able to establish separate personalities for each one. I feel like I mention this in the majority of my anime reviews, but sound isn’t an area that I focus on too heavily as voice acting is usually a fairly consistent area in most shows and the music is either hit or miss. But Aria the Animation really made an impression on me in this department, and the attention to detail made a significant difference.

Although it may not stand out as one of the most memorable series I’ve ever watched due to the “everyday life” focus the story takes, Aria the Animation feels quite different from other slice of life anime I’ve seen and perfectly integrates the science fiction elements. It’s a perfect show for viewers who simply want to unwind, take in the scenery, and end an episode with a smile on their face. Two follow-up series were produced after this one, and I’m looking forward to checking them out sometime in the next few months.

Aria the Animation is available to stream via Hulu and was recently re-released as a DVD Litebox

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