Review for Aria the Natural Season 2 - Part 1
I forgot about Aria’s super secret ability, and stuck in a review disc after sunset to check out the first two episodes. I was asleep within seconds. Not that Aria is in anyway boring or tedious, far from it in fact. It’s just that this show is the quintessential ‘iyashikei’ show, the best in feel good relaxing entertainment, stress free and generally a hug in anime form, a deep tissue massage for the mind in other words.
When MVM released the first season, Aria The Animation, I expressed a little disappointment that they hadn’t committed to the rest of the franchise at the time. It took a little while, but that omission has been resolved, and at the start of this year, we’re getting Aria the Natural in two parts, as well as Aria the Origination, along with an OVA. I just have to remember to watch this show during daylight hours, and possibly fortified by coffee as well.
Akari Mizunashi is living her dream. She’s always wanted to be an Undine, and went as far as leaving her home world of Manhome and moving to the water planet Aqua. An Undine is a gondolier who takes passengers on gondola rides around the sleepy water city of Neo Venezia. After a year, Akari is still in training with the Aria Company. Aria the Animation follows the adventures of Akari and her fellow and rival trainees, Aika and Alice in and around Neo Venezia.
13 episodes of Aria the Natural are presented across three Blu-rays from MVM.
1. That Encounter at Carnevale...
2. Looking for That Treasure...
3. The Night of the Meteor Shower...
4. That Neo-Venezia-Colored Heart...
5. The Wonder of That Rainy Day.../The Discoveries on That Spring Day
6. The Smile Reflected in That Mirror...
7. To the Kingdom of Cats...
8. The Day of Fenta Del Bocolo...
9. Those Honest Stars...
10. That Heartwarming Town and Its People
11. That Precious Sparkle...
12. Chasing That Mirage.../The Light From That Nightshine Chime...
13. Those Really Self-Imposed Rules...
Aria the Natural gets a 1.33:1 pillarboxed 1080i transfer, a 60 Hz interlaced upscale of the SD source. I haven’t seen the original DVD release to compare, but what we have here on this Blu-ray release matches the better anime DVDs of the mid-2000s. The image is clear and sharp, line detail is good, and colours are consistent, and the show gets nice, smooth animation. Aria is a vintage show from early on in the digipaint era, and what we get here is an example of effective simplicity. The character designs are cute, yet memorable, and prone to drop into super-deformed mode when they do something goofy. The world design, heavily influenced by Venice offers an appealing sense of architecture without being overly detailed. This is a reflective and atmospheric show that has a whole lot of sunsets and colourful skies, yet there is an artfulness with which it uses a limited palette. This is a show that can establish much with just four or five shades on screen.
Aria the Natural comes with the option of PCM 5.1 Surround English, and PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with the choice of subtitles and a signs only track. And get this; you have the choice between white and yellow subtitles. No one can be as fickle as an anime fan, and in one fell swoop, this release removes one point of contention. If only more distributors did this, the yellow vs. white anime subtitle flame wars would end. Facetiousness aside, the audio presentation on this release is as you would hope for, at least when it comes to the Japanese audio (with yellow subtitles). The dialogue is clear, you get a decent level of stereo separation, and the show’s mellow soundtrack comes across to excellent effect. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos.
The discs boot to animated menus. All of the extras are on disc 3, including one that should have been on Aria the Animation; an unnecessary incentive to buy this sequel series if you bought the first. Each disc ends with a translated English credit scroll for that particular set of episodes.
Episode commentary on episode 13 with ADR director Joe DiGiorgi, and Michelle Knotz (Athena Glory)
Aria the Natural Promotional Video (5:32)
Interview with director Junicho Sato (9:57)
Interview with Yui Makino (7:27)
Aria and the World of Sound (17:12)
Cast Reflections on Aria the Animation (18:12)
Clean Ending 1
US Trailer (1:42)
The second season of Aria arrives, and with it, the novelty of the first season, its slow-paced slice of life ease has worn off, leaving a familiar, easy going and delightful piece of entertainment. Aria was an early implementation of the cute girls doing cute things genre, but with its relaxing, Neo Venezia setting, its focus on world building, and the elements of magic added to its sci-fi premise, it really is a show to relax to. With this second season’s focus on the passing of the seasons (the first half takes the story from winter to summer), it intensifies the sense that the show is really just a mood presented in anime form.
This isn’t a show for you if you want a progressive narrative, or character conflict. About as intense as this show gets in that regard is in episode 13. Little Alice likes to challenge herself like Rock Lee from Naruto, setting herself childish tests, like walking home from school by only stepping on shadows. Her mentor Athena sees this, and decides to help her, which annoys Alice. If you’ve just watched the 12 episodes beforehand, this level of interpersonal drama might be overwhelming.
In the first series, I actually found the magical elements, particularly involving the cats of Aqua, to be a weakness in the show, detracting from the slice of life elements. It was just a couple of episodes in that first season. This second season actually relies on the magic more, investing more episodes in its run, right from the beginning to the mystique behind the cats. It’s better integrated into the story too, creating a legend and culture for the cats, led by the Cait Sith who makes more than one appearance in this collection. In the first season, Neo Venezia felt like a classical city with magical elements tacked on. Now it really does feel like a magical sci-fi world.
As mentioned, one of the strengths of Aria is the world building, and that continues in this collection, as the main character Akari relates to her penpal Ai on Manhome in her letters that frame each episode. Although in the first episode, Ai is paying a visit to Aqua to take in the Carnevale festival (the festival that introduces the Cait Sith). There are a few Aqua holidays that get explored in this collection, equivalents to Earth holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Midsummer, and Carnevale is a big one.
There are plenty of explorations of Neo-Venezia as the three Undines continue their training, including the Aqua equivalent of Geo-caching, as they partake of a treasure hunt. There’s a night of a meteor shower to enjoy, days off from gliding through the canals, a look at the city’s ornamental glass industry and so on.
All of this is seen through the eyes of the three Undines, Akari, Aika, and Alice, and their mentors Alicia, Akira, and Athena, although Akira doesn’t make too many appearances in these thirteen episodes. It also transpires that there is some forward momentum in the character journeys, especially with Akari’s training as an Undine advancing to the point where she can be trusted with passengers, although under supervision. The Undines need to have the gondolier equivalent of The Knowledge, and act as tour guides. Akari is the optimistic extrovert of the group. Aika’s more of a reactionary, intrinsically opposed to ‘sappy lines’ although she does have a crush of sorts on Alicia. Of the three she has more of a romantic life (she has a date with a ‘gnome’ for the meteor shower episode, where we learn why Neo Venezia has normal gravity), but in these episodes she’s more of a foil to the other two. Alice is the introvert of the group, an outsider even in her large company. Over the course of these episodes, she slowly becomes more outgoing, and starts to interact with people.
It’s been quite a while between releases of Aria, just over a year. But I forgot about the wait as soon as the first episode started playing, and I was transported to a magical recreation of Venice on the next planet out, and the wonderful inhabitants that live their everyday lives there. Once again, I should mention that this show is just so mellow that watching it in any state of tiredness merely invites the embrace of golden slumber, and it’s also a show best appreciated in small doses, not as rapidly as a review demands.
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