The year is 2301 A.D. If you’re a Klingon, it’s a great year for a nice, sweet, warm Bloodwine. However, if you’re 15-year-old Akari Mizunashi, it’s a great year to make a major life-changing move to make your dreams come true. To each their own, really. Our salmon-haired girl is on her way from Manhome (Earth) to the terraformed planet Aqua (formerly Mars) to live out her dream of being a gondolier, also known as an Undine, for the water guiding Aria Company located in Neo-Venezia, a recreation of the actual city on Manhome. Under the tutelage of her manager Alicia, company president Aria, and fellow journeymen Aika and Alice, Akari learns about the many wonders of Neo-Venezia while honing her skills to become a top-tier Prima undine, while sharing her knowledge and love with the visitors of the fair city on the water.
I think we can all say that the year 2020 has been, to quote Queen Elizabeth II, a “annus horribilis,” or “horrible year.” (And considering that Her Majesty is 94 years young, she would be the expert). However, if there’s one thing that has gotten me through this “annus horribilis,” it’s finding happiness wherever and however I can. And honestly, I feel that a prodigious source of happiness can be found in this 13-episode Blu-Ray set. Aria The Animation is a beautiful introduction to a world where time just seems to slow down, people are happy and cheerful as they go about their day to day lives, the air is filled with glorious smells of baking bread and briny seas, the loudest sound you’ll probably hear is the chime of the bell tower on the hour or rambunctious laughing kids, and the daily trip to the market is always peppered with greetings from the locals who are genuinely concerned about your well-being. The world of the Aria series is one that is much better than ours but populated by people that are, for the most part, the same as you and me. We all know someone that is happy-go-lucky like Akari, or someone who is shy yet snarky like Alice, or someone who is headstrong and a little bossy like Aika. These characters are just so perfectly written, and watching their evolution throughout the series is nothing short of amazing.
When it comes to the main trinity of shows, which consists (currently) of Aria the Animation, Aria the Natural and Aria the Origination, Aria the Animation acts as a 13-episode character establishing piece; that is, the show focuses more on telling us who these characters are that we will come to know and love for 55 episodes (and counting). Animation doesn’t focus too much on the world of Neo-Venezia outside of the this series; heck, only until one of the later episodes do we find out the history of Aqua, and only then it’s done in a weird sort of “time-travel but not really” way (It’s clunky, but it does the job). Aria the Natural (which we’ll touch on later) focuses more on the world of Neo-Venezia and the people outside of the circle with whom our main crew share their lives. Aria the Origination (which we’ll touch on—say it with me—LATER) brings it all together, acting as a “finale” for the entire series, but honestly, considering the nature of the overall show, Origination doesn’t really feel like a “Goodbye.” It’s more like a “Sorry you have to go, but we’ll be here when you get back.”
The music of Aria the Animation is a feast for the ears. From the OP “Undine” as performed by Yui Makino to the ED “Rainbow” by Round Table feat. nino, the music in this show act just as the waterways in Neo-Venezia; connecting the entire city together while remaining a natural fixture of the surroundings. It’s there but it’s never omnipresent. There are moments when the only sound is the gentle lapping of the water, the clunking of the oars, or the seagulls flying overhead. Granted, there are times when certain instrumental pieces are reused, but honestly, the music is so relaxing, you don’t mind it. At least, I didn’t, for what it’s worth. Also, I have to give a shoutout to the late Eri Kawai who played the singing voice for Orange Planet Prima Undine Athena Glory. Her voice is downright amazing in this, sounding otherworldly beautiful, if that makes any sense.
Ironically, if there’s anything I have to dock Aria the Animation for, it’s…well…the animation. Don’t get me wrong, the Aria series is GORGEOUS, animated with the kind of love and attention to detail that this series so richly deserves. Though it should be said that, when compared to the other series, which admittedly were created a couple years apart from each other, Animation doesn’t quite look as good. Some of the character designs look a little off, as compared to the rest of the series. Sadly, the change from DVD to Blu-Ray didn’t do the show any favors as the original show was in 4:3 format, and all subsequent Blu-Rays are in 16:9. But aside from that, Animation looks stunning. The level of detail to small things like the subtle decay of the buildings and the glistening oars as they rise from the water looks as though they were animated with such loving care, and that translates well over to the Blu-Ray.
Speaking of the Blu-Ray set, there’s a lot to love here. Typically I don’t double-dip when it comes to buying anime. I’m one-and-done purchaser with VERY FEW exceptions. Aria is one of those exceptions. While I already owned the original DVD thin-pack set, I knew that I had to invest in the Blu-Ray when it came out. Though I did have some concerns that they wouldn’t bring over the extras from the DVDs to the Blu-Rays. Thankfully, all the extras from the original DVD Box set follow over to the new Blu-Ray release, including interviews with the Japanese seiyuu for Akari, Aika and Alice, and the amusing and informative mini-documentary, “Sato-Jun’s Venice. I’m Sorry!” (Sato-Jun being the director’s nickname) where the director and several production staff go to Venice to scout locations used in the series and take reference pictures. In addition to the original DVD extras, we also get a commentary track with the English VAs and ADR Director, which is always a joy to listen to and should be done more.
While on the subject of English dub, it should be noted that thanks to a very successful Kickstarter fundraiser (their initial target goal was $110,000; the final total was $595,676–that’s what we like to call “making bank” boys and girls), the entirety of the Aria franchise was not only given a Blu-Ray treatment, it was also given an English dub for the very first time. For years after I purchased my DVD sets, I was cool with the idea that Aria might never get an English dub. I was under the belief that maybe there wouldn’t be enough interest in the series to warrant it getting a dub. I mean, who goes back and dubs a show long after the original sub-only release has been put out there for the masses? That’s just silly, right? Shows how much I know. Admittedly, it was jarring to hear these characters speak English after going so many years hearing these characters in Japanese. It took a bit of adjustment for me, especially when it comes to Akari, as the Japanese voice actress sounds noticeably different from the English actress, but after a couple episodes, I not only got used to it, I grew to love the dub as being yet another beautiful entry in the sweeping history of Aria, especially when you consider that this was fan-funded. Yes, there are a few little rough spots in the beginning, but as the show goes on, and in the subsequent series, the actresses play the characters like they’ve played them for years. There was love put in this project, boys and girls, and it shows.
As I write this review, COVID-19 is still running amuck through the country with little signs of stopping, the Election is still bringing LOADS of drama, and that stupid Chevrolet “I Love It” Commercial is playing on my TV during halftime of the 49ers/Saints Game. But I know that if I go to my shelf, pull out my Blu-Ray copy of Aria the Animation, and pop it in my player, I’m gonna leave this “annus horribilis” behind and get pleasantly lost in the canals of Neo Venezia with a salmon-haired journeyman and her friends training to be the very best like no one ever was (and if you thought I wasn’t going to make that joke, you REALLY don’t know me). Aria the Animation serves as a gentle and pleasant “Buon Giorno” to the world of Aria, a place of sunshine and miracles that is much needed in this time of darkness–
Oh, well, crap. Sorry, Aika. Lets run the scores:
Story & Premise – 24 out of 25
Characters – 25 out of 25
Animation & Music -24 out of 25
Performances – 25 out of 25
Score: 98/100 – “A”