Genre: Slice-of-life/ Sci-fi/ Fantasy
Review Status: Full (52 Episodes/ 52 Episodes) *The first season is Aria the
Animation, the second Aria the Natural, the last Aria the Origination
Licensed: Licensed in the US
Art/Animation: While some of the art isn’t terrific (obviously CG, such as the ocean in some shots), the colors are very nice, the animation is fairly consistent, and some bits are absolutely beautful.
Summary: “Drift peacefully into Neo Venezia, a city on the planet Aqua (formerly known as Mars). By the 24th century, humans have found a way to colonize the previously uninhabitable planet. As futuristic as that sounds, Neo Venezia is still teeming with rustic beauty; gondolas on wide canals and waterways are the main mode of transportation. The city itself is a faithful replication of Manhome’s (the planet formerly known as Earth) Venice.
To make sure that residents and tourists alike get the most from Neo Venezia’s many wonders, companies offering guided tours via gondola were formed, one of which is named Aria Company.
This is the workplace of Akari Mizunashi, a free spirited teenager from Manhome who is now a novice Undine (the title given to tour guides). Join Akari as she becomes intimately acquainted with other Undine, tourists, Neo Venezia’s residents, and even the city itself, learning many valuable life lessons along the way, such as the wonderful truth that there are such things as manmade miracles.” (from MAL.net)
Review: This is an anime in which, at first glance, you can’t be sure about what you’re going to get. The cover for the first season might imply a bunch of fanservice, the summary might imply slapstick comedy, while the description of the content might imply that it takes place in a complete fantasy world or is totally inappropriate for anyone under the age of 16.
In reality, this is none of that. This is a story where nothing happens. And I mean that in the most wonderful way. There are no giant monsters attacking the city, there are no intense space battles, there is nothing that could possibly be considered offensive to…. anyone, really!
The story revolves around Akari and her friends learning to be gondoliers and learning about eachother and the wonderful city they live in. You watch as they make new friends and experience life in Neo-Venezia and the wonderful things it offers. They truly take joy in life’s little things- from the baked potato offered along one of the banks, to the celebrations that take place, to the people that they interacts with every day, there is always something magnificent that waits to be found.
As this is a story about these girls wanting to be gondoliers, you also follow them on their journey of mastering their skills. There’s talk about how to give a proper tour of the city (in fact, one episode is entirely about Akari giving a tour of the city- it’s one of the most heartwarming and breathtaking episodes). You follow as they share training experiences, sometimes making mistakes, often succeeding. You see that rowing a gondola isn’t as easy as it may appear at first- one of the reasons Akari is still in training is due to her learning how to row one the wrong way while she was still on Manhome (Earth).
These things fill the first two seasons. The third takes a decidedly different tone as the girls start to truly master their craft (there is an interlude OVA between the second and third seasons, called Aria ~Arietta~, which is packaged with the third season and has a separate review, which is the first sign of the change in tone). This is where themes of change and time begin to take on more importance. While the beauty of Neo-Venezia remains, the gondoliers who share it’s beauty change, and it’s marked by a bittersweet moving on by a beloved member of the cast. This is where I recommend watching to the very end of the last episode of the third season- which shows that, even as things change and time moves on, there’s certain things that will always live on.
As an aside, because it’s confusing to most people who start watching the anime, yes, that funny-looking white creature with the weird eyes in the beginning of the first episode is a cat-. It’s a Mars cat, which looks different from those that were brought from Earth more recently. And he is considered the “President” of the company in name only- it’s an honorary title given to the cat mascot of a gondolier company, for good luck.
Overall, this is one of the sweetest, most heartwarming anime out there.
Recommended: For watching after a bad day- guaranteed to give a mood lift! Appropriate for all ages.
Other titles you might like: Aria and Aqua (manga)
Hidamari Sketch (anime),
Ah! My Goddess (anime and manga)
Natume’s Book of Friends (anime and manga)