Aria draws to a close with some of the best animation yet and some of the best stories for these young women.
What They Say As winter melts into spring, Akari, Aika and Alice continue to work hard to become Neo-Venezia's top gondoliers. Aika starts to take on more responsibility around Himeya; Alice travels up the challenging canal near Hope Hill; even Akari spends a day working on a huge gondola called a traghetto! But there's still so much to learn... and the final test to become a Prima, which once seemed so far off in the future, might not be so far off anymore. Contains the complete ARIA The ORIGINATION TV series (episodes 1-13, plus Episode 5.5) and ARIA The OVA ~ARIETTA~.
Nozomi’s release of the series mirrors the previous seasons where it’s presented only in its original Japanese language format. While dub fans may be disappointed by this, the series presents itself well here in its stereo form encoded at 192kbps. The show is essentially all dialogue driven with little in the way of serious directionality to it and that gives it a very soothing feeling when combined with the generally mellow instrumental music. There isn’t anything aggressive in this show but it all maintains the right kind of atmosphere that it wants to present in order to keep you engaged with it. In listening to these thirteen episodes, we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is spread out across four discs in a 5/4/4/1 format with all the extras on their own fifth disc. This season is a break from others in that it's in widescreen and the budget looks better as well as it's far more vibrant and lush than before while taking the detail to the next level. The show is one that has had a distinct look to it but it's like the staff are at the top of their game here and the visuals through the transfer shine beautifully. Colors are rich and vibrant, detail is spot on and there's hardly anything here to take issue with outside of some noise here and there and some line noise during a couple of the panning sequences. There are a few moments where the digital color gradients are more visible than others, but it looks great throughout and this is definitely the best looking of the three seasos.
Nozomi continues to do this just right here by mirroring what they did with past releases so all of Aria has a wonderful consistent feel in its packaging. The series is housed in a solid heavy chipboard box with each of the main panels featuring some great looking detailed artwork. The two main panels are different in approach but with wonderful results. The main panel has the has Akari and Aika together at the beach where they look pretty inviting with beautiful colors and a dash of green to go with the sand. The back panel featuresthe main trio together with their respective company presidents with the wind turbines in the background where there's a lot of great blue sky. Within this box are five thinpak cases. These pieces look wonderful as it takes the various characters and puts them together against different backgrounds that highlight the city or the characters. The only really dark one is the the OVA disc which has a sunset scene highlihting when Akari first arrived and woke up at the Aria company. The back covers all follow a uniform approach with a lot of white space, some simple but solid shots from the show and the same summary for each volume. The individual discs special features are clearly listed and the technical grid runs everything through according to that volume. No inserts are included nor are there reversible covers.
Within the box we get one special item that’s included with each set, the “Episode Guidebook” which is done in full color non-glossy paper. The book runs about forty-five pages and covers each of the episodes with character and setting artwork pieces, some shots from the show and a brief bit about a particular of that episode. Both the OVA and the TV series are covered here in multiple ways, from cast comments to the talk by the voice actress for Akari about her trip to Venice, sketches and thank you messages. There's a lot to really sift through here and we once again get a really wonderful package that enhances the show itself with all that it offers.
The menu design for the series is one that reworks the cover art for each respective volume and zooms in on it a bit while placing the navigation strip along the bottom. The colors and detail for each cover is much more vibrant here and the clarity really shines well. They’re not over designed menus with a lot of animation but they take the core piece from the cover and add enough flourish and design to it to tie all together in a solid way. With there being no language options here, the individual selections look a little meager but are easy to navigate. Player presets are obviously a non-issue but it is worth noting that you can turn the subtitles off on the fly should you choose to.
This series has a significant number of extras, enough so that there are some on each of the TV episode discs and a disc full of extras. The TV episode discs have spread across them the seven Pictuer Drama pieces which run about seven minutes each and are roughly like having radio dramas with pictures done to them while adding in some useful animation from the series itself if it fits. There are cute and quirky additions to the series that are more humorous than anything but with a restrained sense of humor. On these discs you can also find the clean version of the closing sequence. The Arietta OVA disc has no extra on it but the last disc in the set is all about the extras. The first one is a big one that runs nearly fifty minutes where the three principle actresses sit down and talk about their experiences on the show, their favorite moments with clips playing through and some simple lighthearted discussions about what went into their roles and how it was working with the director. The choices they have are cute and they have a lot of fun talking about all of it.
Almost as long is the forty four minute feature where the series director, Junichi Sato, has a sit down interview where he goes into the show at length, which is good considering how many episodes there are in total that he's dealt with. It's a show he definitely has a passion for and unlike some directors that just deal with surface level things, he talks pretty in depth at times about the franchise and where it came from and how it ended where it is. As they disc each of the episodes, there's a lot of good nuggets in there, particularly when they get to the final episodes and talk about it in relation to the manga. The rest of this extras disc is given over to the two episodes of SatoJun's “Venice, I'm Sorry!” Returns feature. This is where he takes a trip back to Venice with lots of footage, though this time he has the discussion with the voice actress for Alicia. The trip has Sato and the voice actress for Akari going to Venice and exploring it once again in a cute way, including having a plushie Aria in hand. The first episode runs for about twenty five minutes while the second one runs about twenty seven minutes.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This set brings the Aria franchise to a close as it contains the thirteen episodes of the third season, Origination, as well as the additional OVA Arietta which takes place earlier in the season. Aria has been a fascinating series as it plays both sides of the coin by talking about consistency and change at the same time and how the two relate. This figures heavily into the third season as at its core, Neo Venezia doesn't change all that much while the people within it do. It's difficul to trace the progress of the characters sometimes, especially as the passage of time is hard to isolate at times, but we've seen a lot go on over a period of a couple of years through the seasons and taking it in you realize just how much has changed.
When it comes to changes, one of the more drastic ones made to the series is that it's finally in widescreen. While there are some that will tell you that it doesn't really make a difference if a show is full frame or widescreen, the way it can present itself can be quite dramatically different. Aria has looks beautiful from its first frame of the first season but here, with the wider canvas using the generally same overall approach to how the story is framed, it looks even more beautiful. The characters are captured in a way that makes them feel more a part of the world as it's now an expanded world in front of us. The scope of it takes on a larger feel with more water or buildings seen that gives it a much more lived in place. The additional space brings us even lusher sunsets or blue skies. This is a big change to the show and a very welcome one even if it's just at the end.
The consistency side is something that has been really appealing about this series from the start as Neo Venezia continues to be a beautiful character all its own. While we've seen many shows where the location is as much a character as those who inhabit it, Neo Venezia is one of the few that is so beautifully realized with its detail and exploration that it stands above all others. With three seasons to tell tales about the people, the places and the connections through the eyes of these girls, it's become something that's amazing to watch. When we have the girls going through their tours and highlighting the areas they know well, the areas that represent amazing places, we're reminded of past episodes that have shown us so much of the city through the people that they've all met. There's a wonderful consistency to this city as it's very much like the girls themselves, a key player in all of it.
Across the thirteen episodes that make up the Origination season, it's very focused on the characters once again as the seasons are passing a little more quickly as we go from spring to fall over the course of it. They delve into some moments of the past, such as when we see how Aika and Akira first met and how the course of the lives changed because of that meeting when Aika was so young. Another episode has Alice concerned about her relationship with Athena just as Athena loses her memory and the girls spend the day trying to help her regain her memories. Alicia's past is touched upon as well as we see her days of training before she became a Prima, which ties in nicely to someone she worked with years ago that's come back into the Alicia's life. There are a lot of little nods throughout these episodes that show how times change but many things stay the same as a new generation comes up to take the reins.
Where this season really shined for me is when it dealt firmly with the girls who are ready to take those reins, though they may not be aware of it. Some radical moments do happen, though they may not seem so to the viewer, as one by one we are shown how they've all changed and became important members of their various companies and as guides as well. The days, weeks and months of regular practice they've had together is a reflection of what the three Water Fairies themselves did years ago so it was plainly obvious where it would go. What wasn't certain was whether they'd actually move towards that in a firm way in the series or leave it as something that they could tackle in the future. Thankfully, even though the series is heavy on consistency, it also favors progress and lets us see the challenges they face before they can hopefully move on.
In all honesty, as it moves through all three characters, going from Alice to Aika to Akari, the ending of it all left me feeling very moved. Each of the elder women have a really close relationship with the younger ones, though it's not always clear. When the testing phase begins, these ties become clearer through flashbacks and conversation that really works wonders in how it's presented. Athena's amnesia is key for Alice while the story of how Akira met Aika shows a bond that is quite old. The best is with Alicia at the end as she talks plainly to Akari about why she's doing the testing now and all the other changes that are about to occur. All of this combined with the epilogue brings it all together beautifully while also tying it back to the very beginning of the first season in a way that tugs just right at the heart.
Aria has been a series that charmed me from the start, though it has had some lulls in the second season that were difficult to get through. With the third season, they fulfill the promise of the first two seasons and allow the characters to grow at their own pace and find out what they're really going to be. And they do this through exploring every facet of the city of Neo Venezia and understanding it better than they understand themselves. And that city is even more beautiful this time around with its presentation. This was a bittersweet ending as you want to see more, you want to see where these girls go, but you also see this as an ideal place to draw the curtain closed and savor what we've been given. This is a show that is surprising in that it made it past the first season and survived over several years but the end result speaks for itself. This is a real jewel of a series that is unlike most others. Very highly recommended as a franchise in total.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Picture dramas 1-7, clean opening, clean closing, U.S. trailer, cast discussion on ARIA, director discussion on ARIA, SATOJUN's "Venice, I'm Sorry!" Returns parts 1 and 2
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
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