"Water whatever everywhere, so let's all have some fun" is the premise of Kozue Amano's Aria. Mars has been terraformed by heating the planet and melting the polar ice caps, turning the red planet into the much bluer "Aqua." Aqua's geography is perfect for the construction and maintenance of Neo-Venezia, a replica of Venice that attracts tourists from Earth. Don't expect any of the intrigue or romantic mystery normally associated with the Italian city, though; most of Aria's episodic stories deal with lost tourists and gondola races.
The manga's central character is Akari, an enthusiastic and cheerful gondolier guide in training. Akari aspires to be a full-fledged gondolier someday--also known as an "Undine"--and she therefore does her best to make grumpy tourists happy and note the never-ending wonders of Neo-Venezia. Above all, she aims to have fun at her job.
Aria will not make you laugh out loud or cause your heart to hammer in excitement. Its charm is Akari's youthful energy and innocence. When she makes a discovery about Neo-Venezia, her delight livens up the otherwise mediocre story. If not for Akari, there'd be no real reason to care about Neo-Venezia or the nearby islands that are founded on earth cultures (though only Japan is featured, of course). Aqua is not exciting. We meagre earthlings are already pretty familiar with Mars and its potential to support life with some vital alterations to its environment, but even so, writers and artists who terraform Mars in their imaginations normally present a fascinating environment that's different from Earth in substantial ways. Aqua lacks this kind of surprise and sticks with what's familiar to a disappointing degree. If I want to read a manga that features a visit to a Japanese shrine and an encounter with a fox spirit, I have hundreds to choose from. If I want to read a manga that involves Venice, I'll find a manga that involves Venice--or maybe I'll just read Cornelia Funke's excellent Thief Lord again.
Despite my crotchety attitude, Aria still has a few moments that are fun in their simplicity. In one story, Akari and her friend wash the gondolas and make it look ridiculously fun. In the last story of the volume, a city-wide gondola race proves to Akari that it's not about whether you win or lose…
Aria is gentle, quiet and even relaxing if you're in the right mood. If you pick it up with these expectations, the manga will work for you. If you're expecting action, intrigue and great big fires, definitely look elsewhere. Volume one retails for $9.99.