Aria The Animation Season 1 Collection (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Life on Aqua fits the European mode of living rather well and this series presents a certain atmosphere that engages while also soothing.

What They Say
Hundreds of years in the future, mankind has transformed the harsh landscape of Mars into a world covered by water and has renamed it "Aqua." Refined gondoliers and tour guides, known as "undines," navigate the canals of Aqua's Neo-Venezia, a city that boasts both the architecture and the atmosphere of its Venetian namesake. ARIA follows the day-to-day adventures of Akari - a recent arrival to the planet and a gondolier-in-training with the prestigious Aria Company - as she works toward her dream of becoming an undine and explores her new home.

The Review!
Audio:
Nozomi’s release of the series is another in their last several acquisitions 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.

Video:
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The series is spread out across four discs in a 4/3/3/3 format with a few extras on each volume. The show isn’t one that has a really high budget so there isn’t a lot of detail or fluid motion to it at times, which allows for the bitrate to vary a whole lot more. Some scenes do show some noise in the backgrounds and a touch of mild blocking here and there, but by and large this is a smooth and solid looking presentation. The main thing people will notice more than anything else is some of the aliasing that goes on during the various panning sequences, but even that’s not too terribly distracting. While I would have preferred to see this done as a three disc set, with the extras that are included I’m glad it was given a bit of space to breath.

Packaging:
Aria: The Animation Season 1 has a really good package presentation to it. The series is housed in a solid heavy chipboard box with each of the main panels featuring some great looking detailed artwork. The front panel has Akari, Alice, Aika and Alicia together along with President Aria as they’re along the side of the ocean. The back panel features a very fun shot of Akari, Aika and Alice together as they dip their feet in the water at the beach. Both sides show some beautiful and rich hues of blue which blend perfectly with the numerous whites. Within this box are four thinpak cases. Each cover fatures a different character set against a part of the city. Akari is with Ai on the first volume in front of the Aria Company while the second has Alicia and Aria together. The third has a nice sultry shot of Aika while the fourth has a very welcoming image of Alice with her hands out. 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 “Neo-Venezia Guidebook” which is done in black and white. The book runs about forty pages and covers a wide range of material. The bulk of it runs through taking material from the show and presenting it as an actual guide book which makes it a wonderful reference piece. There’s a good chunk of character artwork pieces and storyboards as well but it was the promotional artwork and original cover artwork section I liked the most since I always enjoy these sections.

For those that ordered from Right Stuf, a special bonus was included (though limited to a certain number of copies) with an envelope that contains seven postcards. These cards don’t utilize artwork done for the covers of this set but they’re just like them with the colors, design work and general appeal. They’re very beautiful and definitely a great item for the hardcore fan of this series to try and get.

See a gallery of images for this release here.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
Spread across the four volumes, there are some very enjoyable extras to be found here. While we get a few of the basics in the clean ending sequence and a couple of commercials, the real stuff is in the interviews. There’s two parts to the voice cast interview section where they spend one with the younger girls and one with the older ones and they talk about the show and how they all enjoyed it. It’s fluff, but it’s easy to see the characters in these actors. The best extras for me though were the “I’m Sorry, Venice” segments that have Junichi Sato and others heading to Italy for scouting. There’s a lot of travelogue material here, with it being done with a voiceover by Sato after the fact, which showcases how they spent their time in Venice and how they adapted things they saw into the series. Each of them runs on average about ten minutes and there are six segments across the four volumes. They’re really a lot of fun and further cement Sato as one of my favorite creative people.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Kozue Amano, Aria: The Animation is a thirteen episode series that blends some very interesting ideas into a science fiction setting. Who knew that one could be captivated and amused by a show about women pushing gondola’s around a water world in some far future. This first season was originally broadcast back in 2005 with direction by Junichi Sato, a man who has directed some of my favorite series such as Pretear and Princess Tutu, but who is likely better known for his involvement in Sailor Moon. With animation by Hal Film Maker, which incidentally was used in the two series just mentioned, Aria: The Animation has a very distinct clean look to it that captures the flow and movement of the water on this world quite well.

While we had watched the first episode through a sampler, it’s surprising how much of the series was really set by that single story. The first season ran for thirteen episodes and the second one for twenty-six certainly, something that paints a positive picture about it since many thirteen episode series never make it past that with another season. Toss in an OVA and a third season and it gives one all the more reason to take pause and pay closer attention to it. This is made even more evident when you start with this set and realize that what you get early on is what you get for this entire season really. It’s very laid back nature, the way it seemingly glides through what it wants to tell, and introduces you to a number of the basic but important concepts.

Aria: The Animation takes place on the world of Aqua and specifically in the city of Neo Venezia. It’s been some one hundred and fifty years since the planet was terraformed and essentially was turned into a world of water where hardly any land mass can be found. The people who came to live here took Venice as its model and have carved out a very ancient looking city but one that is brimming with life and character. People who live here from birth are obviously quite adjusted to it, with its lack of roads and mainland transportation, and find moving about its small streets and using gondolas as something that is extremely nature. For those who come from Manhome, and interesting naming convention for Earth apparently, it’s often quite jarring for them and it turns into a love it or hate it kind of relationship depending on the person.

Into this world we come to know the characters rather quickly as we’re introduced to Akari who is being trained to operate the gondolas for the Aria Company. With her level of skill since coming here from Manhome, she’s not able to take customers out on her own yet. The company, owned by an amusing little cat creature named Aria, is quite popular because of Alicia, an attractive and highly skilled gondola operater, or undine. Both girls have a very laid back personality from what we see of them and the opening episode is very pleasant in that Akari takes on a “friend” named Ai during a practice run and through her we get to see the basics of the city and life as an undine-in-training. That includes her meeting up with Aika, another undine in training who works for the Himeya Company.

It’s through Ai that we’re able to have the main narrative throughout this season. Ai is the simple cute character that’s designed to be our introductory eyes into the world. When she returns to Manhome Akari keeps writing her in email about her exploits and those that she meets, just like writing in a diary. These pieces are done as narration here and there, not always at the end, where Akari talks about what she’s experienced and Ai even has some dialogue in return about how she can’t wait to visit again. These are very small pieces in the overall storyline, but they tie it together rather well and it all comes full circle in the last episode when the New Year festivities are underway.

As the series progresses, we get introduced to the other companies in more detail. The initial focus is spent on getting us used to Aika and her instructor Akira. The two are definitely alike and Aika is absorbing a lot of Akira’s traits, though some of them she seems to come by quite naturally. Akira is rather feisty by nature and that pushes against Aika, though Aika is almost much the same way which is why it subconsciously irritates her. Aika also idolizes Alicia which sort of sets Akira into fits since she and Alicia trained together years ago and there’s a competitive sort of friendship going on there. The interactions between the girls and their instructors as well as how the Prima Undines interact with each other is amusing in general.

Aria: The Animation isn’t content with just the two companies though as a third one is introduced. The character in training that we meet is the green haired girl Alice, a very soft spoken and quite young woman who is very good at what she does, but still has a ways to go. Working for the Orange Planet company, one that started up only in the last few years but is ranked among the best already, has in it Athena as her instructor. Athena was one of the trio back in the day when Akira and Alice all met up and started training together, which is why they’re amused that their three girls have all inadvertently found each other and begun to train with each other so they can become Prima Undines someday. Alice brings some gentleness to the cast that Akari doesn’t quite bring and the growth of friendship between the trio is enhanced by her presence.

As of this writing, there are fifty three episodes across three seasons and an OVA produced. Obviously very little can be told about all of that from this first episode. Yet there is plenty that can be told from it if you look closely. The animation isn’t top tier but it’s solid and it’s filled with designs that take familiar things and tweaks them nicely. That Akari and Aika wear sailor uniforms would be a problem if they were kept normal, but here they’re elongated in an elegant way and given more formality and beauty to them. The pacing of the series in general is likely to mirror what is shown here since you tend to lead with stories and characters that will define a show. And the animation is solid throughout with a few really nice mild amusement aspects placed here and there, notably surrounding Aria himself. What this first episode does for me is to say, “Yes, you’re going to like this. Come and explore more of Neo Venezia.” Thankfully Nozomi Entertainment will be releasing this in chunks so the exploration can be well documented.

If there’s anything that annoys me about the series, it’s the names being used. Obviously done on purpose, but on planet Aqua, we’re dealing with lead characters named Akari, Alice, Aika, Akira, Alice, Athena, Aria and Ai among others. Way too many A’s and way too many very close sounding names. It all gets to be too much sometimes and made my head spin a little. More variety please!

In Summary:
The first season of Aria: The Animation is wonderful. It’s one of those shows that really does a solid job of creating an atmosphere and design sensibility that sets it apart from other shows. It’s not a show about nothing, but a show about the lives of these women as they go about their jobs and relationships with each other in a little piece of heaven. The world of Aqua and the city of Neo-Venezia in particular has a whole lot of appeal and it’s easy to see why people are drawn there. It’s not for everyone, but for those that are looking for something to engage them in a way unlike a lot of other shows, this is one to get. Nozomi Entertainment has done up a stellar release overall here and it’s one that should be beautifully matched by the upcoming releases as well. Aria: The Animation will be the latest crown jewel in their catalog and deservedly so.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Apprentice Undines Interview, Primas Interview, Satojun's "Venice I'm Sorry!" Travelogue, Commercials, Clean Endings, Guidebook

Review Equipment
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.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
MSRP: 49.99
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Aria