Bygones: Aria the Animation

First released: October 2005

Aria: The Animation is a holiday - from sexual innuendo, from noise, from fighting and from bustle. As it meanders along, content to show the placid toil of the gondoliers in training - geishas of the canals in everything but name - each episode becomes less about individual triumphs and pacing and more about getting lost in the tranquillity the series has gushing from it. The series may not be to everyone's taste, it is as much a holiday from drama and plotting as everything else, but for those looking to escape into a pastel coloured reverie there really is no better series; especially so for fans of gentle voices, lilting music, oddly proportioned cats and occasional time travel.

charmingly naive and has an infectious enthusiasm that elevates her above the common ultra-virtuous stereotype
Mars, once barren and harsh is now Aqua, flush with water and tamed by technology it is a utopia away from Earth - now Manhome. In the canal-city of Neo-Venezia, gondolas are the best way to travel and the water-ways are run by three companies: the smallest Aria, the biggest Orange Planet, and the oldest Himeya. After traveling from Manhome, Akari becomes an apprentice in Aria Company under the tutelage of the beautiful Alicia - one of the three Water Faeries of the city. Akari may not be the best gondolier - Undine in the series jargon - however she is affable and enjoys life, able to find happiness in the smallest of things. Along with two friends, her time on Aqua is replete with adventures both emotional and personal.

Whereas most series blitz their budgets in the first episode with scenes of pomp and extravagance, here the most exciting development is when the chubby cat, president of Aria Company, is swept away by the current and the pink haired protagonist Akari unleashes her hidden skill: rowing backwards. It speaks volumes when it transpires this is the most dramatic event in the entirety of the thirteen episode run but sets up the kind of approach the series champions: measured, graceful and placid. The cast never raise their voices, the opening has no canned animation and instead glides across the character's day-to-day lives, even the ending by Round Table and Nino eases the episode to a smooth close so at no point is the atmosphere of blissful serenity broken.

It is rarely a compliment to mention a series sends you to sleep but here it is definitely beneficial: many episodes exist in a dream-like state where no harm, emotional or physical, can befall the protagonists and oddities such as time-travel or letters from the past are accepted without question. The protagonist Akari is subject to many of these quirks and there is an expectance for her to suddenly exclaim "Oh I'm in the past!", but pleasingly there is just a raised eyebrow and silent acknowledgement. This highlights a key issue with the storytelling in that it may skirt around obnoxious clich├ęs however many of the stories themselves are very childish and range from training on the beach through to the series' low point which features a whole episode devoted to a deformed, codependent feline.

The characters aid its juvenile whims by not entirely archetypal, but enough to be predictable. The three trainees whose names all confusingly begin with A: Akari, Aika and Alice are also prone to being shown with goofy, super-deformed expressions which isn't entirely out of character but fractures the mood somewhat. Mitigating this are the three water faeries: Alicia, Akira and Athena who are supremely graceful and act as occasional mentors to their pupils who often cruise around together under the auspices of "group training".

Although Akari shares the traits of the three top gondoliers and is pitched to succeed Alicia, she is charmingly naive and has an infectious enthusiasm that elevates her above the common ultra-virtuous stereotype. Her relationships with the other characters form the backbone of the series, especially the pint-sized bit-part of the first episode Ai, however her connection with Alicia is heart-warmingly genuine and is one of the high points of the series. Its closest contemporary then in terms of ethos and theme is K-ON! which shares a similar appreciation of the ephemerality of the experiences and relationships of youth; episodes where all the characters do is reminisce around an open fire during winter extol the take away message that friendships and happiness are fleeting and best enjoyed while present rather than chased away with the vagaries of real life.

But whereas K-ON! is loud and brash, screeching with tween pop-rock, Aria the Animation is quieter, living up to its namesake and presenting a fairytale world of gnomes and flying postmen, where even the insects are twee and gussied up with ribbons. Beautiful but ultimately forgettable, this is escapism at its most pure: a world to get lost in, characters one would be happy to associate with and for once a future to look forward to. Some episodes are almost unforgivably slow, but even then the soft-hued visuals and harmonious score carry one away more than the stories ever could. Certainly not to everyone's liking but for those yearning to melt away into an audio-visual cloud and are able to ignore the faux-Italian trappings and inter-planetary gotchas, this is sublime.

Responses to “Bygones: Aria the Animation”

It's a valid comparison but for me Aria one-ups K-On in all respects. K-On just serves to reminds me of how much more I enjoyed Aria, to the point where I just end up re-watching an episode of Aria instead of finishing the K-On ep I was watching.

Like a good children's fable, Aria almost makes me wish I was actually there experiencing the dream-like life of Akari.. K-On just makes me glad I don't have to lead the slovenly, kitten-like life of one of it's moeblob stars.
@ghostlightning: Huh, guess we're on the same wavelength with that, although with the posts being so close together it now looks like I blatantly plagiarised lolikitsune, despite (embarrassingly) having never visited his/her blog before.
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@deaky: I think Aria is a lot more passive when it comes to attention than K-ON if that makes any sense. Aria seems content to just drift along and allows you to tune in or out as you see fit, but K-ON always seems to want attention, whether that's a symptom of the culture surrounding it I'm not sure - it does seem to fit with how few people active extol Aria though. However I'm loathe to compare them as they do seem like two different shows despite the similar attitudes.
Actually, I like 'em both, bought Aria, and will probably buy K-On.

But really, there's nothing quite like a trip down the canal with Akari-chan.

Aria's atmosphere is unmatched.
Good post, though I wouldn't bash on K-on! quite so much. I think the comparison is more telling than normative. Aria is fantastic on almost all fronts, K-on! on many many fewer, but ultimately the shows do different things. Aria soothes my spirit and teaches me how to slow down. K-on! gets me fired up about collaboration and friendship.

But then both series take me to the same place in their own distinct ways: 'enjoy life and be happy.'

It is to both shows' great credit that I attribute them with the adjective 'boring.'

Neither is for everyone, but both are for me.
@lolikitsune: Definitely not bashing K-On!, both the first and second seasons have been, well, not exactly favourites but certainly highly enjoyable and it doesn't deserve the bashing it gets (ohoho, pot, kettle, black).

I'm only now just getting through Natural which is just as enjoyable as Animation and it extols exactly what you say: "chill, enjoy the little things" which I'm definitely a proponent of. I don't think I'd go as far as to call them "boring" as they're entertaining which seems the opposite of boring, but I know what you mean.

Awesome that you enjoy both of them, always on the look out for similar recommendations.