Aria

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Aria gondolas.jpg
"If you get stuck in the memories of those times, you won't be able to appreciate all the fun that's happening right now. So don't be thinking "that time was fun", because you should be thinking "that time was also fun" ... Being able to find the fun that's happening right now, is the best way to enjoy the present.
Alicia Florence

ARIA is a manga and anime series set in the 24th century, depicting the adventures of several young women who live on Aqua, the planet formerly known as Mars before it was Terraformed into a water-covered paradise. They serve as gondolier tour-guides -- or undines -- in the city of Neo Venezia, which is an exact copy of Earth's Venice, canals and all.

The story focuses on Aria Company, the smallest gondolier tour business in the city with only two employees. It is run by Alicia Florence, who one day welcomes a new apprentice called Akari Mizunashi. Most of the plot deals with the relationship between the two girls and Akari's efforts to become a Prima, the highest rank of undine, signified by being allowed to steer a gondola without wearing gloves. Akari also befriends and trains with apprentice undines from other companies, who each get their own screen time as the series progresses.

Akari writes extensive letters describing her experiences to someone on Earth (which is referred to as Manhome as a Shout-Out to the works of cult Speculative Fiction writer Cordwainer Smith). Eventually, however, it is revealed in the manga to be the readers of her blog , while in the anime it is Ai, a young girl who was a customer in the first episode.

The manga series is written by Kozue Amano and started out with the title Aqua, but was renamed Aria when the series switched publishers. Both were later adapted into an anime series (directed by Junichi Sato) with three parts, chronologically titled: The Animation, The Natural and The Origination, plus a stand-alone OVA called Arietta. The pacing is generally relaxed and easy-going, with lots of attention for the beautiful scenery of Aqua and Neo-Venezia.

Most of the drama consists of friendly disputes between the various apprentice undines as they learn their trade. Akari also has a talent for surreal encounters, which pushes the story into a fantasy setting at times. The later seasons and the OVA have a tendency to become somewhat melancholic from time to time, but generally the tone of the show is light and warm.

For people who like lovely imagery of beautiful girls against a wondrous backdrop, this Slice of Life series is a nice change of pace from the action-filled and fanservicy fare of most other anime. For this reason (and others), it's often compared to another Slice-of-Life work, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.


Tropes used in Aria include:
  • Adaptation Expansion: Several chapters in the manga that would normally cover only half of an episode in anime are expanded to full-episode stories in the anime. Examples include Akira taking a couple on a tour prior to training the three apprentices together (and including the couple in the training) along with the wedding sub-plot when Akari helps the mailman one day.
  • An Aesop: Enjoy life. Do it now! Every episode has a more specific/minor one, usually summarized and stated outright towards the end. Some fans elevated them to their de facto religion.
  • Afterlife Express: The ghostly train that appears to transport cats to some sort of afterlife. This is a Shout-Out to Night on the Galactic Railroad.
  • Alchemic Elementals: Undines, Salamanders, Gnomes, and Sylphs. Of course they're just job titles, but they are all here, and referring to the characters' areas of specialization.
  • Badass Normal: Akira, even as a kid.
  • Batman Gambit: This is Aika's motivation for becoming friends with Akari. As revealed in the Aqua manga, Aika initially only becomes friends with Akari to use it as an excuse to see Alicia more.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In Episode 20 of Natural, Cait Sith saves Akari from the Woman in Black.
  • Bishoujo: Design aesthetic used for every undine, but especially the main cast.
  • Beach Episode: Episode 5 of The Animation
  • Bland-Name Product: In the anime, the cafeteria at Orange Planet company supplies ketchup by "Hein."
  • Book Ends: Compare the start of Akari's apprenticeship with Alicia to Ai's apprenticeship with Akari. The mentors in both cases give the same smile and say the same thing. In the manga, this is at the beginning and end of the series while in the anime it's in the beginning and end of the final episode.
    • Also, at least in the manga, the postman was the first person Akari ever rowed for, in his gondola before he delivered her to Aria Company. And in the last chapter, he hires her to take him on a tour of the city -- and reminds her that he said that first time that she'd make a splendid undine.
  • Call to Agriculture: The Grandma.
  • Canon Discontinuity: In volume 2 of the Aqua manga, the bonus chapter features Alice as a central character before she's even introduced in the main storyline. Lampshaded by both Akari and Aika in the one-panel eye-catches at the start and end of the chapter. (This is a function of the publisher change: by the time a new edition of Aqua was put out by the new publisher, Alice had been introduced, thus she was included in the added bonus material.)
  • Canon Immigrant: Ai originated in the anime, then shows up as Akari's new apprentice in the last manga chapter.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: The series has people from Earth regularly visiting Mars for business or pleasure, apparently at about the cost we would expect for an intercontinental trip today.
  • Catch Phrase
    • Alicia: "Ara ara" ("my, my"), usually followed by a giggle, emphasizing her easy-going nature.
    • Aika often corrects others by shouting "Embarrassing remarks are forbidden!" -- in the original Japanese, "Hazukashii serifu kinshi!" This is often varied throughout the series, in the format "__________ is/are forbidden!"
      • This backfires on her in Chapter 8 of the manga ("Aria" not "Aqua") when she accidentally lets slip a corny remark, resulting in Akari taking the opportunity to use her catchphrase against her.
      • It seems as if she learned this from Akira, who declares in the second episode (and the 14th Aria manga chapter) that Alicia's "Ara ara" and giggling are forbidden. In the anime this is stretched into Akira shouting, "Kinshi! Kinshi!" over and over as she chases Alicia around the building, while Alicia continues to deliver her Catch Phrase (including the giggle).
      • In the first episode, Aika realizes she just said something she wouldn't let Akari get away with. Shouting her usual, she adds, "For myself!" and slumps down with a comical look of despair.
      • Akatsuki also said it to Akari once when Aika wasn't around. It may be a Neo-Venezian Catch Phrase, instead of specific to one or two people.
    • Alice likes to prepend "dekkai" ("huge") to things. This can be translated as "really" (Right Stuf's preferred translation for the anime) or "quite" in most cases. At least one translator for the manga rendered it as "super-".
    • Akari frequently pronounces "hai!" as "hahi!". She also tends to go "Ehhhh?" a lot, especially in response to Aika's correction. In one episode/chapter, Aika claims Akari tends to get distracted and say "Ah, suteki!" which means "oh, it's wonderful," or more contextually, "Ooh, that's neat!" but this isn't really shown in practice, though.
    • Akira often shouts "Suwa!" when the Undines practicing make a mistake.
  • Cats Are Magic: The cats, especially the Mars variety. And then there's Cait Sith.
  • Cat Smile: Athena in Super-Deformed mode tends to show an expression that's like an inverted Cat Smile.
  • Cheerful Child: Ai, although it takes a while for her cheery side to show.
  • Cherry Blossoms: The scene in which Alicia and Akari visit the remote part of an island, where a huge sakura tree blooms, covering the abandoned train car under it with cherry blossoms.
  • Choro Club: Hear that lovely music in the background? That's them playing.
  • City of Canals: ARIA is set in the city of Neo-Venezia, a copy of the original on a terraformed Mars and the source of a lot of beautiful imagery.
  • Comic Book Time: Even though three years pass on Aqua and six years pass on Manhome during the course of the series, the characters show no indication of aging.
    • At the beginning of the first chapter of Aqua, Akari notes that the date is 3 April, "Earth Year 2301." At the start of the first chapter of Aria, Akari comments that she's now been on Aqua for twelve months ... and she gives the current date as 1 October, Earth Year 2301.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Even though this is clearly a feel-good series, Akari's thoughtful nature sometimes makes it touch upon some deeper subjects.
  • Darkskinned Blonde: Athena, though she has purple hair.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alice, and occasionally Aika when dealing with Akari's wide-eyed idealism.
  • Dojikko: Athena, despite being an excellent undine and a great singer.
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: Though tourists are apparently happy to return home, in some cases unimpressed with the beauty of Aqua, it's made clear in dialogue that this applies. Until she comes to Aqua, Ai has never seen a blue sky, and Akari comments that back home she couldn't go in the ocean or dig in the soil like she does on Aqua, and, most importantly for the series, Venice flooded a couple centuries ago.
    • Indications are that Earth is heavily mechanized and computerized. Life is "convenient" there ... but you don't have the opportunity to enjoy nature. Ai's remark about not seeing a blue sky doesn't necessarily mean Earth's skies are horribly polluted; it could just be that where she lives there's very little chance (or reason) to see the sky at all. Beneath the Earth, an Underwater City, or a huge arcology, perhaps. Before Ai visited Aqua, she also hadn't seen a potato that hadn't been cut up.
  • Easily Forgiven: Athena causes Alice quite bit of needless grief by faking amnesia, but it's brushed off as if it were a harmless prank.
  • Esperanto, the Universal Language: Alice's canzone is in this language. (Athena's vaguely Italianate songs are actually gibberish, according to Eri Kawai, songwriter and performer.)
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": "Mr. Postman" to the Cast. "Old Man" to the other postmen.
  • Eyes Always Shut: Mr. Postman, except for that one time he let Akari row his gondola.
  • Face Fault: The characters' faces often become very deformed when they get emotional - sometimes to the extent of getting creepy.
  • Faceless Masses: Active Prima undines outside of the main cast are often drawn without any recognizable features. Exceptions include backbiting colleagues of Akira who upset Aika with their gossip and the Prima who acts as foreman for the traghetto service.
  • Faking Amnesia: The water fairy Athena Glory does this as a prank to her student, Alice.
  • Fan Service:
  • Follow the White Rabbit: President Aria does this to Akari more than once in The Animation and The Natural.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Especially prevalent if you've read the Aqua manga, seen Akari take her promotional exam to become a Single and compare it to Alice's promotional exam. Alice is given both promotional exams at the same time and is promoted straight to Prima. The exam to become a Single is one of strength, endurance, and sculling ability while the exam to become a Prima is more oriented towards people skills.
    • In Episode 1 of The Natural', look at Ai in the kid-sized version of the Aria Company uniform.
    • Episode 2 of The Animation: pay close attention to Akari's answer when asked why gondola companies have blue-eyed cats as their presidents. Then skip ahead to the second-last episode of The Origination and note Akari's alias.
  • Future Imperfect: One minor occurrence of this: Aika says in Chapter 3 of Aqua that the "presidents" of the undine companies must be blue-eyed cats because "Aquamarine is the legendary goddess of the ocean, and she's said to have protected sailors throughout the ages." Ummmm, really? You won't find that goddess in any book on mythology I've read.
  • Gender Flip: Episode 22 of The Natural does this to the entire cast.
  • Generation Xerox: The mentors of Akari, Aika and Alice were a close-knit group of friends when they were apprentices themselves.
  • Genius Ditz: Athena, at times bordering on being a Cloudcuckoolander.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Aika at times.
  • Gratuitous English: Occasionally English words pop up between all the Italian and Esperanto.
    • In the first episode, Akari comments that Aika really loves Alicia, and Aika basically sings the word, "Ye-e-e-essss!" Then Akari invites President Aria shopping for cat food with her, and the second time she says, "Let's go!" it's in English.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Italian; Justified by Neo-Venezia being a conscious recreation of Venice, but it's even odds whether a piece of writing in the background is in Italian or Japanese. In the anime this is mingled with some Esperanto as well.
  • Grumpy Bear: Aika. Akatsuki has some of this too, at times.
  • Hot Mom: Akatsuki's.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: In Japanese, every episode of the anime begins with sono ("that") and ends with an ellipsis ("...").
    • In the manga, the chapters are termed "navigations," and the volumes (only in the table of contents) as "voyages."
  • Fundamentally Female Cast: It is explicitly stated that being an undine is one of the few ways that a female can become a professional gondolier.
  • Iyashikei: Akari's ability to find joy in everyday situations makes Aria a "healing" story.
  • Important Haircut: Halfway through The Natural, Aika accidentally burns her hair and switches to a short hairstyle. Several further episodes are devoted to her adjusting to it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Aika.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: In the last episode of The Origination, Alicia suddenly announces she is getting married, without any prior indication she was even dating someone. The viewer never finds out who her fiance is, let alone any details about the courtship. There are some interesting theories about Alicia's spouse mentioned in the WMG-section. The manga gives hints that she's seeing someone, starting a couple volumes before it's actually announced. The anime skips all of them, however.
  • Limited Wardrobe: The girls are almost always wearing their undine uniforms, even in their spare time.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Akari visits a cafe that serves only cats, and when she walks out it appears to have been long abandoned. There are a few other incidents of this sort in the series.
  • Love Martyr: President Aria to President Hime
  • Luminescent Blush: Alicia surely knows how to provoke them.
  • Mega Neko:
    • Cait Sith, the King of Cats.
    • To a lesser extent, President Aria, when you realize that comparatively, his head is as big, if not bigger then the girls who look after him. He's definitely bigger than President Hime and President Maa.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The bookmark that Akira passes on to Aika. This also has a much deeper meaning in that it was originally Aika who inspired Akira to create a four-leaf clover by adding a rose petal to a regular clover, which lifted Akira out of a deep funk when she was the last of the Three Water Fairies to become a Prima. Naturally, Aika doesn't remember any of that time but it certainly explains why Akira made her her apprentice.
  • Mood Whiplash: Sometimes the characters' unique SD faces don't fit the mood of the scene at all and thus feel like this.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: One character, two linked half-examples: Alice Carroll
  • Non-Human Sidekick: The "presidents" of Orange Planet, ARIA Company, and Himeya are all blue-eyed cats who accompany the main characters just about everywhere. Presidents Aria and Maa-kun are Mars cats, who have human-level intelligence as well. (Not to mention lifespans measured in decades.)
  • Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: The Natural and The Origination. [1]
  • Official Couple: Aika and Al, eventually
  • Older Than They Look: Albert Pitt, the Gnome, is about 19 or 20. The conditions under which he works, however, stunt his growth, making him appear as a shota.
  • One Word Title: Aria
  • Onee-Sama: Alicia, Akira and Athena.
  • Parental Abandonment: Applies to some of the girls, especially fourteen-year old Alice whose parents are never mentioned. May alternatively be considered Free-Range Children.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: Everybody.
  • Picture Drama: There have been Picture Dramas made of this series, in the art style of the anime.
  • Plot Hole: Initially apparent over the course of the series but averted at the end with Alice. As a Pair, she shouldn't have been allowed to have people ride in her gondola until she was promoted to a Single. But it's implied that she couldn't have become a Single until she finished middle school and thus the company made an exception due to her sculling ability and that helped allow her to be promoted straight to Prima.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Akira after she becomes a Prima. Akari in the epilogue. Inverted with Aika's Important Haircut.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Clearly Akari and Alicia, but the other girls aren't immune to this.
  • Rousseau Was Right: It's an Iyashikei story set on a planet of Perfect Pacifist People.
  • Sand in My Eyes: Aika: "Steam from the tea got in my eye!" in the gondola retirement episode.
  • Scenery Porn: Every episode of ARIA is loaded with this, even the credits.
  • Sempai-Kohai: Alicia, Akira and Athena are sempais to Akari, Aika and Alice respectively.
  • Serious Business:
    • What could be more important than being a souped-up tourist guide?
    • The promotional exams are complete marathons. The test to move from Pair to Single is of strength, endurance, and sculling ability that lasts the majority of, if not all of, the day; while the exam between Single and Prima focuses more on the Undine's knowledge of the city and interaction skills with the customers.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The lush visual beauty of the Aria Anime adaptation is attributed to the animators actually having gone to Venice - three times - to do research on the architecture, how Gondoliers pilot their boats and how water moves in reaction to a gondola's oar. Yes, they put that much love into producing the series.
      • Although they still make a few small flubs: the Japanese symbol for the postal service instead of the Italian one appears on almost every mailbox (the sole exception being in the OVA), and one pizza that Akira specifically calls "Margherita" has toppings other than cheese.
    • Specific and frequent note is made of the facts that daytime on Mars is almost equal to Earth daytime and a Martian year is twice as long as an Earth year. Most science fiction with a populated Mars never makes note of that.
  • Slice of Life: "Nothing really happens, but in a really good way." - Sayaka Ohara, voice of Alicia
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Idealistic side.
  • Small Annoying Creature: President Aria Pokoteng, although his behavior is arguably much more obnoxious in the anime than the manga. He doesn't really seem to annoy most of the characters, however -- except for President Hime, to whom he at least verges on Abhorrent Admirer.[2]
  • Stalker with a Crush: In the first manga volume Aika exhibits some of this behavior towards Alicia.
  • Stern Teacher: Akira is regarded as this, but she's also a very good one.
  • Super-Deformed: The girls spend a lot of time looking like this, leading to sometimes jarring results when the switches occur overly sudden or often.
  • Sweet Dreams Fuel: So, so much :)
  • Tall, Dark and Bishoujo: Akira.
  • Theme Naming: Pretty much all the characters' names start with A; also a partial example of Theme Initials. It can get pretty confusing sometimes, especially when there are some characters with very similar sounding names. (Alice and Alicia break the One Steve Limit, for example.)
    • On a smaller scale, all three Himeya Company undines named have a Japanese-sounding given name (Aika, Akira, and Ayumi), a middle initial, and a non-Japanese family name.
  • Theme Tune Cameo. Alicia at one time hums the opening tune of the series while lighting some candles in her home.
    • The opening tune for the first season reappears in the second, during the arc in which Akari bids goodbye to her old gondola.
  • Time Travel: Akari does this by crossing a bridge to witness the birth of Neo-Venezia, complete with age shifted versions of much of the main cast. Like a lot of the weird stuff in the series, cats are involved. And there's a bit about a letter delivered from the past. It's not really time-travel, but the effect is much the same, as Akari is pulled into an odd bubble of space/time by the woman's cat-as-little-girl so that the letter could finally be delivered.
  • Token Mini-Moe: Ai, and Al is a token shota despite being 19/20.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Alicia and Akira when they were young.
  • Tsundere: Aika, especially in the first season.
  • Urban Fantasy: While magical phenomena are not the focus of the show, things can get pretty fantastic at times.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Woody often ends his phrases with "yo" or "no da".
    • Akari often enunciates "Hai" ("Yes") in a way that seems particularly unique to her, as it sounds as if her voice cracks when finishing the word. In the manga this even gets written as "hahi" (or in Japanese: "はひ").
  • Visible Sigh:
  • Weirdness Magnet: Akari, which is lampshaded by Alice and Aika who comment on how she seems to attract "mysterious phenomena".
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: You can't get them wider-eyed than Akari.
  • Wind Turbine Power: Whoever thought wind turbines could be so romantic?
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Word of God says that the lyrics of songs that Athena sings was chosen purely for how they sound, not for their meaning. It was also initially wanted for the first opening.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Akari has pink hair, Alice has green, and Athena has purple.
  • Zettai Ryouiki: Alice, in her school uniform. Also Aika (while wearing shorts) in one episode of The Natural.
  1. The Natural is explained by the director in a DVD extra: he'd felt constrained, the first season, with only 13 episodes to work with, but the second season was green-lighted for 26 episodes, which let him develop the characters more "naturally."
  2. Note her horrified reaction in the second anime episode, when he drooled on the meal she'd been about to eat.