Every once in a while a show comes along that is so decidedly different from the rest of the pack that it instantaneously stands out. Aria is one of those brands of anime. The original season was so lively, so unique, and so out there that it could best be described as remarkably fascinating. It marched to the beat of a different drummer, stood out in just about every way, and tried its hardest to bring you new experiences that you hadn't watched before. With that being said, it's definitely not a series for everybody.
The thing about Aria that made it so unique was manner in which it presented and paced itself. If you come to this anime looking for a non-stop, no holds barred action epic, you're going to be left wanting in a big way. This is a purposely slow series with an atmosphere that is tranquil to say the least. It's a relaxing adventure through an interesting world and the theme is basically all about being at peace and discovering the good life through an uplifting story with endearing characters. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this and it's probably the biggest reason the show stands apart from just about everything else. Unfortunately I found the first season to be kind of dry at times, due to the fact that not a lot happens, but ultimately it won me over in a big way. Does the second series succeed in the same manner?
Released just a year after the original season, the second outing for Aria, The Natural has finally been distributed by Rightstuf! and Nozomi. Separated into two boxed sets, this review looks at the first part which features 13 episodes and bonus features spread across five discs.
Whether you're returning to the world of Aria, or are new to it, you should know that The Natural is a continuation of the original story. This new season is not a reboot of the franchise in any way like so many other anime shows tend to do. That means if you experienced the first season then the journey continues and there's a great deal of continuity in between.
Aria takes place well into the future where Mars has been covered with water via terraforming. The red planet becomes a vibrant blue one and it's a virtual water world, so much so that it has been renamed Aqua. With H20 being the name of the game here, it's no surprise that the series focuses on a city similar to Venice in a way known as Neo Venezia. Naturally with its beautiful, unique vistas Neo Venezia is a tourist trap for folks who don't live there. While Neo Venezians are used to the watery world, people from Manhome (Earth) are not. Even so, many flock to the planet for tours through the canals and working for the Aria Company, a prestigious tour group, is a sought after career. Aria follows the exploits of a girl from Manhome named Akari who desires nothing more than being an undine, or a female gondolier.
In the first season we got a look at the fascinating world through the eyes of Akari. As she learned the tricks of the trade she befriended other gondoliers from Aria company, and even some from her competition. Much like the way the first episode of the show worked its introduction, the opening episode of The Natural sees Ai visiting Akari on Aqua once again. This time around it's time for a festival of sorts and all of Neo Venezia is celebrating. Not a lot happens, but it's another nice little slice of life on the planet Aqua which instantly reminisces of the first season.
From there the rest of this first boxed set of The Natural follows suit and stays in line with the expectations set by the first season. Not a lot happens in these episodes other than the effects of daily life for Akari, her co-workers, and friends. In each episode we see little pieces of life on Neo Venezia such as how the mail gets delivered, what cats can achieve, how the people honor the past, and how they view life in general. Considering just about every person has peace in their hearts living in this utopia it really carries through to you, the viewer. As you watch each episode you'll feel a calming effect and I'd equate this anime to those sound machines that help you fall asleep. It's tranquil, peaceful, and downright mesmerizing.
If you appreciated the first season of Aria then the second is an easy recommendation because you know what to expect. If you're new to the series you will want to consider the fact that this is a slow paced show where basically nothing happens aside from every day life on an alien world. It's wholly fascinating and entrancing, but it's definitely not for everyone so keep that in mind. Despite those moments of reservation this series is unique and addicting.
Aria: The Natural is presented on DVD with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. This sequel looks every bit as good as the original did so if you appreciated the first release by Rightstuf! you'll enjoy this one well enough. I will say that this is the kind of show that would have benefited greatly from an anamorphic widescreen presentation, but you can't really fault a series because of "what ifs". This show features some awesome character designs and it utilizes the environment to create a strong atmosphere. The colors are also vibrant and there are many moments here that absolutely pop from the screen. The video is also clean with only slight grain here and there. Otherwise this is an all around solid transfer.
Aria's sound is definitely an element that goes a long way to crafting the world in which the show takes place. The series may be presented with a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo output, which is unfortunately due to the fact that it restricts the sense of immersion, but all around the quality is good enough. This is a dialogue driven show with very little in terms of things that could fit on the rear channels anyway aside from ambient effects and whatnot. It's also worth mentioning that since this is a Nozomi release Japanese is the only spoken language available, but thankfully there's an English subtitle track. The acting is very well done and fits the show like a glove so in that regard fans of Japanese dubs will be pleased as well.
Nozomi and Rightstuf! are known for supplying fans with great amounts of supplemental material, and thankfully Aria: The Natural's first boxed set is no different. Packed in along with the five DVDs is a guide book full of episode descriptions, sketches, and production artwork. It's a nice little inclusion that compliments the series well and is greatly appreciated. The four discs with episodes all contain trailers and scene access, but the real meat of bonus features is on the final disc.
The fifth disc in this set includes a promotional video for the series, a clean ending, and interviews with Junichi Sato and Yui Makino. Other original Japanese features include "Aria and the World of Sound", which is a feature about the audio for the series, and "Cast Reflections on Aria: The Animation", which is just like the sounds. Members of the team who worked on the first season of the show discuss what it was like and how the series made an impact on them. These types of features are a rarity when it comes to anime so any time we receive something of the like it always feels like something special.
I had a good time with Aria: The Animation and thankfully The Natural didn't disappoint. The characters all make a return to the unique and lively world of Neo Venezia, and thankfully the same atmosphere comes back as well. This series leaves such an impression on the viewer that it's downright unsettling at times. You're just lulled into a sense of calm while watching the show and though it's slower paced than I'd like, and a tad too dry at times, it still won me over. This isn't a show for everyone, but if you're looking for an anime that's unlike anything you have ever watched before you should consider this strongly recommended.