Have you heard of Aria yet? If not then you're missing out on one of the most unique shows ever to come from Japan. I say that because Aria doesn't feature fan service, there are no giant robots, no evil doers out to take over the world, no heroes searching for glory, and no overarching plot churning away in the background. At its most basic Aria is a show about the every day life of a gondolier as she grows accustomed to the world around her. It's not exactly the most exciting series in the world, but it's certainly one of the most unique.
The thing that separates Aria apart from so many other shows is its attitude. This series is so laid back it's not even funny. When you watch an episode dedicated to learning how the mail is delivered, you'll understand what I mean. The focus of this anime is skewed to the every day life. The simple life takes up a big piece of the pie here and ultimately it's simply a relaxing adventure that is the anime equivalent to taking a nice long vacation.
We've already seen Aria: The Animation on DVD, but Rightstuf! finally got around to releasing the sequel season, The Natural. Separated into two boxed sets, this review looks at the second part which features 13 episodes that make up the remainder of the show.
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.
We've already watched the introductory part of The Natural and thankfully it proved to be every bit the worthy successor of the original season. Watching Aria constantly proves itself to be the anime equivalent of a vacation. You're checking out the locals, soaking in the beauty, getting to know your tour guide, and just kicking back to relax. Nothing of consequence really happened, but then again that's kind of the point of this series. It's a charming slice of life on an alien world, in the future, with cat-like creatures that operate a massive touring industry. What's so weird about that?
Akari's adventures with Aria Company continue as she keeps on training, meeting new people, and experiencing new things. In this block of episodes we explore more of the secondary characters through shared past experiences, Akari gets a new gondola, one of the characters gets a haircut, and Akari takes a ride on a fascinating cat train. The show even throws in some tidbits with a parallel world, but it certainly doesn't go off on some science fiction tear.
As was the case with the first boxed set for The Natural the second offers up some more simple slice of life anime. Virtually nothing happens here other than the characters living their lives. There are no big plots at work, no evil forces lurking beneath the surface, and hardly any conflict. This is the anime equivalent of a vacation and it's every bit as relaxing as that comparison would imply. With that being said the show can still be kind of boring at times and it's certainly not for everyone. If you know what you're getting yourself into then you'll absolutely fawn over this show and it's strongly recommend for those looking for something different and low key.
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.
Once again there's a nice selection of bonus features here. A second Guide Book is packed in with the boxed set and it contains episode descriptions along with sketches and a bunch of artwork. In addition to that, add in some bonus features are included on the fifth disc in this collection. There are three nice round table discussions with the folks who put the show together and worked on it. A lot of insight behind the project is discussed as well as what it was like creating the show. If you enjoyed the interviews that were included on the last boxed set you'll appreciate these. Another clean ending is provided as well as cast reflections on The Natural and a discussion with the director about the series. Overall it's a hefty bit of material to sift through and the whole set provides more than two hours of extra content from the original Japanese release.
Despite its uneventful nature Aria is actually quite entertaining. It tantalizes you with its endearing characters, charming setting, and beautiful world. It's a peaceful show where very little happens, and yet at the same time it's quite enthralling. Being something of an enigma instantly sets this show apart from others. It's a polarizing effect, and you really need to have an understanding for what you're going to get from Aria before watching it. If it's appealing to you, then you'll love it, if not...well, it's just not for you. Personally I can't get enough of the show, though I will say that it's definitely best taken in short bursts opposed to marathon play.