I realize that entertainment is very subjective. One person’s masterpiece is another person’s trash. Still, there are some anime that are just so good that no matter who you are, no matter what your interests, as long as you’re a fan of anime, you should be watching it. The first example that comes to mind for me is a well received, yet fairly unknown title called Aria.
Now, I know what some people are thinking. “Is there a lot of action? Explosions? Naked girls? Blood and guts? It’s at least fast paced, right?” There is none of those, but you know what? You’re still going to enjoy it anyways. Thus is the power of slice-of-life shows. There is no action at all, yet you’re left with a big smile on your face after each episode.
The story of Aria revolves around a young girl named Akari who leaves Manhome (Earth) and comes to the Martian city of Neo Venetia to become an Undine, or gondola pilot. This is obviously modeled after the Italian city Venice, and in fact it is stated that in the realm of this anime, Venice has already sunk, which was the main motivation for the Martian terraformers in creating the town of Neo Venetia. Much like the real life city of Venice, Neo Venetia’s streets are all waterways. Of course they have normal walkways, but if you don’t feel like walking, or if you need to move goods around the town, traveling by gondola is the way to go. When the anime starts, it begins with Akari already being a Single, but they later on show flashbacks to when she first arrived and started out as a Pair.
The terms Pair and Single refer to the gloves they wear. The gloves are both practical and aesthetic. When an Undine is wearing two gloves, it both signifies that she is an apprentice, and it’s also because when they’re just starting out, their hands require more protection from constantly rowing. As a Pair, they are not allowed to carry passengers at all. As they gain more experience, and as their hands get more used to the abuse that the oar gives, they can go down to one glove, hence the term Single. Also, as a Single, they are allowed to carry passengers as long as a fully licensed Undine, or Prima, is in the gondola with them. And obviously, once they reach the rank of Prima, they are fully qualified Undines and can carry passengers on their own.
Life on Mars is a little bit different than life on Earth. The main difference is that cats are sentient beings on Mars. They can’t speak English, but they appear to understand it. Plus, all gondola companies on Mars must be owned by a blue eyed cat. Akari’s company is owned by one President Aria, who fits in perfectly with Aria Company’s easy going attitude.
And that is a typical scene from the anime. I know that shouldn’t be entertaining, but it just plain is. Episodes revolve around such action packed events like delivering the mail, or going to a festival. In other words, there’s no action at all. It’s an incredibly serene show and is the perfect complement to watching other anime that ARE action packed. It’s like a palate cleanser. As such, I also don’t recommend marathoning the show, or else some of the luster and wonderment of it is lost.
The strong points of the anime are the high production values, which can be seen when viewing some of the lush backgrounds of the places that Akari visits. It’s obvious that the show was given the proper budget, and that’s probably in no small part to the fact that it was helmed by director Junichi Sato who directed such popular and respected anime as Sailor Moon, Princess Tutu, Kaleido Star, and Sgt. Frog, among others. Plus, unlike with a lot of anime these days, the decision to animate it didn’t come until after the manga had been running for awhile and thus had already gotten a good following. Another factor in its high budget could possible come from just good timing. The first Aria season came out when companies were still willing to take a chance on a show that’s a little different from the usual otaku bait. Luckily it proved to be successful and it was allowed to tell its full story.
And that’s another strength, is the finely told story that Kozue Amano came up with. When you don’t have flashy explosions and super powers and naked breasts bouncing around to keep people interested, you had better be able to tell a good story, and Kozue Amano did not disappoint. When watching the anime or reading the manga, you get the feeling that you’re right there with Akari, and that you’re both exploring and experiencing things together. It’s that kind of emotional attachment that’s crafted that makes for a good story.
Ultimately, I can’t promise that you’re going to be blown away by this. Slice-of-life isn’t for everyone, but you certainly would be making a mistake if you didn’t at least give Aria a chance to wow you. And who knows? If you go into this with an open mind, you might just find, that for some inexplicable reason, that you have a huge smile on your face at the end and can’t wait for your next adventure in Neo Venetia.