>DVD Review: Basking in the sun on a gondola

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“Aria” is one of the more unconventional anime series, relying on a nostalgic peaceful atmosphere in a ocean planet named Aqua.

Despite the lack of a gripping plot or heavy emotional performance, “Aria” stands on its own as a momentary Venice-like vacation anime.

And like Venice, the main characters paddle gondolas through the city of Neo-Venezia. It was formerly Mars, but thanks to modern technology, the planet was flooded and terraformed with loads of ocean water. Thus, it’s not Mars–it’s a oceanic paradise.

And the atmosphere is almost too beautiful to pass up. So beautiful, that the series almost completely forgets about the plotline. But the background artwork and character designs are so wonderful that this series doesn’t really need a plot to succeed.

Technically, the main character, Akari Mizunashi, is training to become an Undine, which is a professional gondolier and goddess. However, she spends more time relaxing and telling lovely tales about how Aqua was formed from the immense floodwaters. She also spends plenty of time relaxing with her friends–including the blunt and competitive Aika Grandzchesta and the shy prodigy Alice Caroll.

They’re supposed to be working for competitive gondolier companies. Akari works for the Aria Company, Aika works with the Himemiya Company and Alice with the Orange Planet. If they really are competitors, though, they really don’t act like it. After all Akari, Aika and Alice all end up befriending each other. Even their superiors, Alicia, Akira and Athena act more like old companions rather than squabbling executives.

To give a sense of how relaxing this anime is, Akari spends the first episode taking a the young, fussy girl, Ai, on a tour through Neo-Venezia. Ai spends most of her time complaining about how boring the trip is, but Akari’s optimism cheers her up as she continues through the tour. When Akari runs into Ai, the two spends time quizzing each other about the history of Neo-Venezia. Near the end, the cut Aria Company’s cat and mascot, President Aria Pokoteng, drifts off into the ocean. Thankfully, Akari’s superior, Alicia, sails by on a gondolier to save the little guy.

This anime is filled with so many cute characters and so much gorgeous scenery that it doesn’t need to have a plot. “Aria” might be the best utopian vacation that anime fans may ever have. Near the end, however, director Junichi Sato gives us some of the most beautiful anime scenes I’ve ever seen. Anime fans get to watch the Akari, Aika and Alice travel to the countryside to meet lovable Grandma Akino, the mother of all Undines. The three Undine mentors, Alicia, Akira and Athena, also tell their trainees how they first met and trained together.

But the most surreal sequences take place in the end of the series, when Akari literally crosses an old bridge that takes her through another dimension. In fact, in the dazzling final episode, Akari meets up with some cats who could very well be Aria’s spirits from long ago.

It’s a wonderful series with hot springs, snow bugs, intense gondola training sessions and reflective, nostalgic scenes of tranquil oceans and ethereal landscapes. Sure, it’s a fantasy series, but it sure is one of the most beloved fantasy series ever seen–surpassing all other shojo series with the best visual landscapes to grace an anime.

Image courtesy of rightstuf.com

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Filed under Aria, kawaii, shoujo

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