Aria The Masterpiece, Vol. 1

By Kozue Amano. Originally released in Japan by Enix, serialized in the magazine Stencil. This edition released in Japan by Mag Garden. Released in North America by Tokyopop. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley.

Third time’s the charm? This is definitely the year of lost causes getting another break. First we had Urusei Yatsura, cancelled over and over by Viz back in the 90s, getting a deluxe omnibus treatment. And now Aria, beloved by bloggers and a cult classic, but cancelled when ADV Manga collapsed and then cancelled again when Tokyopop hibernated, is getting its own deluxe treatment. These editions came out in 2016 in Japan, and this volume has the “Aqua” volumes, i.e. the start of the series before the Enix split that led to Kozue Amano moving to Mag Garden. It is a standard Japanese omnibus, meaning that it looks great but also eliminates most of the author’s end comment pages and extra side stories. What you get here are the first nine chapters, looking significantly better in this format than they did on first release here. The translation is the same, I’m fairly sure.

The series is a LOT more popular than it was back in the day, though, mostly as the anime was a bigger hit than expected. For those still unfamiliar, the series takes place on Mars, now renamed Aqua, sometime in the future. It’s been terraformed to be a water planet, and Neo Venezia is one of its stunning cities, done up to be just like Venice. This means they need gondoliers, and that’s where our heroine, Akari, comes in. She’s flying up from Earth… erm, Manhome… to join Aria Company, one of three companies in the city that are considered the cream of the crop. Of course, when she gets there she discovers that the company is just her and her mentor, Alicia. Plus President Aria, who I will discuss later. Even worse, her rowing technique, while awesome in terms of speed and flair… is less awesome as she’s rowing backwards. Fortunately she quickly gains skill, and also acquires a best friend/rival (who has a crush on Alicia) and a teasing guy friend/rival (who also has a crush on Alicia).

That said, as Aria fans know, the plot and characters are great, but they’re secondary to the scenery. Neo Venezia is the star here, and the larger format shows off the art to an even better degree. I especially loved the chapter that introduced Cait Sith, the huge, vaguely supernatural cat that will also, in a way, mentor Akari throughout the series. I was also very amused at how quickly everyone falls for Akari’s shining optimism and love of life. Aika attempts to be grumpy, with “no sappy lines allowed!” being a running gag, but it doesn’t work at all. It’s also not hard to see why everyone (including me) loves Alicia… she’s a fantastic gondolier, clearly cares for those around her, especially Akari, but most importantly, is the very definition of “ara ara”, the phrase that she spouts constantly in the original Japanese.

Manga or anime, Aria is the equivalent of a peaceful breeze running through your hair as you go down the river in a slow boat. It’s worth buying again.

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