Aria The Masterpiece, Vol. 2

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

Starting with this omnibus Aqua renamed itself Aria and moved to its new home in Mag Garden’s Comic Blade, where it would remain until it finished. Comic Blade is technically for male readers but tended to be sui generis a lot of the time, And Aria doesn’t really have the fanservice that you’d expect from a guy title – the cast go to a hot springs here, but everyone keeps their towels on for the most part, and it’s meant to be peaceful and relaxing, just like the rest of the series. There’s no sign that the title moved magazines at all, as it picks right up where it left off with Akari and company, not doing one of those “reintroduction” chapters. There’s not really much to reintroduce. It’s a girl and her gondola, on a planet of water, and god, it’s pretty. The second omnibus helps to introduce us more to the customs and festivals in this world, adds a new minor character, and shows off the art, which is why we’re here.

(Sorry about the cover art – I spent several minutes trying to find a picture that did not have a banner in the corner and was unable to. Grump.)

Saying I’m only here for the art, though, seems rude to the main characters, who I also deeply love. Akari is such a ray of sunshine that you can’t stop smiling while reading about her, whether she’s happily cleaning her gondola, gathering firewood, or almost getting spirited away by foxes, a chapter that verges on unsettling but doesn’t quite make it because it’s hard to imagine anything bad ever happening to Akari. Alicia continues to be the big sister we all wish we had, quietly mentoring Akari, marveling at Akari’s shininess, and getting Akari drunk with some peach wine she brought out. Aika tries to hard to be cool and elegant like her crush Alicia, but she’s simply too grumpy and hyper to pull it off, but that’s what makes her charming – and hilarious. Even President Aria is here, and I still find his chapters boring, but they’re part of the mood as well, really.

We’re also shown some of the ways in which Aqua is a terraformed planet, as we meet the gnomes who make sure the gravity works properly – well, one gnome, Al, who looks like Harry Potter… erm, a little kid, but is actually a few years older than Aika and Akari. And there’s also another appearance by Cait Sith, the giant cat leader who seems to have a soft spot for Akari, as she sees him with astonishing regularity. As for the scenery, well, it’s simply fantastic, and you will pause on some two-page spreads just to take it in. There are one or two chapters where the entire point is to see Akari meander through Neo-Venezia and take in the gorgeousness. She’s not any closer to promotion (the race she competes in turns out not to be a test at all), but she’s having fun.

If you’re on the fence about getting this, because you already have it, or because you’re worried it might get cancelled – again – I urge you to pick it up anyway. It’s a coffee table manga.

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