Aria The Masterpiece, Vol. 4

By Kozue Amano. Originally released in Japan by Mag Garden, serialized in the magazine Comic Blade. Released in North America by Tokyopop. Translated by Katie Kimura.

It is, a great deal of the time, very difficult to remember that this manga takes place in the future on a different planet. Honestly, a lot of that may be engineered by the residents of Aqua, who have deliberately set things up so that anyone coming to Neo-Venezia is going to be thinking “old-time Venice”, not “new, modern, future Venice”. It’s brought up explicitly in the chapter where Akari helps the old mailman deliver his letters – why are there so many letters, when the world has email? We’ve even seen Akari send emails. But it’s because people who stay here want to revel in the low-techness of it all. It’s for the mood. There’s also an element of slight fantasy throughout, usually involving Cait Sith, but even that makes the reader think of older stories of that nature rather than an alien for The Planet Formerly Known As Mars. And let’s face it, we the reader want that as well. With the odd exception of floating islands and Woody’s Miyazaki-esque bike, we want to take it easy.

The last of the main cast is introduced in this omnibus, as we meet Alice’s mentor Athena, who also turns out to be the last of the “three fairies” along with Alicia and Akira. Athena’s skill is in her gorgeous singing voice (which, by the way, is another reason to get the anime adaptation, which really does a great job), but she’s also an oddball who frequently simply flakes out or is misunderstood by the Very Teenage Alice. She and Alice, both being the “oddballs” of their groups, balance out Aika and Akira (angry tsunderes) and Akari and Alicia (balls of sunshine). And, like Akira and Alicia, she’s keeping a close eye on Alice and trying to help her develop into a first-class undine… despi8te occasional hiccups like the right-handed Alice deciding her left hand is useless, or the sudden adoption of a tiny Martian cat found at canalside. They make a good pair.

When I called Akari a “ball of sunshine” earlier, I wasn’t alone – one of the themes in this book is people staring open-mouthed at her ability to enjoy everything and describe how wonderful it is. Whether it’s glass-blowing, mail delivery, fireworks, or simply sitting at a cafe that keeps moving its seats to stay in the sun, Akari is a one-woman tourist brochure… a fantastic quality for an undine, of course, even though she remains blissfully unaware of her own talents. She’s still got a ways to go with the gondola, of course, and we’re only halfway through the manga, but we are gradually seeing the three apprentices mature and grow up, and the though it beginning to niggle into our heads that this may end with the older generation moving on to make way for the younger.

Fortunately we aren’t there yet. What’s more, starting with the next omnibus we’ll be reading material as yet unseen in North America. I can’t wait, this series is itself a ball of sunshine.

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