The Much Belated Aria Post

This is a screencap of Akari in the most action-packed, heart-pounding moment of Aria thus far: a man, in a boat powered by an outboard motor, falls asleep and turns on the motor, sending him careening towards Akari’s gondola, where delicate glass waits to be broken into shards. Not to fear, fans of both Akari and expensive glassware! Akari deftly dodges the dangerous dinghy with a kick of her foot, and your heart rate can now return to its normal rate when watching Aria.

Aria is, as I expect you to know already, because you’ve probably watched far more of the series than I have at this point, in the top tier of slow-paced, slice-of-life, iyashi-kei anime. I won’t say it’s the best because that’s a judgement I cannot make, for me or for anyone, but it’s on par with the giants of the genre such as Kamichu! and the aforementioned Yokohama Kaidachi Kikou, and <insert your favorite slice-of-life series here that is not one of those two since I don’t think it’s fair to make further judgements that rest solely on taste>. And, yes, I know I’m painfully behind, since I’m only on episode 11 of Aria the NATURAL at the moment. A friend of mine has coined a term for this phenomenon: we are the Bad Aria Fans, in that we like, support, and enjoy Aria, but somehow we cannot actually watch it.

At any rate, another friend picked up the series from the start recently and started pressuring me to watch more of it, because, well, when you’re watching something, and you are liking it, you want someone to share the experience with who has seen the series before or is watching it alongside you, and so I dug out my copies of the NATURAL (they were sitting right on the hard drive, collecting virtual dust bunnies) and picked it back up again. I had started watching the original series waaaay back in 2005, when the first season aired, and loved it from the start, but, alas, fell behind almost immediately, with the excuse that I was saving the episodes “in case of an emergency need of a relaxant”. I made it all the way through a few episodes of the NATURAL before attention shifted and it got put on the “I will watch this…later” list, that is the doom of many things (I still need to finish watching Legend of Galactic Heroes, which I bring up only because of the sheer discrepancy between mentioning Legend of Galactic Heroes in a post ostensibly about Aria–or is it a discrepancy!?!?!), but now I am somewhere roughly in the middle of the run of the entire franchise thus far (and likely ever, given how the ORIGINATION is apparently going) and I am quite glad that TRSI has picked up this series for domestic release and that I already preordered a copy of the first season (I am fairly certain that, for the last three or four release announcements by TRSI/Nozomi Entertainment, I have either been the first preorder, or at least in the first twenty-five or so. Yes, I am hardcore. Yes, you can read “hardcore” as “insane”).

The thing that caught my eye and prompted me to make this post was, of course, the overall themes of the series. Yes, there’s the obvious one that jumps right out at you and conks you on the head with a plastic toy mallet: “it’s okay, take life easy, no rush, just sit back and enjoy a cup of tea/coiffee/hot beverage of choice and watch the clouds.” And that’s a pretty good theme, all things considered; we live in a society where everything is about rushing through everything as fast as we possibly can–you’re kind of looked down upon for not getting out of college in four years (even though NO ONE can get out of college in four years anymore); you have no time to sit down and relax and do something you enjoy because you’ve got to ferry one child to soccer practice, the other to band camp, and the remaining child to the mall so that she can spend 90 minutes in the clothing stores trying things on and asking what you think of them and then not buying anything because she forgot her money at home and just now realized this.*

But I, of course, think there’s something else going on under the surface. One thing that’s a bit unusual about watching Aria spread out like this means that, due to personal shifts in how I look at anime, and also spending time thinking about things, I go from watching it purely for hedonistic pleasure to watching it and starting to notice little things. And this particular thing I’ve noticed has a lot in common with the aforementioned Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou: and it’s the effect of technology on the human condition.

Consider: Aria takes place in a future where mankind has amassed the technology, resources, and other things needed, and terraformed Mars, melted the polar ice caps, and spent effort recreating the now-lost city of Venice on this wild new frontier planet and called it Neo-Veneiza. And, despite the very science-fiction backdrop (the climate controlling floating island, the underground power reactors), the series, for all intents and purposes takes place in 19th centuiry Venice. I mean, it’s not like Amano Kozue had to create her own fictional setting for Aria–she could have just plopped Akari, Aika, Alice, and the rest of the As straight in the middle of the actual 19th century Venice and the series would have been pretty much the same.

But she didn’t. Instead, what we get is a vision of the future where technology has progressed to the point that it’s almost looped around backwards. It’s unknown what the situation on Man-home (nee Earth) is at the moment, because we’ve never been there, but I presume that it’s much more technologically developed than Aqua is at the moment. And, yes, it’s also been mentioned almost every episode that Neo-Veneiza serves more as a tourist destination than anything else–yet people choose, of their own free will, to live here, relatively simply, with a few “modern” conveniences , but mostly…as people have always lived.

You would think (or at least most science fiction authors would want you to think) that the future is a place full of chrome and buttons and switches and laser beams and other exciting stuff, but Aria instead invites you to consider a future where people live like they do now, except in the future, and on Mars. Is it a statement that, no matter how advanced technology gets, and how much time passes, that people will continue to be people, and appreciate the same things? Is it a statement that, eventually, humanity will be freed of its need for new and better technology, and take what bits of it they need to survive and communicate with people, and do the rest themselves? Is Neo-Venezia populated by a bunch of far-future neo-Luddites?

Or did Amano Kozue just want to draw a lot of cute girls and draw their daily life of them being cute and charming and reminding everyone that life at one’s own pace is a life worth living (and didn’t want to piss off people in Venice too badly so she set it in Neo-Venezia which is totally not Venice because it’s on Mars and so therefore it is not the same and please direct your complaints elsewhere)? It’s like the Tootsie Pop question: the world may never know.

My thoughts at the end of this post, Akari. My thoughts exactly.


* Side-note: despite being on the “child” end of this and not the “parent” end of this, this latter example seriously pisses me off as it has become practically impossible to ever spend time with my family in a meaningful way, and by “meaningful” I mean “doing something other than watching trashy TV series/movies” but that’s a personal gripe, and that’s why this sentence is down here instead of up there.

** This may have been touched on before by someone long before I even paid attention to the anime blogohedron (I refuse to call it a “sphere” because “hedron” is a cooler sounding shape word), or even after, because admittedly I pay pretty low attention to the blogohedron, which I probably shouldn’t do as a proper member of the blogohedron but that’s something else entirely and you can now start to berate me for my horrible actions. I prefer damp noodles for my flagellations, though.

9 Responses to “The Much Belated Aria Post”

  1. 1 dood 18 June 2008 at 2:46 am

    FYI Amano Kozue is actually female….

  2. 2 OGT 18 June 2008 at 6:59 am

    @dood: It can be devilishly hard to determine gender from Japanese names, and sometimes entries in staff databases don’t tell you gender either. Thank you; the genderswap has been corrected.

  3. 3 TheBigN 19 June 2008 at 8:19 am

    I do think it’s the latter option of Amano just drawing cute girls doing cute things for the hell of it. The extra things like humanity being humanity whatever the situation and mono no aware are just a nice bit of icing on the cake. :P

  4. 4 OGT 19 June 2008 at 9:26 am

    @TheBigN: This is probably the case, because an author can set out to do nothing but that. It’s likely that the themes I’ve highlighted are completely accidental on the part of Amano, because I feel that themes in general are accidental on the part of the author of the work, especially in something like Aria. But themes are still there, whether they are deliberate or intentional, since in any creative work a part of the author of the work is reflected in the text. It’s practically impossible to keep out, especially when you aren’t even writing with a theme in mind.

    And, also, as I think I’ve stated somewhere before, just because the author wrote something for one explicit purpose (be it to entertain or inform) doesn’t mean that you can’t take other things out of it. Upton Sinclair’s famous novel The Jungle was intended to be a sociopolitical novel; instead, it raised far more concern about the hygenic and safety practices of the meat packing industry, which is a good effect, but isn’t actually what he had in mind.

  5. 5 lelangir 19 June 2008 at 1:03 pm

    For lack of better words: back to the future!

  6. 6 otou-san 20 June 2008 at 10:33 am

    I do hope the future allows for such a leisurely life. I work pretty long hours and I still don’t have a flying car.

    Even more than “life at one’s own pace is a life worth living,” I always seem to get a message of finding joy in really simple things (or to be slightly demeaning to Akari, “easy amusement for the easily amused”). Which is why Neo-Venezia had to be such a back-in-time kind of place.

  7. 7 dm 23 June 2008 at 10:14 pm

    I really think that Kozue Amano visited Venice and fell in love with the place. Now when she goes back every year, she can take the trip off on her taxes as a business expense, because she’s doing more research for Aria.

    In Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age there is a glitzy nanotechnology future, and smack-dab in the middle of it is, not Neo-Venezia, but Neo-London. A recreation of the nineteenth century because, in an age of infinitely-malleable matter, there’s now a special cachet in the hand-made. Neo-Venezia is, I suspect, a little like that.

  8. 8 Pink diamond 4 March 2014 at 4:36 am

    Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based upon on the same information you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information.

    I know my viewers would value your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send
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  1. 1 Scathbad’s Training Trackback on 18 June 2008 at 2:12 am

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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June 2008

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