Title: ARIA The Natural
Company: Hal Film Maker/ARIA Company
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 3 Apr 2006 – 25 Sep 2006
Synopsis: It’s Carnivale in Neo-Venezia, and even Ai has come all the way from Man-home to be with Akari and her friends to celebrate. However, Carnivale has a mystery in the form of a giant wearing a costume of Casanova, who has apparently appeared at the Carnivale for over 100 years. After one of Casanova’s tiny attendants gets separated from their group, Akari and Ai follow him in order to find out Casanova’s true identity.
Tone: Much the same as the first series; generally light and heart-warming.
Setting: Beautiful again; almost plays the role of a main character in the story.
Aesthetics: Animation and music matches the mood perfectly.
Characters: All characters and relationships deeply explored.
Cait Sith episodes: The pinnacle of the series.
This is one of those reviews for a sequel that I’m almost writing exclusively for fans of the original, since those are inevitably the members of the audience that will get the most out of ARIA The Natural. But, in many ways, this sequel improves upon many of the aspects that made its predecessor such a light and enjoyable series. This is still the same slow, slice-of-life series with the same simple, yet cute characters in the same gloriously detailed setting. However, with rare exception, almost everything is executed better in this season.
In much the same way as many other character-driven sequels, ARIA The Natural benefits from the fact that all its characters have already been introduced, and as such all they really need to do to make the series worthwhile is build on the groundwork established by the original, and analyze and develop these characters to an even deeper level. ARIA The Natural does this outstandingly well; we learn an amazing amount about these characters from watching how they grow with each of life’s lessons and how they come to appreciate their relationships, their city, their job and their life.
The stories are still episodic in nature, and fairly simple, but ARIA somehow manages to maintain an amazing amount of originality even in spite of its simplicity. Part of it, I’d imagine, is due to the unique way the characters interact with their setting (one which I still think is among the most glorious in anime), but it cannot be understated how astonishing it is that there can be so much innovation in a series where there really should be none.
Technically, there’s very little to berate in this series. Choro Club combine with Senoo Takeshi to put out a soundtrack which is, arguably, even better than the first series’. The animation is for the most part very good, with ARIA again using superdeformity in a comedic context better than almost any other series I’ve seen. The art is incredible, particularly the way the series brings the city of Neo-Venezia and its exquisite architecture to life, but I did have one minor gripe with the way side profiles of character’s faces were drawn.
ARIA The Natural isn’t perfect: Like most episodic slice-of-life series, there are some episodes that are tedious and contribute little. And while I’m probably asking the wrong series, I would have liked some of the relationships – particularly Aika’s – to progress further than they did. On the flip-side, ARIA The Natural did something I never would have predicted, with a set of episodes that, while separate and interspersed throughout the series, were linked together by an overarching plot. These episodes, dealing with Akari’s adventures with the mystical Cait Sith, were the absolute highlight of the series and made the proverbial icing on a very sweet cake.
In fact, “Sweet” is a good word to summarize ARIA. One can’t be exceptionally cynical while watching this series and those with an inability to handle sentimentalism and a daydream-like atmosphere probably shouldn’t watch this at all. And while ARIA The Natural is undoubtedly entrenched within the slice-of-life genre, it’s one of the best in it, and highly recommended to those with even a slight inclination towards character-focused series, though watching the first series beforehand is a must.
The Rating: 8
Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun