The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

ARIA The Origination

Title: ARIA The Origination
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Company: HAL Film Maker
Format: 13 episodes
Dates: 8 Jan 2008 – 1 Apr 2008

Synopsis: Continuing to practice everyday, aiming for the goal of Prima Undine, Akari, Aika and Alice are still in awe of the skill of their seniors, Alicia, Akira and Athena, the Three Great Water Fairies. However, after sharing the stories of their amazing abilities, and hearing that their seniors, widely considered the three best undines in the business, still wish to improve their skill, the three undines-in-training strengthen their resolve.

The Highlights
Setting: Neo-Venezia is a masterpiece in itself.
Characters: These incredibly charming characters are given a rich quality of development.
Aesthetics: Better than The Natural… if you can believe that.
Atmosphere: Disarming; it feels like it wants to show you something special… then it delivers.
Themes: Powerful, because of the show’s simplicity and honesty.
Ending: The ultimate “special” moment in a series filled with “special” moments.

Simply put, ARIA is special. As a whole, it’s a fifty-three episode journey through the lives of its character, a grand slice-of-life about experiences and life lessons and growing up. It’s a unique work, because if you analyze it objectively, it’s filled with ironic contradictions. It appears to be childish, yet it’s squared directly at adults. As a story, somehow nothing is complex, yet everything is meaningful. The way it actively expounds its themes might leave it open to accusations of being didactic, but it’s so honest in its belief of its messages, that it’s completely disarming. A lesser series would have fallen on its face with this approach, and repulsed its audience by its over-sentimentalism, but ARIA somehow makes you embrace it. I’ll admit, I have only a bare understanding of how it has managed to achieve this. All I know is that it’ll be a long time before we see another anime quite like it.

It certainly helps that the characters are utterly charming. Like any good slice-of-life, ARIA is about all its characters, but very few anime can boast characterization that is as complete as that which ARIA’s characters have been afforded. Sure, the personalities are simple (Akari could smother you with congeniality) but the challenges they face are realistic, and each of their trials leave a permanent etch on them. Every episode is a lesson, but rarely do these characters have to be taught anything twice. The character development, particularly in this final series, is both rich and enriching, which makes the story a rewarding experience.

There’s an apparent philosophy behind ARIA’s approach, almost as if it’s beckoning its audience to watch something special, but asking for a simple admission fee of an open heart (Aika would hate this line). A daydream-like atmosphere set by the vibrant colour scheme and the gloriously detailed Neo-Venezia, as well Choro Club’s enchanting melodic tunes kick off each episode. However, the “something special” usually comes at the episode’s end, and usually accompanies an epiphany or a small bit of growing up in one or more of the characters. I think it speaks volumes of this show’s identity that its most impressive and memorable moments tend to happen when characters have a realization. “Something special” appears in almost every episode, and becomes more and more prevalent towards the end of the show, culminating in consecutive episodes of unforgettable scenes.

ARIA The Origination achieved what I wasn’t sure was possible, outdoing The Natural for impact, story, character development and even animation, but there are a few minor things which prevent me from hailing this as the pinnacle of slice-of-life genre in anime over Honey and Clover or YKK. Makino Yui’s “Spirale” is dreamlike and soothing, but Arai Akino’s “Kin no Nami Sen no Nami” is the first ARIA theme song that I haven’t completely loved. Being an episodic series, there are a few episodes, particularly early, which lack impact or an obvious contribution, but these are so rare, they hardly detriment. This doesn’t have Honey and Clover’s complexity either, but that’s probably a petty complaint, since that hardly makes it any less meaningful.

This review might feel more like a comment on the overall continuum than an analysis of the final series, but I think that’s a fair way to look at The Origination. Throughout the previous series, it’s easy to believe one is watching a series of disconnected, episodic slice-of-life adventures, but in this series it becomes clear that everything in ARIA connects to an overarching story about the lives of its characters. Recommending ARIA, in the traditional sense, is wrong, since its appeal probably isn’t universal. All I can say is that I’m thankful I saw this, it’s impacted me in a way few other anime have.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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