Monday, September 3, 2007

Pre-OVA Aria: Return to innocence

Aria the Natural episode 4: Post office
It's kind of neat how an OVA follows Aria the Animation and Aria the Natural, hence the somewhat similar title structure. Well, it's not especially unique nor particularly significant, but it's a coincidence, one of those fleeting sparks of recognition. And if you were Akari Mizunashi, you would pronounce it to be good, and so it is.

Aria's setting is a city and world of small miracles, its story an adventure per episode. The main cast is, for lack of a better word, reasonable, even the alternate faces used to indicate annoyance/shock/embarrassment. Athena is a dignified sort of spacey, the kind you wouldn't mind meeting in real life, as opposed to the stereotypically exaggerated spacey character that is only tolerable when observed from the comfort of a video display.

The undine is a perfect vehicle for exploration and discovery. On one level, Aria is tourist marketing for a destination that doesn't exist, but it also captures the wonder of yesteryear, of fables, fairy tales, and adventure novels. It's not traditional fare, though. There are no villains, no pirates (or ninjas!) and such consequent battles. There isn't even much tension, merely mystery and wonder. The Alchemist is a good approximation of Aria's feel. For a similar anime series, comparisons to Bartender aren't unwarranted, but where Bartender concerns itself with personal stories, Aria has a much larger scope, balancing the cast with the city at large.

For a series that places the focus on trainees, there is very little in the way of training scenes, and they have this tendency to go on adventures instead, which is fine by me. The difficulties in being an undine are glossed over, and various potential mishaps — such as spills, colliding with a bridge (with your head), or colliding with another gondola — are only depicted in flashbacks or in a controlled environment such as during the training day episode in Aria the Animation.

The sacrifices made to terraform Aqua, nee Mars, are similarly obscured, such as the sunken base, and it is only implied as to what has befallen Earth Man-Home, where it's no longer safe to swim in the oceans, and one must go off-planet to see cultural landmarks.

But I'd prefer that such things are not brought up. It would defeat the purpose of watching Aria in the first place. On a related note, I would have preferred not to have seen stuff like the following:

Aria the Natural episode 10: You don't run with scissors so why are you hanging them?
There are some things you just shouldn't do, like hanging scissors from the ceiling, trying to electrify a bus using a hydro pole, and creating a fire hazard by lighting lots of exposed candles in a house. Miracles, coincidences, time travel, I can deal with for some strange reason. But getting away with not setting the house on fire? Not so much. It brings out the jaded cynic in a hurry, who, I have on good authority, is quite the party pooper.

More bizarre is my dislike for stressful moments in something like Aria, specifically anything that places stress on Akari's simple mind. Whether it's being taken advantage of by a ghost in a black dress, or going around in circles and having a brain freeze [that was a convenient episode to animate, eh?], situations that exploit simple people and have nothing else to offer are generally dissatisfying to watch. It's all very predictable, but ruins the mysterious atmosphere that pulls the viewer along.

Aqua and Neo-Venezia is a vision. More morality tales and magic, less dependence on technology, a rejection of many of the objects that have a heavy environmental footprint. Given a clean slate, this is a wish for a return to innocence, of which Akari the Eternally Surprised is its personification. Anything that detracts from that view simply feels out of place, even if its inclusion adds to realism.

Hope. It's what I felt most watching the idyllic lifestyle, the tidy surroundings, the past woven into the present, and heartwarming moments. Strange how coincidences tend to cheapen plot when abused, but I have no qualms with heaping them on in the absence of plot. Perhaps when watching a series that filters its characters, story, and environment through rose-tinted glasses, I can't help but ask for a matching pair.