Why I started watching: This was a really highly-rated iyashikei. Work was being stressful as we were rushing a big project before winter break, and doing year-end evaluations to boot. I needed something chill and this seemed to fit the bill.
Aria the Animation is about a girl and her friends who live in a water-filled paradise called Neo Venezia, a rustic Venice-like city located on a futuristic Mars. There, she works as a gondolier (Undine), practicing her rowing and steering as well as her lady graces and charm as she strives toward being allowed to ferry people around the city, and hopefully eventually becoming the top Undine in the city. There she meets several other Undines in her own age group, all aspiring to eventually lead their companies. The show is chock-full of life advice about finding happiness, appreciating the present, and enjoying life to the fullest.
This show is the first one in a multi-season show with lots of episodes, and I expect to enjoy the rest of it once I get around to it. However, I did not fully enjoy this particular first season. The show suffers from graphics and resolution issues, since it is so old, and that hurts more when one of the selling points of the show is the beauty and serenity of the environmental and character art. It felt very much like trying to enjoy the retro graphics of a 640×480 resolution PC game on a modern system. I can’t do it. This is, however, unlikely to be a problem in the later seasons.
To me, the show also suffered from drastic shifts in tone. The episodes are largely self-contained and stand alone on their own, but I found three episodes to be excellent, two of which transition the main character into a state of reality discordance, where mildly supernatural, dream-like incidents occur around her, which I really like as a plot device. There were also three or four other good episodes. But the rest of the episodes were average or tiring, with one particularly bad episode revolving entirely around a couple of incredibly annoying side characters.
The music for this show on the other hand, was solidly beautiful from start to end. Both the OP (Undine, by Yui Makino) and ED (Rainbow, by ROUND TABLE feat. Nino) songs are gorgeous, especially the OP, and I really liked how they overlaid the music on top of the start or end scene of the episode, instead of having a separate music video for the songs. They often were used in tandem with tons of scenery shots, and just flowed so well together. For example, at the 0:47 mark of the Undine link above, the first crescendo hits as Akari talks about the start of the day, and then the second crescendo hits at 1:06 as the scenery shifts for the first time to the city groggily waking up to the morning rays, before coming back to Akari and Alicia at 1:30 right as the last syllable of the song drifts away. And all that choreography was just specific to Episode 1, with different backdrops and timings for all subsequent episodes. Lovely stuff.
Overall I really struggled to finish this first season, and thus I did not pick the second season up right away. However, I am actually looking forward to returning to this someday as I am certain that this series will evolve into a 10/10. This is doubly true now that I’ve also watched Amanchu! from the same author, and found that to be incredibly enjoyable.
Final Score: 7/10