"If you get stuck in the memories of those times, you won't be able to appreciate all the fun that's happening right now. So don't be thinking "that time was fun", because you should be thinking "that time was also fun" ... Being able to find the fun that's happening right now, is the best way to enjoy the present.
— Alicia Florence
ARIA is a manga and anime series set in the 24th century, depicting the adventures of several young women who live on Aqua, the planet formerly known as Mars before it was terraformed into a water-covered paradise. They serve as gondolier tour-guides — or undines — in the city of Neo Venezia, which is an exact copy of Earth's Venice, canals and all.The story focuses on Aria Company, the smallest gondolier tour business in the city with only two employees. It is run by Alicia Florence, who one day welcomes a new apprentice called Akari Mizunashi. Most of the plot deals with the relationship between the two girls and Akari's efforts to become a Prima, the highest rank of undine, signified by being allowed to steer a gondola without wearing gloves. Akari also befriends and trains with apprentice undines from other companies, who each get their own screen time as the series progresses.Akari writes extensive letters describing her experiences to someone on Earth (is referred to as Manhome as a Shout Out to the works of cult Speculative Fiction writer Cordwainer Smith). Eventually, however, it is revealed in the manga to be the readers of her blog , while in the anime it is Ai, a young girl who was a customer in the first episode.The manga series is written by Amano Kozue and started out with the title Aqua, but was renamed Aria when the series switched publishers. Both were later adapted into an anime series with three parts, chronologically titled: The Animation, The Natural and The Origination, plus a stand-alone OVA called Arietta. The pacing is generally relaxed and easy-going, with lots of attention for the beautiful scenery of Aqua and Neo Venezia.Most of the drama consists of friendly disputes between the various apprentice undines as they learn their trade. Akari also has a talent for surreal encounters, which pushes the story into a fantasy setting at times. The later seasons and the OVA have a tendency to become somewhat melancholic from time to time, but generally the tone of the show is light and warm.For people who like lovely imagery of beautiful girls against a wondrous backdrop, this Slice of Life series is a nice change of pace from the action-filled and fanservicy fare of most other anime. For this reason (and others), it's often compared to another Slice-of-Life work, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou.
ARIA contains examples of:
Adaptation Expansion: Several chapters in the manga that would normally cover only half of an episode in anime are expanded to full-episode stories in the anime. Examples include Akira taking a couple on a tour prior to training the three apprentices together (and including the couple in the training) along with the wedding sub-plot when Akari helps the mailman one day.
Alchemic Elementals: The tour guides who navigate the canals are appropriately named Undines. Salamanders maintain Aqua's atmosphere and weather. Gnomes live underground maintaining the planet's gravity. Sylphs ride airbikes to reach places where cars and gondolas can't reach.
Alien Sky: Considering the Scenery Porn, surprisingly averted for the most part. While Aqua, as it's Mars, has two moons, that's only mentioned in a late episode concerning moon viewing (Origination ep 10).
Artistic License - Geography: Neither the manga nor anime trouble themselves by trying to hold to real Venezian geography, only the architecture and particular locations. At its most extreme this results in visits to hills overlooking the city and long walks without reaching a canal. Justified, since it is rebuilt on another planet, but even internal consistency is a wash.
Book Ends: Compare the start of Akari's apprenticeship with Alicia to Ai's apprenticeship with Akari. The mentors in both cases give the same smile and say the same thing. In the manga, this is at the beginning and end of the series while in the anime it's in the beginning and end of the final episode.
Canon Discontinuity: In volume 2 of the Aqua manga, the bonus chapter features Alice as a central character before she's even introduced in the main storyline. Lampshaded by both Akari and Aika in the one-panel eye-catches at the start and end of the chapter. (This is a function of the publisher change: by the time a new edition of Aqua was put out by the new publisher, Alice had been introduced, thus she was included in the added bonus material.)
Deadpan Snarker: Alice, and occasionally Aika when dealing with Akari's wide-eyed idealism.
Dojikko: Athena, despite being an excellent undine and a great singer.
Earth That Used to Be Better: Though tourists are apparently happy to return home, in some cases unimpressed with the beauty of Aqua, it's made clear in dialogue that this applies. Until she comes to Aqua, Ai has never seen a blue sky, and Akari comments that back home she couldn't go in the ocean or dig in the soil like she does on Aqua, and, most importantly for the series, Venice flooded a couple centuries ago.
Eyes Always Shut: Mr. Postman, except for that one time he let Akari row his gondola.
Face Fault: The characters' faces often become very deformed when they get emotional - sometimes to the extent of getting creepy.
Faceless Masses: Active Prima undines outside of the main cast are often drawn without any recognizable features. Exceptions include backbiting colleagues of Akira who upset Aika with their gossip and the Prima who acts as foreman for the traghetto service.
Faking Amnesia: The water fairy Athena Glory does this as a prank to her student, Alice, to find out what Alice really thinks of her.
Especially prevalent if you've read the Aqua manga, seen Akari take her promotional exam to become a Single and compare it to Alice's promotional exam. Alice is given both promotional exams at the same time and is promoted straight to Prima. The exam to become a Single is one of strength, endurance, and sculling ability while the exam to become a Prima is more oriented towards people skills.
In Episode 1 of ''The Natural', look at Ai in the kid-sized version of the Aria Company uniform.
Gender Flip: Episode 22 of The Natural does this to the entire cast. In the manga is featured as an extra episode.
Generation Xerox: The mentors of Akari, Aika and Alice were a close-knit group of friends when they were apprentices themselves.
Alicia notes that Akira and Aika are remarkably similar, with Aika taking on many of Akira's catchphrases and mannerisms.
Gratuitous English: Occasionally English words pop up between all the Italian and Esperanto.
Gratuitous Foreign Language: Italian; Justified by Neo-Venezia being a conscious recreation of Venice, but it's even odds whether a piece of writing in the background is in Italian or Japanese. In the anime this is mingled with some Esperanto as well.
Grumpy Bear: Aika. Akatsuki has some of this too, at times.
Last Minute Hookup: In the last episode of The Origination, Alicia suddenly announces she is getting married, without any prior indication she was even dating someone. The viewer never finds out who her fiance is, let alone any details about the courtship. There are some interesting theories about Alicia's spouse mentioned in the WMG-section. The manga gives hints that she's seeing someone, starting a couple volumes before it's actually announced. The anime skips all of them, however.
Limited Wardrobe: The girls are almost always wearing their undine uniforms, even in their spare time.
To a lesser extent, President Aria, when you realize that comparatively, his head is as big, if not bigger than the girls who look after him.
Memento Macguffin: The bookmark that Akira passes on to Aika. This also has a much deeper meaning in that it was originally Aika who inspired Akira to create a four-leaf clover by adding a rose petal to a regular clover , which lifted Akira out of a deep funk when she was the last of the Three Water Fairies to become a Prima. Naturally, Aika doesn't remember any of that time but it certainly explains why Akira made her her apprentice.
Mood Whiplash: Sometimes the characters' unique SD faces don't fit the mood of the scene at all and thus feel like this.
The end credits theme from The Origination always starts loud and suddenly, which can be quite startling.
Non-Human Sidekick: The "presidents" of Orange Planet, ARIA Company, and Himeya are all blue-eyed cats who accompany the main characters just about everywhere. Presidents Aria and Maa-kun are Mars cats, who have human-level intelligence as well. (Not to mention lifespans measured in decades.)
Oddly Named Sequel: The Natural and The Origination. note The Natural is explained by the director in a DVD extra: he'd felt constrained, the first season, with only 13 episodes to work with, but the second season was green-lighted for 26 episodes, which let him develop the characters more "naturally."
Plot Hole: Initially apparent over the course of the series but averted at the end with Alice. As a Pair, she shouldn't have been allowed to have people ride in her gondola until she was promoted to a Single. But it's implied that she couldn't have become a Single until she finished middle school and thus the company made an exception due to her sculling ability and that helped allow her to be promoted straight to Prima.
What could be more important than being a souped-up tourist guide?
The promotional exams are complete marathons. The test to move from Pair to Single is of strength, endurance, and sculling ability that lasts the majority of, if not, all of the day. The exam between Single and Prima focuses more on the Undine's knowledge of the city and interaction skills with the customers. Alice goes through both on the same day, without even knowing she was being tested.
The lush visual beauty of the Aria Anime adaptation is attributed to the animators actually having gone to Venice to do research on the architecture, how Gondoliers pilot their boats and how water moves in reaction to a gondola's oar. Yes, they put that much love into producing the series.
Specific and frequent note is made of the facts that daytime on Mars is almost equal to Earth daytime and a Martian year is twice as long as an Earth year. Most science fiction with a populated Mars never makes note of that.
Theme Naming: Pretty much all the main characters' names start with A; also a partial example of Theme Initials. It can get pretty confusing sometimes, esp. when there are some characters with very similar sounding names.
Subverted with anime-only side character Sora.
Theme Tune Cameo. Alicia at one time hums the opening tune of the series while lighting some candles in her home.
The opening tune for the first season reappears in the second, during the arc in which Akari bids goodbye to her old gondola.
And it closes off the last season too.
Time Travel: Akari does this by crossing a bridge to witness the birth of Neo-Venezia, complete with age shifted versions of much of the main cast. Like a lot of the weird stuff in the series, cats are involved. And there's a bit about a letter delivered from the past. It's not really time-travel, but the effect is much the same, as Akari is pulled into an odd bubble of space/time by the woman's cat-as-little-girl so that the letter could finally be delivered.
Woody often ends his phrases with "yo" or "no da".
Akari often enunciates "Hai" ("Yes") in a way that seems particularly unique to her, as it sounds as if her voice cracks when finishing the word. In the manga this even gets written as "hahi" (or in Japanese: "はひ").