My, my, is this the third season of Aria, or Aria: The Origination?
Well, well, it must be.
Akari and her fellow would-be Prima undines (gondoliers): Aika and Alice might just be on the path to becoming the next generation of the Three Water Fairies of Neo-Venezia. Who knows?
So goes the simplicity of the synopsis, so too the simplicity of the series. As I’ve said before, Aria is always at its best when it's at is most straightforward. The series is effortless in the same way as a work of art which has a tremendous amount of thought and effort behind it, hidden by the skill of how it's delivered. Aria shies away from showing the strain because, as always, Aria needs to be gentle, flowing, soft, emotional, but never needlessly dramatic.
Intriguingly this is perhaps best shown in one of the two OVAs in the set... but wait, you said two OVAs? Well, yes, there is firstly (in terms of what we see anyway if not chronologically) an episode that fits into The Origination and it does little more than follow Akari though an ordinary day to a place that is her own. Her friends find her through various means and in tone it fits gloriously into what Aria is: the joy in the everyday, in secret places that mean much to us and more often when they are shared. Nothing much happens. Nothing much needs to. It’s also intriguing because as an OVA it's not treading the usual fanservice swimsuit episode, yet it is arguably massively fanservice in the sense of giving fans what they want: just here it is almost the apotheosis of what makes Aria tick.
This is something that we see throughout The Origination, though it is fair to say that there is arguably more narrative development here than in previous series. It makes sense because you know where it's going, but it ties this into the overall gentle tone, as Aika would say, trying to avoid sappy lines. Yes, there is considerable sentiment but it never dribbles over into sentimentality. At times it perhaps comes a little close but stands on just the right side of the threshold. More importantly it continues with the themes of change, learning and acknowledging both just as prior series have managed so well. This is reflected in episodes too, some of which can in retrospect be seen as real narrative plants. What's nice to see though is a reflection of reality, such as when Akari at a loose end practices not with her friends but with those she doesn’t know on a traghetto – a two-person sculled standing water-taxi – and for all Akari’s self-doubt, those around her see her very differently than how she sees herself (not to mention grounds the series in reality: not everyone can become a Prima but can still be fulfilled); this extends to her mentor and to her friends and so every character is entrenched in genuine human emotion. For all we might idolise a person, Aria deconstructs them and shows them as they are and not as cyphers.
And that is great but really when it comes down to it what is better than a series that can make you interested in whether a small seller of chocolates in a square will come back to sell their wares?
Apparent flippancy aside, The Origination in its 13 episodes feels a better fit than the longer second series. It has a great clarity to it, yet also continues with many of the previous series' virtues, one of which is the colour palette. A mixture of warm hues and tones like soft sunshine to soak into the bones or the glimmering sunlight reflecting off the water, casting shadows under bridges. Neo-Venezia was known as the Orange Planet and with good reason, the series often relishing such warming tones. Like the music, it’s an aesthetic imperative that quietly makes the series work as well as it does.
It’s also lovely to see an anime based on a manga not peter out but become part of a continuity, something that is presaged in the other OVA: Aria: Arrietta, that sits on the final disc. So Aria becomes in some ways an oddity to me, because it flows by beautifully, apparently doing nothing yet it manages somehow to tell a story arc.
If that isn’t special, what is?