Kozue Amano – Tokyopop – 2011 – 12 volumes
As I mentioned in my earlier Aria roundtable note, this month’s Manga Moveable Feast is devoted to the Aqua/Aria series by Kozue Amano. I prefer a roundtable discussion to a straight-up review, but with the way I’ve been falling behind on current series lately, I figured I’d use the MMF as an opportunity to dust off my copy and read it. It’s been a year between volumes, and I’m just glad it’s at least popular enough to warrant a continuation in English. I was always more than happy to wait for CMX series that I knew only a handful of people read (sobsob… Eroica…), and I’m happy to do the same for Tokyopop.
Anyway, Aria is the type of series that wouldn’t be very much fun if you got to read it all the time. It’s all about stopping to smell the roses, so to speak (though it’s wintertime in Neo-Venezia at the moment, so no roses), and such pleasures are always more sweet if they are an occasional treat. Also… as much as I like the series, the meandering one-shot chapters would probably get old fast if I was reading a volume every month, or every other month.
I always have trouble discussing these volumes because, really, it’s mostly just Akari oogling the world around her and being told stories of Neo-Venezia, life, or telling stories of her own, and the experience is reading it for yourself. Having me tell you the story is no substitute, and I feel like I can’t really critique it since I can’t adequately describe the experience of the storytelling. The stories and art blend seamlessly, especially in some of the wonderful winter tales here. Two in particular really take advantage of the Neo-Venezia setting: one where Akari ponders the existence of a Galaxy Express (Aika explains it away as the train sounds traveling farther in the quiet night, but Akari wrangles a magical journey out of it), and another where Venetian glass art is discussed at length and Akari goes on at length about the differences between the real and loving imitations/homages as she paddles through the canals of Neo-Venezia.
Other stories look at the characters. The first chapter is a bittersweet story about Alicia, Athena, and Akira practicing together as singles and how they rarely get to see each other now, and the last chapter is a bizarre fantasy courtesy of President Aria where all the characters in the series receive a gender swap. Another short, almost wordless chapter looks again at just how charming Alicia really is. Another takes a look at the gruff Alice and her weakness for kittens in a surprisingly touching story.
But really, it’s all about the experience, moreso than most other series. While there’s not a whole lot to sink your teeth into story-wise, it’s good at what it sets out to do, which is to simply tell charming stories that make you stop and think about the world around you. The visuals really help support the meandering stories that spotlight the setting more than anything else. It’s likely not for everyone (I can picture some stifling a yawn at the prospect of reading this), but I love taking a little time to stop and savor each volume.
Kozue Amano – Tokyopop – 2009 – 12 volumes
I reviewed this for the weekly Manga Minis column at Manga Recon, so you can check it out over there.
I’m still very taken by this series, though the fact that nothing much happens is usually sitting in the back of my mind. I find it hard to begrudge it that when it does things like spend an entire chapter weighing the pros of wasting one’s time.
I’m glad I saved this for today. This series is all about atmosphere, and the nice summer-y stories in this volume made today’s miserable cold bearable.
I love that Cat Sith is a reoccurring character in this series. One of the strangest chapters this time around featured Akari suffering from the heat in the hottest part of summer. She’s got an uncharacteristic miserable look on her face, and is having problem dealing with the mirages such heat brings. And then… time stops and she gets a glass of cold milk. It’s pretty magical.
Akari, Aika, and Alice hang out in pretty much every chapter. They’re training together all summer, so they do pretty much everything together, including vacations to the beach, trips to see the retired great Undine, and throw parties for public holidays.
Actually, the only other chapter where Akari was by herself introduced the Sylphs, the airbike couriers of Neo-Venezia. So now we’ve got the Undines, the Salamanders, the Gnomes, and the Sylphs. Very nice.
But let me stress again how wonderful this series is simply for taking time to stop and smell the roses. Twice in this volume Akari learns the important life lesson of keeping her happy outlook and finding pleasure in everything she does. Much of the events are along the lines of finding beautiful views of the city, locating pretty beaches, and enjoying the company of others. Swimming, bug catching, eating corn-on-the-cob, and choosing wine are some of the simple pleasures the characters savor. It is definitely a unique reading experience.
This is a good series to read just before I go to bed. It is nothing but happy, mellow stories about life being good, which is sometimes all you really need.
I think any other series I would criticize for the lack of plot, but in this case the lack of plot is the point, and I would hate for the series to stop its meanderings around Neo-Venezia. The scenery is still quite lovely, and I can’t quite get enough of Akari’s “embarassing remarks.”
My favorite story of the volume was probably the one where Alicia takes Akari out for a spring walk and the two get a bit lost. They go through some lonely but beautiful scenery, and their discovery at the end of the day was really nice. I really don’t need anything more than a journey with an unexpectedly nice conclusion from this series.
Another good journey with an unexpected conclusion was a treasure hunt that Akari, Aika, and Alice (a new character) happen into when they find a series of maps that point to other maps. There’s a rare moment of drama when Aika almost leaves the party, but things are smoothed over pretty quickly.
In addition to Alice, a new pair trainee from a company called Orange Planet, we also meet Akira, the head of Aika’s Himeya company. She’s also a highly-ranked undine and a former good friend of Alicia’s. The interaction between those two is pretty comical, in a kind of corny and understated way.
My second favorite story was yet another involving Akatsuki. The chapter was based around a flower festival where one gives a red rose to a loved one. The legend behind the festival is explained, and Akari and Akatsuki spend most of the day finding flowers so that Akatsuki can give them to Alicia. You can see where this goes.
I can’t find fault in such a simple and pleasurable series. The release schedule is just right, too, because each volume is such a pleasure that I actually enjoy looking ahead quite a bit. I am a little behind, and I’ve got the fourth volume already, but I think I’ll save it for a rainy day.
This volume was winter-themed, and I liked the tidbit the author mentioned at the end where she gets so caught up in portraying the seasons that she’s not exactly sure what season it is in real life anymore. She does a wonderful job in pinning down the nuances of the seasons in this series though, so I would say it’s a job well done.
I want to talk about my favorite stories in this volume, but all of them were pretty notable in their own ways. There’s a story about a little snow bug that Akari befriends and then has to say goodbye to before the first snowfall of the season. There’s a chapter where the characters go to a hotspring that I thought I was going to hate, but the trip was portrayed so vividly and in such minute, enjoyable detail that it made me wish I was at a hotspring. There’s a chapter that goes over the underground systems used to control the gravity on Mars and the people that work it, and I think the boy that gives them the tour is going to be a recurring character. Aika was kind of a jerk in this story, weirdly, and throughout the volume I lost the friendly vibe that her and Akari had and it seemed like it was starting to imply that Aika was sometimes trying to avoid Akari and didn’t really like hanging out with her. Huh. Anyway, there’s a chapter dedicated to the New Year’s customs in Neo-Venezia, along with the rockin’ party they have until dawn on New Year’s Day, and then that was immediately followed by a chapter on Carnivale.
The focus on this volume was not so much on Akari’s training as an Undine and more her learning the customs in Neo-Venezia in every chapter. Being an Undine came up surprisingly rarely in this volume, and other than a few references to training and a free trip she gave one of the gnomes (the people that maintain the gravity), most of the volume was just her enjoying some time off. That’s fine too, it’s wintertime and the end of the year, and I’m sure the nuber of people she’s giving gondola rides to has gone down.
Cait Sith was back in this volume. It was immediately obvious that he was going to come up again because the characters discussed him beforehand, but I was tickled pink to see him again. He’s king of the cats, it’s hard not to like him.
The fact that this has been the only acceptable occurrence of the hot spring episode in any series in the ten years that I’ve been reading manga is reason enough for me to continue reading. Also, next time it seems like a new main character is going to be introduced. That will be nice, because if there’s one criticism I have, it’s that as curious and friendly as Akari is, there are weirdly few people she seems to interact with on a regular basis. Even more incidental characters like the mailman that she just says hi to would be great.
What happened in this volume? I feel like I can’t really say much different from what I already said about Aqua. There was a lot of riding around in boats. The last chapter is just Akari participating in a boat race. Obviously the fastest contestant wins, but she keeps getting sidetracked by little things in Neo-Venezia while competing and winds up enjoying herself a lot more because of it. Her teacher approves.
She is now at the stage in her apprenticeship where she can give tours as long as her teacher is in the boat with her. There is one chapter where she tries to force a cranky old man to appreciate the beauty in nature and doing things by hand (as opposed to what I assume is a rather industrial, automatic way of life where he is from), and one chapter where she discusses the history of Venice and Neo-Venezia with someone who was apparently a former customer. They pass an afternoon waiting on people who take hours to show. Apparently things like this were common before cellphones.
Another chapter is entirely focused on Akari and her friend cleaning their gondolas, playing around while doing so, and then at the very end, riding in their clean gondolas. I liked that chapter too. The only other story I haven’t really talked about yet has the characters going to an environment set up to mimic Japan. Akari works hard at not getting lost and led away to the world of demons by the fox spirit.
They all do a very good job at being calm and relaxing, and are some of the only stories I’ve read that are totally successful at having zero plot. I love reading them, because I love watching the joy the main character seems to take from simply rowing around and looking at the scenery. It’s so nice, and it helps break up the drama between the other series I love so much.