March 26, 2011
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.