Aria - why we all need a little iyashikei in our lives
The season is officially nearing its end, with this week being the one where all the shows are finally releasing their last episode. The momentum of hype in the anime community caused by shows such as Kaguya-sama, Mob Psycho 100, Shield Hero, The Promised Neverland and Dororo probably isn't going to stop either, with Spring 2019 being loaded with other popular shows such as Attack on Titan Season, One Punch Man, Isekai Quartet and Bungo Stray Dogs, and the second Shield Hero cour. But did you notice one thing about all these shows? They're all intense action shows (except for Kaguya, but I woudn't call that show's style of comedy "calming" either). Now don't get me wrong, I love me a good action flick, and I can get just as hype about a cool fight scene as any other anime fan, but this does make me wonder: is there an abundance of action shows? The answer is no, there is not. There is a lot of action, but there is a lot of other stuff as well. If we look at the seasonal chart for Winter 2019, there certainly are a lot of action shows, but there are a lot of comedies, dramas and slice of life shows as well. There certainly is a lot of action, but thats because there's a lot of everything. Around sixty shows start each season, so of course there's going to be a lot of it. Because action is popular. Action is flashy, cool, and a lot of the best ones tend to have gripping narratives as well. Who doesn't want to see people beat the shit out of each other while also feeling emotional about it?
But we've gotten sidetracked. The point I'm trying to make isn't that there is too much action, but rather that it's important to take a break. Sure, it's awesome to watch Mob and his ragtag group of ex-Claw members use psychic powers to take down the big bad guy, but it's important to remember that there is such a thing as too much. It's important ot lower your shoulders every now and then, it's important to take a break. I think that one of the things that makes anime great is the abundance of variety. Anime is a medium in which we have shows of all different types. One of these types of shows is called Iyashikei, and the pinnacle of this genre is none other than the "Aria" franchise. (Not that I've watched other shows in this genre apart from this and Yuru Camp, but what sounds good sounds good.)
Aria is an iyashikei show, which a genre of japanese media which roughly translates to "healing". Iyashikei shows are slow, calming, and are intended to give the viewer a sense of tranquility. "Aria" is one of these shows, and it's probably one of the best. While most shows would feel it be necessary to have exposition to explain or explore things about the world the characters of the story inhabit, Aria does not. Characters will mention the name of someone or something like the viewer should already know it. While this may seem like bad writing at first, the point of this is to make the conversations feel more casual and soothing to listen to. Things are indeed explained, Aqua is just terraformed Mars and Manhome is Earth. But these things are explained later in the show, instead of the first time these things are mentioned, which is in stark contrast with most other shows, not just in anime. Exposition is a common thing in all forms of storytelling, but nothing feels more jarring than when everything just seems to stop so that the characters can explain information they should already know just so that the audience can understand whats going on as well. But Aria manages to do it so naturally and well that you don't even notice it most of the time.
I probably should have explained this earlier in my post, but Aria is a show about girls rowing gondola's on a terraformed Mars 150 years into the future. Seems pretty out there, and it definetely is. There are some weird looking cats that I never would have guessed were supposed to be cats if I hadn't looked it up on MAL and the entire planet is covered in water, so it's clear that some extensive terraforming has been done. If this was a normal show, the characters probably would have told you this in conversation during the first episode for no reason. But instead, the characters mentions the in-universe names of Mars and Earth (Aqua and Man-Home). But they give the viewer no idea what mean, before explaining them to customers of their gondola as a guide tour in a later episode. Not to mention that the show just looks beautiful. Many viewers may initially get off-put by the early 2000's digitial look, but as with "Haibane Renmei", this look is perfect for it. It's so soothing and calm. Just putting on an episode, laying back and not really doing anything else. Just watch the show and let your thoughts drift away, as you experience the humourus dialogue between the characters, some hilarious facial expressions, and tons of memorable catchphrases. Heck, I even named my blog after one of those catchphrases; No embarrasing remarks allowed. Thats not to say you shoudn't pay attention to whats going on though. There is without a doubt enough going on visually for you not to just open another tab and not pay attention, because while the animation may not be ultra breathtaking, it doesn't need to be. The gondolas move in perfectly natural ways, theres nothing off about the waves, not to mention that the character and costume designs fit the tone of the series perfectly, and the rustic feel of the canals and surrounding city coudn't be better.
This is something I'm not quite sure most people are going be able to relate to, and many may dismiss this as needless melodrama, but oh my goodness this show is such an emotional experience for me to watch. This show is episodic storytelling done right, through and through. Even though I recognize that a lot of these are indeed sob stories written with the intention to make me cry (heck, most of the time the characters will also cry just to make it even more apparent that this is supposed to be a sad moment), but I still can't help but tear up while watching. The show has a strong and wide cast of characters, and each episode you'l get to learn something new about a previously introduced character, or you'l get to meet a new one and learn something about them. Sure, the characters might not always be the most realistically written, even when taken in the context of the show, but they sure do manage to make me cry goddamn it.
The music is beatiful, it's probably my favorite anime OST, even beating out my other favorites like Lucky Star, Haibane Renmei and Megalo Box. If I were to describe the soundtrack, it would probably be that it feels like silk. You know when you have a super comfy and soft blanket, and you decide to sleep on the sofa while covering yourself with it? That's the feeling I get when listening to it. It's so calming and has such a homey tone to it. It also really fits the tone of the show, being set in a city literally called Neo-Venezia. Not to mention, the OP and ED are great, especially the ED. The painted yet detailed look of it along with the song is just an amazing combination. It reminds me a lot of the second Cardcaptor Sakura ED, Honey. Which is a good thing, because I love that ED as well. The OP can stand equal to the ED though. The OP is supposed to get you in the mood for the show, and I think it really needs to embody the spirit and atmospehere of the show. If not, then it becomes nothing more than a cost cutting technique, which to be fair, is the entire reason Osamu Tezuka decided to put it there in the first place. But what I'm trying to say is that the OP for this show really manages to put me in the frame of mind the creators intended the viewer to have while watching this.
Another thing I love about this show is of course, the character the show is named after: Aria Sacho himself. His design is just so freaking adorable, and all the noises he makes are cute as well. I've currently been watching 'Endro~!' this season, and while I enjoyed it at first, it's now feels like a slog going through it, where the only reason I'm still watching it is because having dropped a show at eight episodes in feels weird. But I'm going to cut the chase: in episode 11 of Endro, the main characters meet some weird creature, whose design is round and only makes random noises, while all the while being able to communicate with one of the main cast for absolutely no discernable reason. I'm not joking, none of the other characters are able to communicate with this fluff ball, except for one character. There is never any reason given for this, no explanation. She just can. These fluff balls apparently have a secret civilization which is un-accesable to everyone except for the most elite of mages. Except the elite mage in the main charactes party is allowed to bring her friends. So... why is it so secret? No reason given. Apparently, theres a contest to collect the rarest magic card, so the characters set out to do that. But they're the only humans there. If this festival is such a big deal, why are there no other humans there???
So why did I mention this? Well, because Aria does this exact same thing, except well. There are fluff balls in this show, the cats are there for that reason. Except they're not just there for one episode, set up to be extremely important, yet completely forgettable as well. In Aria, the fluff balls have a reason to be so prominent throughout the show, they're the symbolic leaders of each gondola company because thats tradition in this world. Again, I don't know how the heck this show manages to make me so darn emotional. In episode 8, Aria >Sacho leaves Aria Compant because he feels like a nuisance to everyone else. Yeah, it might be worth to mention now that these cats are actually pretty intellegent and can actually understand human speach. But anyways, Aria Sacho goes out in the city, and even though the whole thing is mostly played for laughs, I still cry. This was barely eight minutes into the episode, and I cried. The second half of the episode is both hilarious and extremely moe though, so it's probably my favorite one. That's like... three or four times in a 12 episode show. Usually, most shows tend to have large but rare emotional moments. Aria has mostly small ones, so they're a lot more plentiful, but they're done so well, and in my experience at least, always tend to hit. Not to mention, Aria Sacho just looks fuckin' precious. He definetely is the embodiment of moe.
So do I love everything about Aria? Well, no. There's no piece of art which is completely perfect, everything has flaws. If humans themselves aren't perfect, how could they ever make something perfect? But Aria is a show with very few flaws. There are only about two I can think of: firstly, the worldbuilding is insane and makes zero sense. How in the heck did we develop floating islands which are only staying afloat because of some iron chains? Why are the inhabitants of this futuristic sci-fi world living in a rustic, small city when they have interplanetary travel available for everyone? How is it even remotely possible to consider Aria Sacho a cat? If Alicia is one of the best undine around around, why does her company only have one other employee? But the thing is, these are such minor things, and everything else outweighs it to such an extent that even considering them something like nitpicks would be an exaggeration. I don't think I've watched a show with such a small amount of flaws before, except for Haibane Renmei of course.
All in all, Aria is great. It manages to strike a weird combination of extremely laid back and relaxing, while also being very entertaining and a pleasurable experience. I don't really see myself rewatching this in the future, but considering the fact that there is a lot of other content within this franchise, I don't think that's really a negative. So far I've only watched the first one in the franchise so I'm really excited to start watching the rest.
9/10, this is definetely one of my top ten favorites.