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[R1 DVD box art]
AKA: アリア ザ ナチュラル 〜遠い記憶のミラージュ〜 (Aria the Natural: Tooi Kioku no Mirage), Aria the Natural: Mirage of a Distant Memory
Genre: Slice-of-life / science-fiction
Length: Television series, 26 episodes, 23 minutes each
Distributor: R1 DVD box from Right Stuf International.
Content Rating: PG (adult themes)
Related Series: Aria the Animation, Aria the OAV ~Arietta~, Aria the Origination
Also Recommended: Aria (any season), Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, Haibane Renmei, Sketchbook ~Full Color's~
Notes: Based on manga by Amano Kozue, licensed and released by Tokyopop together with its manga prequel Aqua. Aqua and Aria are both serialized in Mag Garden in Japan.
Rating:
 

Aria the Natural

Synopsis

Life continues for Akari Mizunashi and her friends and mentors on planet Aqua, with new meetings and discoveries happening fairly frequently as Akari notices new aspects of Neo Venezia.

Review

The second season of Aria was planned and created so fast, I hardly had the time to finish the first season and start looking forward to the second before I had the episode at hand, ready for viewing. And while I'm certainly not complaining -- rather the opposite, in fact -- it still strikes me as a bit odd. It will, however, make the review harder to write for me without possibly repeating myself. Given the rather... seamless jump to the second season, I ask you to bear with me here.

In fact, like I mentioned in the first review, Aria made one heck of an impression on me when I first read the manga. An impression which only deepened later as I got a hold of the first season and got to know the characters a lot better.

The show itself -- through the voice of Akari -- practically welcomes the viewers back, again setting the mood of the show rather handily. Granted, all the episodes features Akari doing a little monologue, mostly reading out loud from her correspondance with Ai, the little girl she met in the very first episode of the very first season.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it" seems to be a fairly suitable idiom for this show. In a sense, it's not really offering anything but more episodes with the girls discovering new sides to themselves or their friends and surroundings, draped with the same kind of lightheartedness and cheer that made the first season a generous helping of delight. Each episode has something new to offer because each episode features a new day. (Or several days in some cases.) Days must pass quickly too, because where the first season went from summer to winter, the second season has gone back to summer, marking the full turn of the year on planet Aqua.

The budget seems to have gotten a bit of a stretch. Sadly, the artwork isn't necessarily Aria's strong suit. Art and animation is mostly decent, even good at times. Seeing as the show itself is paced rather sedately, it doesn't really NEED fantastic animation, though it could certainly have been a bit better.

Aurally, on the other hand, Aria is just fantastic. If or when (and I'm certainly hoping for a "when") this show is liscensed, the dubbing team will be faced with one heck of a challenge in reproducing the utterly pleasant voice acting in this show. Adding to that is the welcome return of Choro Club, who once again provides the soundtrack to Aria the Natural. While some of the tracks from the first season are reused in the second, there is still enough new compositions for a new CD soundtrack, which is another must-have in itself.

Ultimately, though, your enjoyment of this show will -- much as with the first season -- depend on how you feel about the characters, as they are the main focus of the show. Akari is.... well, still being Akari; cheerful and optimistic to a fault, eagerly taking in everything her enviroment has to offer. Aika is also pretty much herself, though in the course of the show, she seems to have gotten at odds with Akatsuki, at least if the namecalling sessions that always seem to start every time they're within hearing range of each other. On another note; the anime never really went with the manga story arch where the girls (sans Alice) met up with Al the gnome. And while Aika didn't seem to harbor anything but a budding friendship with him at that point, the anime seems to indicate something.... more. A little disturbing, perhaps, seeing as Al looks like a twelve year old despite his actual age of 19. (He's a gnome, see? He won't be getting any taller than that.) Or rather, it might have been disturbing had Aria not been a totally clean show.

Speaking of Al, the show finally gives us an introduction of the character. Al is, in fact, a sensible character. And much to Aika's consternation, his personality tends to waver between somewhat childish and... well, the attitude and mannerisms of an "old guy", as Aika puts it. Come to think of it, I'm a bit curious about how the gnomes came into being, seeing as Aria is a portrayal of Earth's (potential) future. Of course, even the CATS have their own hidden dimension in this anime, but hey.....

Much like in the first season, our last trainee, Alice, does occasionally get her own episode. Being the youngest of the undines -- of ALL of the undines, even -- her episodes usually touches on the topics of her fights against loneliness and her relationship with the other undines in Orange Planet, but most importantly against herself. It's within these episodes that Aria tends to drop to rather melancholy levels, which only serves to make the resolutions all the sweeter when they happen, mostly through the help of Akari and Aika, but also Athena.

Contentwise, Aria the Natural is speaking to the same exact audience as the first season. Naturally, hardened cynics and pessimists are going to wonder what all the fuss is about. Being neither deep or shallow, it might also disinterest people who like to ponder the deeper meanings of life and the universe as well as come across as somewhat slow for those with shorter attention spans. And, naturally, people expecting a show about young girls to feature bucketloads of fanservice will walk away disappointed.

To put it this way; Aria isn't the sexiest show around, and neither is it the most energetic and crazy. But there's a friendly openness to it that begs to be experienced. Despite the seemingly simple framework and the limited audience to which it speaks, what it does, it does with no reservations or misgivings whatsoever. Such an effort deserves to be recognized. And so I shall, with all the stars at my disposal.

A worthy sequel of a fine show, based on a wonderful manga.Stig Høgset

Recommended Audience: Much like the first season, the second season is.... clean. No fanservice, certainly no violence. A few (very mild) adult themes, that's about it.



Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD, sub only.
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Aria the Natural © 2005 Kozue Amano / Mag Garden / Aria Company