「その 逢いたかったあなたに…」 (Sono Aitakatta Anata ni…)
“To You Whom I Wanted to Meet”
I like all sorts of anime. That’s not news; if I wasn’t fond of anime in general I wouldn’t be here blogging about it. And anime is certainly not lacking in genre coverage; be it action or drama, comedy or tragedy anime fans are, if nothing else, blessed with variety. It’s not hard to find something to like.
ARIA was different though. It wasn’t a matter of liking ARIA. For ARIA, I fell in love.
It’s hard to describe exactly what makes ARIA such a great show. When one is in love, the reasons why are difficult to articulate, and to a sober third party sound completely stupid. So it is when one tries to give a synopsis of the ARIA plot. In the future, mankind has terraformed Mars, recreated old Venice on it, and everyone there are happy and content. The end. I suppose that was highly reductionist and not entirely fair, but the point is that there is not much there to convince the average adrenaline-junkie anime viewer to watch a slice-of-life show, especially if they go in expecting hard science fiction (and ARIA is only sci-fi in the most transient sense).
Sometimes there are those who describe slice-of-life shows, including ARIA, as not having a plot, or not having conflict. I wouldn’t exactly put it like that; there is plot, and there is conflict, but the focus is not on the Suddenly Stuff Happens. Instead, ARIA is about a world, its people, and their growth. That last part requires extra emphasis, as through The ANIMATION to The ORIGINATION we followed an endearing cast of characters through a significant part of their lives, and the main draw of The AVVENIRE is definitely seeing them all grown up, complete with curious new hairstyles. This includes Ai (still voiced by Mizhuhashi Kaori; the entire original cast reprise their roles), whose vastly enlarged part in the anime was certainly one of the most brilliant additions to the original manga (this in an adaptation that was done very well by staff that really understood the charm of ARIA). Suffice to say, if you haven’t watched the original three seasons of anime, The AVVENIRE is not the place to jump in from, especially since so much of its appeal comes from nostalgia.
Now, I understand that implying that a show tries to play to nostalgia may sound like a pejorative, as if was trying to make an emotional appeal instead of a substantive one but 1) there’s really nothing wrong with an emotional appeal in anime and 2) ARIA does it in the most positive way possible. For starters, isn’t it a bit strange for an anime with a sci-fi setting to also be ‘nostalgic’? It’s certainly not the same atmosphere as a ‘used future’ setting where all the tech bears an extra layer of pessimistic rust (like, for example, Cowboy Bebop); ARIA always looks bright and optimistic. But it contrast Neo-Venecia still uses gondola when flying cars are freely available, and a deliberate effort had been made to preserve the old-timey feel of the city. Look, 16th century architecture, and spaceships. ARIA The AVVENIRE plays all the nostalgia completely straight, starting with that the fact it’s pretty much an episode of ARIA that would have fit perfectly well in The ORGINATION (in fact, it’s based on a previously un-adapted manga chapter), but framed as a tale of the past. Everything you loved about ARIA is back. Beautiful soundtrack. Beautiful backgrounds. Quirky moeblob cat. Even the ED is a slideshow of past locations. And the story itself is about missing days gone by. When the old OP song, Undine, started playing, did you not get a straight hit of the nostalgic feeling? Same as when Barcarolle heralded Athena’s arrival? I know I did, and it felt good.
The thing is, ARIA is designed to let you feel good about waxing nostalgic, even though normally nostalgia is associated with rose-tinted glasses and a stubborn hatred of change. But it is ARIA‘s way to completely reject negativity. Yes, it celebrates the past, the simpler times, the forgotten wonders. Yes, things sure were great, back in the day. But there’s no reason that the future can’t be great too. That’s why ARIA is science-fiction, despite its retro airs. It’s speculative fiction, and it speculates with nothing but optimism. That’s not the same as naivete, mind you; again, ARIA is not without conflict and obstacles and even plot, even if that obstacle is just a packed schedule and the plot is just to deliver a present. It’s the attitude with which the conflict is faced, with unrelenting belief in the good in people, the wonders of the universe, and the silver lining in the clouds. The end result is nothing but incredibly satisfying.
I know I sometimes get roped into doing my old man act, about how things were better back in my day, and that you kids need to get off my lawn. Indeed, even ARIA cannot avoid change. The water is computer generated now. The singing voice of Athena, Kawai Eri, has sadly passed away. ARIA changes, anime changes. Nobody’s going to deny that the old shows aren’t great. But, in the spirit of ARIA, let’s not let that stop us from appreciating the new generation too.
ED: 「ピアチェーレ」 (Placere) by 西沢幸奏 (Nishizawa Shiena)