Monday, October 29 2007

Aria and Character Development

I'm in a bit of an anime rut.  None of the new series have fully captured my attention (though Minami-ke is coming close).  However, my stock of patience is not up to paint more little metal bits and I haven't made it to the store to purchase Portal the Orange Box.  So I've gone back through the collection and am re-watching the better parts of Aria, and I've even managed to find a fansub of the recent OVA, Arietta.

One of the things I've both loved and hated about animation is trying to describe it in terms familiar to American TV viewers.  I love it because it's a constant reminder of what I like about anime in the first place: it's different.  While a lot of anime seems to build off of other anime in terms of genres and conventions, it's still not to difficult to find something unusual yet still fascinating.  I hate it, of course, because I then have difficulty explaining to anyone outside that little circle exactly what it is I'm watching.

Aria is especially difficult to describe.  It's science-fiction, although the science-fiction is merely detail, and if you're looking for a science-fiction show, this almost certainly isn't what you expected.  It's got its fair share of lighthearted comedy.  It's got some fantasy hidden here and there.  Above all, it's a slice of life story (if you can call it a story).  It's not what I thought I would enjoy.  It's got no real plot, although the episodes are sequential and often build off of one another; it's essentially 40 filler episodes.  It's got no real action;  almost all the drama is of the relationship kind.  Aria is a story of the day to day life of three young women who are apprentice tour guides in a rebuilt city of Venice on a terraformed Mars that's now 90% water, and what the series has is character development, often low key, but still character development.

One of my pet peeves about anime and TV in general is character development.  I like to see characters and relationships progress over time.  Be it in relationships or combat, the characters must learn and experience and grow to be fully human.  A lot of anime, including some classics, loses this key point.  The cast of Ranma 1/2 will always be stuck in the same complicated web of relationships.  It's somewhat futile to watch them, as we're back to the same relationship status quo as we were at the beginning of the series.  Sgt. Sousuke Sagara will always be a military blockhead cluelessly circling Kaname.  Tenchi Masaki is eternally stuck between his harem of suitors.

The other thing Aria has going for it is that the world of Aqua and the city of Neo-Venezia are fully fleshed out.  In part, it's because it's a tranquil setting done at a slow pace, and the animators can afford to use a still background for most of the image.  But still, the animators have found the time to include unique locations in just about every episode, and the seasonal effects in some of the episodes are well done (though there are about two fall episodes in the 40 total).  With the extra detail added to Aria the OVA: Arietta, it is an absolute delight to watch.  There's enough color to draw the eye in general terms and enough detail that it's impossible to take in the detail in each shot.

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One of the things that always got me about playing a computer game, especially some of the more recent ones, is seeing the same environments reused over and over.  It's another abandoned warehouse with stacks of boxes and barrels.  It's another wrecked castle.  It's another power station with mysterious tubes of lava.  What was worse was pencil and paper RPG GMs that insisted on reusing the exact same tropes over and over again; with a pencil and paper RPG, the art budget is limitless.  Animation has a fixed budget, and I know certain studios have a habit of overspending, but some animation studios frequently miss opportunities to make their worlds come alive.

Further thoughts about character development below the break.  Some spoilers about character backstory, if you can consider anything in this series to be important enough to be kept secret.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 04 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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