Thursday, February 21 2008

Aria: Memories, Cats and Inconsistancies

I'm lately burned out on politics, so an episodic play by play of Aria: the Origination is the best I can do at the moment.  But it's a worthy task to assume.

Episode 5, "That keepsake clover...", is primarily a character expose for Aika and Akira, but it does that job well.  Akira is definitely the most well defined of the three mentors, and this look into her inner insecurities and the similar insecurities that haunt Aika, is well done.

The episode opens with our three students out on a routine training.  In any other series, that opener would be good for some catastrophe, but in this case it's just another demonstration by Athena and Alicia as to just how good they are.  Athena gets to put her voice to use this time, and basically shuts down the market momentarily as everyone stops and listens to her.  It's a trick we've seen before, but it's always a pleasure.  Alicia, meanwhile, repeats her precise boat maneuvering to gracefully catch a wind blown hat, to the applause of the crowd.

It's amazing the degree to which the animators have made the Undines seem like a combination of figure skaters and martial artists when they're handling an oar in other than a routine manner.  It was visible in episode 4 when it briefly looked as if Akari and Anzu were going to break out into a demonstration of staff fighting to impress the onlookers as they readied the oars.

The three students comment that Alicia and Athena have natural talents, which causes Aika to immediately wonder at what talents Akira, her mentor, has.  Although Aika idolizes Alicia and is overtly antagonistic with Akira, we've seen in the first season that Aika deeply respects Akira as well, to the point of taking it personally when other Himeya Undines badmouth Akira.  Matters aren't helped much when Alice and Akari show off their own talents in afternoon practice.  Alice is almost as good at her technique with the boat as Alicia, demonstrating both masterful parallel parking skills and high speed back alley rowing.  (I wonder where they came up with the idea that Alicia's talent is her oar technique;  I thought her special talent was just that she's completely amazing, so much so that she probably has Haruka Minami as an ancestor).  Akari, meanwhile, has adapted to Neo-Venezia with much the same unique talent that Carrot Ironfounderson shows towards Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.  She knows everyone, everyone knows her, and she's friends with everyone.  And of course this depresses Aika even more.
Aika returns to the Himeya offices / apartments to run into Akira in full cleaning mode, and is drafted to assist her mentor.  Her slight depression deepens considerably when one of Akira's photo albums is investigated to reveal a photo taken immediately after Athena was promoted to Prima.  It shows Alicia as Prima, Athena as Prima, and Akira still with the single glove of the Single (apprentice) level.

The book details are amusing, if difficult to make out, as in one shot an angry Akira is clearly depicted with the cartoony face the series uses for exaggerated emotions.

With the picture, Aika immediately questions Athena about how she felt about being overshadowed by two peers with natural talents.  This triggers the expected moral-laden "when I was in your shoes" story from Akira in the form of an extended flashback.

It's interesting to see yet another side of Akira's past, as she slips into depression at being normal.  And yet a surprise encounter by a bed of clovers teaches her a lesson that she's then able to pass on to Aika.  And who is the surprise teacher?

The surprise teacher that gives Akira a lesson in self-confidence and self-worth is none other than a much younger Aika.  Story told, all becomes right in Neo-Venezia and everything is back to normal.

A few other observations on the episode below the fold:

I did notice one potential inconsistency.  In Akira's flashback, Aika looks very young.  My guess was four or five at first glance and perhaps seven or eight at second.  I assume Aika now is high school age, perhaps sixteen.

The above is a frame grab from episode two of Aria: the Animation ("On that special day..").  It's the episode Akira is introduced, and in it Aika discusses her decision to become an Undine.  She was describing a time (specifically indicated to be four years ago) when she was feeling depressed and Alicia gave her a gondola ride to cheer her up;  this made her idolize Alicia.  In her flashback, Aika looks about 9 to 12 years old, which is consistent for my estimate of her current age.  The consistancy problem is that in the flashback that looks to be Aika at 10, Alicia is still a Single.  Whereas, in the Origination episode flashback with Aika at 7, Akira is depressed because Alicia has been promoted to Prima. 

My best guess is I'm reading too much into the apparent age due to the animation differences.  Aika could pass for eight in both images, and as a native of Aqua, "four years" is eight Earth years.  This is a series that doesn't seem to fall victim to age inflation, mainly because the characters in the present of the series haven't aged visibly in the two Martian years covered by the series, and because an exact age is never stated.  The animation quality has changed enough that it could be the cause of my confusion.
This episode also got me thinking about the cats that serve as honorary presidents of the three Undine companies, shown above listening to Athena. 

President Aria, the big white one that looks like a pigmy hippo, is described as a Mars Cat.  He's intelligent enough that he's literate and tends to eat human style in a high chair, though using his paws instead of utensils.  He also hasn't aged appreciably.  In one of the episodes of the previous season, he's shown with Aria Company's founder when she was an Undine.  Aria's founder is a legendary Undine who is now significantly older;  from flashbacks with Alicia she had retired before Alicia became a Single.  His age isn't unusual, as other episodes have established that the animals on Aqua have longer lifespans than the versions on Earth.
President Hime is described as being an Earth Cat in the second volume of the Aqua manga.  She obviously ages normally, as we see her as a kitten in this episode alongside the young Aika.  She displays typical feline finickiness and haughtiness, and usually sits near Aika and looks pretty.

Maa-kun is a kitten adopted by Alice and later adopted as Orange Planet's mascot after intervention by Athena.  He's still small and cute, but his mindset seems to be driven mostly by making attempts to eat President Aria, or at least part of President Aria's flabby stomach, whenever the two find themselves in close proximity.  I haven't seen anything official on whether he's an Earth cat or a Mars cat, but I did notice one scene in the first episode of this series:

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