Tuesday, March 25 2008

Aria: The Kid Gloves Come Off

Aria: the Origination, Episode 9, "Enveloped in that Orange Wind..." should be studied as a textbook example of anime storytelling done right.  It both builds off the history of the series and adds enough new material to build something incredibly special.

I've always liked Akira's character because we've seen enough of her past in flashbacks during the series that we can see how she's grown.  It's been subtle, but Alice has grown as well, and this series brings it all together to see at once.  Akira's changes are obvious due to the presentation of her history as flashbacks, so we can immediately compare Akira as she was with Akira as she is.  Alice's changes have been subtle, stretched across almost 45 episodes in three incarnations of the series, such that you don't notice them until you look back.

When we first are introduced to Alice Carroll, in Episode 3 of Aria: the Animation, we see Alice's schoolmates idolize her because of her stardom as a rookie Undine recruit by Orange Planet.  Alice doesn't react well to the sudden interest, and awkwardly drives away a few that try to ask for an autograph.  This episode, then, opens with Alice's graduation from school, and we see Alice reacting rather graciously to the attention of her fellow students.

We then see Alice's journey home from school.  Alice has a habit of adopting silly challenges on her route home from school, such as trying only to step on shadows, or (in this case) doing the route backwards.  In previous episodes, she learned to accept Athena's kindness and help, and we see in this episode that she now is willing to treat Athena as a special friend.

But that's incidental to the meat of the story.  Once in her room, by the orange light of the setting sun, Athena asks Alice if she'd like to go for a picnic the next day, and Alice accepts.

The journey starts in earnest the next morning.  Athena asks if Alice wouldn't mind pretending that she was Alice's customer for the trip.  We catch Athena complementing Alice on her smile, for which Alice credits Akari's tutelage.  After all, that's why Alice sought out Akari in the first place, to learn how the perennially good-natured Akari could smile so naturally.  Alice is also complimented on her skills as a guide, to which she credits a strict senior that can only be Aika.  The journey itself is long and beautiful.  Towards the end, ascending one of the canal locks, Athena drops out of customer mode and gets Alice to admit that the one thing she is still unsure of is her singing ability, to which Athena applies some sage wisdom.  Finally, free of the lock, the pair round the canal bend to find a party waiting for them under the setting orange sunlight.

Aika, Akari, President Aria, the lock operator (actually a repeating character in the series), two gentlemen from the gondola association and the head of Orange Planet wait on the canal bank under the windmills.

This is one last joke on Alice, as Athena asks her for a final song.  But, miraculously, after crediting her tutelage from the legendary Undine known as the Siren (Athena herself), Alice sings.

There's a reaction that the animators use in Episode 11 of the original series during a flashback when Akira and Alicia first hear Athena sing.  Time slows down.  The surroundings, the people in them, everything just stops and listens to the song of the Undine eventually to be known as the Siren.  That reaction is repeated here, but instead of Akira and Alicia with the startled reactions, it's Akari and Aika.  And me.  And one more reaction...
With that expression, Alice wins.  The student has surpassed (or at least surprised) the master.

In the series so far, only Athena has actually sung on camera.  Singing (Canzone) is supposed to be a skill all Undines are trained in, but we've never actually see anyone but Athena actually sing until now.  I don't know if this is the actual voice actress or a stunt voice, but it's an excellent job.  The cuts between Alice, the reactions of the onlookers, and some brief flashbacks to important moments for Alice in the series, all serve to draw the whole thing together.

At this point, Athena congratulates Alice on behalf of the company, says that they've been waiting until she had finished school, and then gives us what we have been waiting for...http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Ep908.jpg
...She removes Alice's glove.   And then, on behalf of the Gondola Association...
...removes Alice's other glove.

Alice is now officially a Prima, and is the first Undine to be promoted to Prima directly from Pair.  Her honorific title is Orange Princess, after the orange glow traditionally associated with the Martian sky, and hence the source of the name Orange Planet. (I thought Mars was the red planet?  Shhh... you're ruining the mood!)

Congratulations to Alice Carroll, the Orange Princess!

Of course, not to be outdone, Maa takes this opportunity to strike at his hated foe...

Random thoughts after the break.
On Steven den Beste's Chizumatic blog, there was a recent discussion about the nature of anime endings.  The conclusion was that while a somewhat open ending is a good thing, sequelitis is a bad thing.  Aria is a series that was just about the right length (in my opinion; YOMV).  With the events of this episode, a further sequel series is just about impossible.

Alice is now officially a professional Undine.  As such, there is no reason for her to be training with Aika and Akari.  Four more episodes (through episode 13) should be about the most they can stretch the plot to keep her around as a major character.  With her out of the plot, the cast begins to fall apart.  One of the few ways the story could fail at this point is to have the series end without Akari being promoted to Prima, as Akari comes closest to being the main character of the series.

Aika is somewhat of a bind as a character.  Having her promoted after Akari (or not promoted at all) is somewhat anti-climactic, so I suspect she'll either be the next promotion or be promoted at the same time as Akari.

If anything, Alice's promotion seemed to come a little early plot-wise.  We have four episodes left.  We have, at most, probably three real plot events left... Aika's promotion, Akari's promotion, and a big New Years closing episode to give us a glimpse in to the furture.  The first two can be combined in a single episode, and the third is optional (though I'm hoping for it).  This means, at best, one filler episode between this emotional high and the next, and perhaps more than one.

I will admit to having been shown the plot twist of the double promotion in the form of a manga scan ahead of time, but I was still not prepared for the excellent way it was handled.

Posted by: Civilis at 07: 42 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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1 I had no idea it was coming, and it thrilled the heck out of me.

Unfortunately, I stumbled upon a spoiler from the manga, so I THINK I know what's going to happen... I hope not, though.

Posted by: Wonderduck at Mar 26 00 53 (AW3EJ)

2 Like you, I was thrilled to watch this episode, and thrilled again the second time when I went back for screencaps.  One thing I forgot to comment on is the usage of lighting in this episode.  Your screenshot reminded me of the use of orange light both to carry the theme of the episode and to set the emotional mood.

Posted by: Civilis at Mar 26 05 27 (uob7h)

3 HnK has released ep10!!!!

Posted by: Wonderduck at Apr 30 23 11 (5bdEI)

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