Tuesday, February 12 2008

The A's Have It

Right now, there is only one anime series for which I'm waiting impatiently for each fansub release: Aria the Origination.  It's rather odd, in that Aria is the most relaxed series I've ever seen, and it seems almost criminal to be impatient with it.  The four episodes currently released have all been very good, and two have been nearly perfect.

The first episode, "Upon the Spring Wind That'll Soon be Here" is the textbook example of a recap episode.  It gives all the major characters some screen time, getting us used to their obvious quirks and reminding us that the author has a thing for names that start with A.  It also sets up what seems like the dominant theme of this series, the eventual promotion of our three trainee Undines to Prima, but does so in the guise of reintroducing us to their mentors through an example of their extraordinary skills.  Alicia's stunt is not visually dramatic but is emotionally dramatic, giving her a "Sweeteness and Light" quotient almost at the level of Belldandy from Ah My Goddess.  Akira proves that she's got some well-concealed thorns, and I'm not talking about those heels, and she manages to let the best of tomboy that was shine through with the lady that is.
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Finally, Athena manages to demonstrate that Wisdom and Intelligence are not necessarily the same thing, in her creative handling of a small problem.
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The third series looks visually more impressive than the previous two series.  The backgrounds are richer, and the city of neo-Venezia seems more alive.  On watching it for the second time, I noticed that tt is something of a Potemkin visage, as the backdrops that seem alive are largely set pieces.  The bystanders are largely stationary, with occasionally one being animated in a simple action.  It's only in the process of looking for screen captures that I actually noticed the deception, however.  On first watching it I was enthralled with the pretty world.

Episode two, "That smiling customer...", reintroduces us to Neo-Venezia again, as Akari takes a special client on a tour of the city, giving the animators a chance to draw some of the more visually impressive bits of the city.  The resolution to the episode is a bit of a downer of my opinion, but offset by the spectacularly illustrated gardens.
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Another detail I notices as I was rewatching the series is the use of computer animation for the water effects.  While the backgrounds are still, the water, visible in nearly every shot, is almost constantly moving, which helps to give the illusion of life to the world.

The third episode, "Those feelings you put in..." is the weakest of the four currently out.  It centers on Akari's permanent set of rose colored glasses and the architecture of Neo-Venezia and of Venice.  I'm curious to try to match up some of the buildings in the anime with their real-world counterparts and see how they match up.  I was surprised that I could spot the details visible in San Marko's Piazza in Aria the OVA:  Arietta (and again in this episode) in looking at Venice's San Marko's Piazza in Google Earth.
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Another detail noticeable in several places throughout all the series is the use of reasonable looking Italian (in that it looks like Italian to someone like me that's not similar with the language) for most of the flavor text.  It's first visible in the first series in the episode where Alice is introduced, but it crops up several places in the new series, most noticeably where President Aria is reading his morning newspaper.
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The fourth episode, "Those who aim for that tomorrow...", is a spectacular bit of character development.  Akari spends the day working with three new characters, all other apprentice undines, named Atora, Anzu and Ayumi, all of whom have been pondering and worrying about their future as Undines.  It gives another hint about the series theme of the promotion test for the title of Prima Undine.  Despite being introduced this episode, all three characters are fully fleshed out, with defined personalities and quirks.  The episode uses their interactions with Akari to give us some insight into their world and their lives, and the final character drama in the episode is surprising and emotional, gives us a new look at characters only introduced this episode, and lets Akari's eternal optimism shine through to advance the overall plot.  Part of getting to know the characters is watching them work, and it's to the series overall credit that Akari is not always the center of attention throughout their day.
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One other thing to note in this episode.  We've been introduced to three Undine companies, Aria Company (Akari and Alicia, with blue trim), Himeya Company (Aika and Akira, with red trim) and Orange Planet (Alice and Athena, with yellow trim).  Almost exclusively, whenever you see a random Undine in a shot of Neo-Venezia, they're in Himeya red or Orange Planet yellow (as Aria company only has two employees, both named, there are no random Aria undines).  My recollection is that at one point in the second series, we see a random Undine in green trim in one of the opening credits, but I've never been able to find it again.  I experienced a momentary pleasure at looking at the crowd of apprentice Undines in this episode to see both green and purple uniformed Undines, only to be disappointed when our team consisted of Akari, two Orange Planet Undines, and a Himeya Undine.The image “http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/TAHI06.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Posted by: Civilis at 09: 59 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 I noticed the purple Undine too, and immediately was like "where in the world did THAT come from?" 

Ep01 has, far and away, the highest frame-rate in the series, animation-wise.  The guy windmilling his arms as he's falling out of Akira's gondola is far and away the fastest action we've seen in the series.  It's amazing what they can do with a budget, isn't it?

PS - HnK, the fansub group you seem to be watching (as am I, as long as CrystalNova is taking forever to do their subs), released ep05 and 06 this afternoon.

Posted by: Wonderduck at Feb 18 20 32 (AW3EJ)

2 Wonderduck,

Thank you for catching the release.  I'm always behind on the releases on this series.  I'm going to do a post this evening about episode five from the dreadful AEN translation while HnK's episodes 5 and 6 download.

As for the Undines, there are also a few we see from the back with a pale blue ribbon in their hat that don't seem to match up with the other uniforms, so there may be a sixth Undine company.

In chapter 5 of the first volume of the Aria manga, Akari and Aika participate in a gondola race.  We are treated to an image of Akari, flanked by two other singles in differently styled uniforms, at the start of the race.  The character and uniform designs seem to match both the purple Undine in the picture above and the glasses-wearing Undine barely visible behind Akari, who is wearing a green uniform.  Alas, of course, the manga is in black and white, so no color is visible, but the 'purple' Undine has the same hat style and plaid bow.  I find it fascinating that the animators seem to have gone back six years to the original manga for a brief passing shot in the current anime.

Posted by: Civilis at Feb 21 18 22 (12I6k)

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