While our site is being upgraded — which should be finished tomorrow, assuming the bosses and I can get together long enough to approve the changes — I’ll post Darwin Garrison’s latest Animanga Viewpoint column here. Enjoy!
After enduring a weekend full of horrid news and equally horrid reporting, I found myself seeking comfort from one of my favorite manga creators, Kozue Amano. Being that I’m not Japanese and can’t read kanji, I don’t really know if Kozue or Amano is her last name, but I’ll refer to her as Amano-sensei in attempt to be respectful – and her work definitely deserves respect.
Amano-sensei is the creator of the manga series Aria (and its prequel, Aqua). The setting is a terraformed Mars in the 24th century, now referred to as “Aqua”. Due to a poor estimate on the actual size of the subterranean Martian polar caps, warming of the planet resulted in 90% of the surface becoming covered with water. The result is that Mars became “Aqua”, a sort of resort planet with a culture that harkens back in ways to pre-interstellar Earth.
The main character of both Aqua and Aria is Mizunashi Akari, a Japanese girl from Earth who has come to Aqua and the city of Neo-Venicia to apprentice as an Undine – a gondola piloting tour guide for the city. Neo-Venicia is a recreation of Old Earth’s Venice down to the Plaza of St. Mark and many mirrors of original Venetian traditions.
When we first meet her, Akari is starry-eyed and romantic about the lifestyle, grace, and beauty of Undines. The thing is, she soon realizes that the reality is so much more than she could have imagined as she begins her life with her mentor, Alicia-san, and the Undine company, Aria.
The story of Akari’s adventures in friendship and immersion in Neo-Venecia’s culture and history is brilliantly executed by Amano-sensei. The entire series has a “dreamy” quality that combines beautiful art, subtle storytelling, and a weaving of everyday life with the extraordinary. The story’s core moves forward with Akari’s honest and sincere character. Her accepting personality and heartfelt desire to understand and care for those around her and her new home paints the narrative with a hue of hopefulness that is simultaneously uplifting and touching.
All of the characters in this series are earnestly portrayed by Amano-sensei. Cardboard cutouts do not fit into this gentle world. Everyone is important and everyone has a role to play, which is a metric by which all good fiction should be measured.
I did not use the word “gentle” lightly. Aqua and Aria, whether in manga or anime form, are “gentle”. They do not exist to shock with violence or drama. These stories are “slice-of-life” tales that, together, relate Akari’s journey from bright-eyed neophyte to an equally bright-eyed but now nostalgic Undine. The intricate interplay of art and dialogue weave together to create soothing yet compelling tales of Akari’s lessons, her encounters with new friends, and even her brushes with the otherworldly as she wanders between the past and present of Mars/Aqua and Neo-Venicia. There is no over-blown trauma in this series. Rather, it’s a tale of coming of age in a new way that carries a more gentle yet none-the-less compelling drama of its own.
I heartily recommend all of the Aqua and Aria mediums, both manga and anime, since the storytelling and conclusions differ subtly from one to the other and enhance, rather than detract from each other. In a world where violence is so quickly followed by lies and recrimination, Amano-sensei’s touch can help calm your world for the better.
Oh, I also recommend her new series, Amanchu, which is not yet available in the USA, if you can access it. Amanchu has a similar feel to Aqua and Aria, but it is based in the here and now of the Seto Inland Sea and follows the adventures of a high school diving club.