Anyone who’s ever been anywhere near this blog must surely know that I love Aria- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I adore it. The manga and the first two seasons of the anime were greater than I ever dared imagine, transporting me to the calm, gentle world of Neo Venezia, a place where fat cats could become presidents and a slower pace of life ruled. With that in mind, I would have hated to see Aria go on forever and gradually lose quality, but at the same time, knowing that there was only one thirteen episode season left meant that I would have to savour every moment before the end.
Up until this season, Aria had always been in a sort of ‘eternal summer’- time passed, to be sure, but everything pretty much remained the same. Akari and her friends practised rowing, interacted with friends and discovered the sights of Neo Venezia, but the world they lived in was an idyllic one, where life passed at a leisurely pace. That didn’t detract from the excellence of the series, but with Origination, it was time for that ‘eternal summer’ to end- for our characters to finally develop and mature as we all must inevitably do at some point. This time around, we wouldn’t be allowed to forget that our heroines were, after all, aiming to become Primas, and that the time had come for them to start achieving their goals.
With this in mind, Origination was all about pushing for that moment we had all been waiting for- the day when Akari would finally get to take off her other glove and take her place amongst the Primas of Neo Venezia. It was, however, important to stress that such an important goal was not one that could be achieved easily, and so it was that we saw events such as the Traghetto, where Singles get to practise for the day, and where Akari could measure her skills against strangers from the other companies- including those who had tried and failed the Prima exam already. Fortunately, all those hours of training with Aika and Alice had indeed paid off, but would it be enough to go from student to master?
Of course, when you have three people aiming for the same goal, not everyone is going to get there at the same time- an outcome that is first hinted at in a flashback to Akira’s Single days. Unlike Alicia and Athena, Akira does not have outstanding skill in any one area, and when the other two become Primas before she does, she is left with the fear that she might not be able to make it. Fortunately, it is a young Aika who gives her the impetus to carry on, but it’s a situation we can all identify with- the doubts and insecurities that assail us when we face a particularly momentous obstacle, and the fear that no amount of determination and willpower can help us breach our limits.
As we see later in the series, however, going on ahead can sometimes be as difficult as being left behind. As the first person in history to go straight from Pair to Prima, Alice has her own issues to deal with as she adjusts to a busy schedule of guiding customers around Neo Venezia. Not only are the old days firmly over for her, but she begins to become increasingly isolated from her friends; without practise to go to, she can’t really think of an excuse to see them- although as she learns, you don’t need an ulterior motive just to see your closest friends.
Next to ascend to the level of Prima is Aika, who feels so bad about leaving Akari behind that she hides her gloved hand for a while before finally revealing it and tearfully apologising. Fortunately, Akari is not left as the only Single for long- she too takes and passes her exam with flying colours, only to learn that Alicia is now due to retire. The ending of Aria was always going to hard enough, but there was an added sadness upon seeing Alicia leave Aria Company, even though this was mitigated a little by an anime-only ending that caught up with everyone a few years later and came full circle with Ai coming to Aqua to train under Akari.
Much as I’ve discussed the change in tone and plot development that came with this season, those who love ‘classic’ Aria should not despair- there are still plenty of those character pieces and healing moments that we’ve come to love the show for. From making us care about such simplicities as a broken glass chocolate container to seeing some Aika X Al development after they get stuck down a well, everything that made us love Aria in the first place is still intact- with its gentle tranquillity offering the perfect balm after a difficulty day. And there’s even time left over to concentrate on those unsung heroes- the feline presidents of the gondola companies. Whether it’s Maa tucking into bananas or Aria once again trying his luck at winning Hime’s heart, there are plenty of cat scenes that will send the cuteness and huggability scales off the charts.
From settings to character designs, Aria has always been a beautiful series, and whilst budget constraints have sometimes meant the anime has lagged behind the original manga, Origination largely gives its all when it comes to the animation. Everything from President Aria to Neo Venezia itself is pleasing on the eye, whilst the background music follows the same tranquil selection of themes that we’ve come to know and love.
Despite the bittersweet quality of having to say goodbye to one of my favourite anime series, Aria the Origination delivered not only to my high expectations, but over and above them. A series that is entertaining yet inspirational, amusing yet poignant, Aria may not quite reach the heights of perfection, but it gets so close that you can forgive its few tiny flaws. Whether you just have this series to watch, or need to start way back at the Animation or Natural, don’t delay- President Aria and the undines of Neo Venezia are waiting for you.