2002’s Volume One of Kozue Amano’s Aria picks up where Volume Two of her Aqua left off. Akari Mizunashi is still a would-be Undine on Aqua (a renamed Mars, after human terraforming efforts tapped unsuspected reserves of water). She is still recounting her adventures in a series of letters sent back to a friend on distant Earth.
Navigation 01: Neo-Venezia
Ever-helpful Akari assists an elderly curmudgeon who is searching for missing family. The curmudgeon also wants to know why people put up with life in a backward, poorly organized backwater like Neo-Venezia. Harrumph!
Both Alicia and Akari are so steadfastly pleasant in the face of outright rudeness from customers I would suspect the ability to be cheerful no matter what is a prerequisite for being accepted as a trainee Undine. A suspicion undermined by the fact that Aika does not share the trait at all.
Akari’s answer, for those who are curious:
Navigation 02: Onshore Maintenance
Gondolas don’t clean and fix themselves. Nor does the Aria company employ specialists to maintain the boats. Instead, Undines and Undines in training get to enjoy the pleasure of cleaning, painting, and patching their beloved gondolas.
Like a lot of activities on Aqua, the Undines have turned a necessary task into a ritual. Perhaps this helps make sure the necessary task is done. Perhaps Aquans just like ritual.
I would mock Aria for cheaping out on their blue-collar workforce but it’s not such a bad thing for people to have hands-on experience with all aspects of the machines on which their livelihoods depend.
Navigation 03: Bridge of Sighs
Akari decides to keep Akatsuki company as he waits for a friend on the Bridge of Sighs. Akatsuki’s friend is very, very, very late. That’s OK; Akari can fill endless hours with cheerful conversation.
They end up waiting six hours. Sunk cost, people. Not an extremist in this matter but “on time” universally means “half an hour early.”
Akatsuki is unfamiliar with Neo-Venezia because it turns out he was raised (from birth?) on the salamanders’ floating island and does not get out much.
He’s also an astounding skinflint. He’s willing to resort to emotional blackmail to get a free ride from Akari (whom he insists on calling Pig-tails—even though she does not care for the name—because jerkitude 1). She puts up with it because she always finds a way to put a pleasant face on everything. This will sound cranky, but … there are times where she is less an inspiration to us all than a cautionary tale. Is there a pathological form of niceness? Asking for a friend.
Navigation 04: Sun Shower
Visiting an island that draws not on Italian tradition but rather Japan’s, Akari has a supernatural encounter.
Is this encounter merely the jape of some whimsical cosplayers? or is there real magic on Aqua? I bet this is the beginning of a motif like the Misago subplot over in YKK; we will never get a straight answer.
Navigation 05: Vogare Longa
Is the Vogare Longa merely a race? or is it another secret test trainees must pass? Either way, Akari embraces the challenge in a uniquely Akari-esque way.
Dear Akari, your relentlessly cheerful determination to embrace every experience as positively as possible is … is … Pollyanna squared.
This is the Teddy Bear with a Pumpkin
of science fiction manga. If you can read this and not smile at some point, you may be reading it wrong.
Aria, Volume One is available here.
1: I am going to be grumpy if Akatsuki and Akari become a couple. Very very grumpy.