This is a spoiler-free review. To read the manga in the proper order, start with “Aqua” and then read “Aria”.
15-year-old Akari, born and raised in planet Earth, has one single dream in life: To be an undine (professional gondolier). After Earth changed to be solely about efficiency and productivity, only one place remained where she could make her dream come true: Neo-Venezia, a replica of the Italian City but located in terraformed Mars, now named Aqua.
The manga starts with her arrival at planet Aqua, and we learn about this new world through the eyes of this excited and happy girl. Indeed, Akari has a very special way of seeing the world. Her ability to see the good in everything, to turn every situation into a good one, quickly becomes clear to the readers and to the friends she makes along the way.
As the manga progresses, she leads us, the readers, to explore not only the beautiful city of Neo-Venezia, but also our perspective of the world. Kozue Amano is teaching us to see the world in a more relaxed manner, without worrying too much, and to enjoy the little things. When Akari talks about her ideas, it’s easy to become convinced. Perhaps it’s because she’s right – but I really don’t want to spoil absolutely anything about this manga. I feel like it’s an adventure that every reader should go into knowing as little as possible in order to fully savor it.
I’ll be honest from the get-go and admit that this is one of my favorite manga. However, I’ll try to be as objective as possible in my review and ratings.
Plot & Pace: 10/10
It’s always hard to rate the plot of a slice-of-life manga. After all, there isn’t really one. Slice of life manga usually have a timeline, a certain slice of the characters’ lives, within which the manga is set. In the case of Aria, it’s between the main character’s arrival in Neo-Venezia and the end of the story.
However, in Aria, Kozue Amano managed to include an overarching plot as well: Akari and her friends are trying to become Undines. The main plotline of the story, although not necessarily given more attention than all of the daily life chapters, is Akari’s journey to achieve her dreams.
The pace is also set wonderfully. There are certain checkpoints that an undine apprentice must pass through in order to become a certified professional, and these are spread out very carefully so that the reader doesn’t forget about the main plot or lose interest in it.
Slice-of-life manga have a topic that pretty much no other genre can talk about: The passage of time and its consequences. Because of their necessity to complete a storyline, or progress the story, time passing is usually shown in the form of timeskips, from hours to years long.
Some S.O.L. manga forget to talk about this topic, which seems silly to me, as it’s basically why the genre exists. Aria does it perfectly. Time flows naturally in the story, the seasons change, and the characters grow older and see the world change with them. Eventually, they have to accept that things will not remain the same forever, and that they have to try to be happy with whatever life is giving them at that moment.
Kozue Amano masterfully uses the tools the slice-of-life genre (and manga itself) give her to set a clear pace in the story while not making the readers lose interest or making the story feel stale. This is why I gave her a 10 in the Plot & Pace category.
The effort put into making this manga beautiful is very noticeable. Kozue Amano frequently draws beautiful sceneries and surprisingly accurate versions of Venetian buildings. She doesn’t just give you the typical scenery angles in her manga (as in, looking at a scenery from above and far away, mountain-top style). Check out this panel:
It feels like the mangaka is trying to change our perspective of the world not only through her characters, but through her art as well – maybe explaining that if you look at it from a different angle, it can be more beautiful than before. Her willingness to experiment and explore with the angles in her art, in addition to the sheer beauty of them, made me give her a 9 in this category.
The only reason why it’s not a 10 is that some panels are drawn with a white background, or a not so detailed one, probably to save time and effort for the big and beautiful ones. You can’t blame Kozue Amano, though. Weekly publishing is really tough and of course it requires some sacrifice. We should be glad it’s just some white panels and not a butchered story.
The characters in Aria are quite well done. They are all lovable and believable. However, sometimes they fall too much into a cliche personality type. The main character, Akari, is the exception, but it feels like Kozue built the cast around her without much thought for their personalities.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the cast of Aria, and they synergize really well with each other, creating fun and serious dialog alike. Akari is a special one. Kozue really put a lot into creating this person and making her the one that could carry her message to the readers.
Sometimes the characters can feel slightly one-dimensional, but they often surprise you with unexpected reactions or feelings, showing that they are more than the cliche they are based on.
You can just feel the passion and the love of the art ooze out of this manga as you read it. This manga clearly loves what she does and wants to do it the best she can. She had a message to tell the world, and found the best way to do it.
Once she found it, she went for it, and made this beautiful 60 chapter (and 9 more in Aqua) masterpiece, full of love, life lessons, exquisite scenery and fun adventures. I can’t say this for sure, but it feels to me like Kozue Amano was never in it for the money – she felt the need to create art, and she did. And we should thank her for it.
Overall score: 9.25/10
The score average is a 9.25. In my heart, however, this manga is a solid 10/10, and will always be. Amongst the hundreds of manga I’ve read, there are less than a dozen manga I consider 10s.
Aria is a tale about finding happiness in the little things and enjoying life for what it is at any point in your life. The mangaka seems to understand this concept very well, and teaches it to us through her art, characters and dialog. Aria is unique in the amount of love and passion put into it.
I almost put her in my top 5 best mangaka of all time list, but she barely didn’t make the cut. In a few decades, though, when she has more works under her belt, who knows! I know that she’s already one of my favorites. Thank you, Kozue Amano!
Aria also has an anime adaptation with an amazing soundtrack. Check it out! Here are some tracks (Make sure to buy the OST and support the artists!).