The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Category Archives: ARIA

ARIA the Benedizione: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“Successful people are not gifted; they just work hard, then succeed on purpose.” –G.K. Neilson

The days in Neo Venezia begin to develop a distinct chill as winter arrives. While out practising one day, Ai, Azusa and Anya encounter Akira wandering the streets of Neo Venezia alone and decide to tail her, but they are quickly spotted, and Akira invites them to the Undine Museum, meeting Himeya Company’s legendary Asuka, who now curates the museum. As it turns out, Himeya’s last remaining gondola from its founding is undergoing maintenance, and moreover, Aika appears to be refusing to inherit it for her use. Growing concerned that Aika might be losing her confidence, Azusa confronts her with the hopes of getting her to take up the gondola, but is unsuccessful. She later learns from Akira that in her youth, Aika had grown resentful of the pressures that had come with being an heir to the Himeya Company and felt that she had to find her own path. Akira ended up chasing an irate Aika through the canals of Neo Venezia, before Aika settled down, and subsequently took her on a lengthy gondola ride. The reason she’d done this was because she had made a promise to Aika’s mother, who is the current head of Himeya Company. In the morning, Aika reveals that she’d wanted to become an Undine after meeting Alicia, and Akira promises to mentor her, stating that Undines without talent can still make it by putting in the effort. In the present, Azusa, Anya and Ai approach Akari for help, and together, they schedule a gondola ride with Aika as their guide. They stop by the workshop where the Himeya gondola is being repaired, and Akira continues with the story of how Aika came to become a Prima. By the time of her exam, Aika’s become more confident, but feels that she wants to differentiate herself from Akira and make her own place in the sun. To this end, Aika had requested a tougher exam from Akira worthy of Himeya’s heir. After hearing Aika out, Akira agrees and stipulates they will resume the exam at the stroke of midnight. When Aika arrives, she learns that the exam is to see if Aika has the determination and grit of an Undine who is worthy despite lacking talent: the aim is to retrieve a rose from Akira without leaving her gondola, before dawn. Although it seems that Akira has an overwhelming advantage, Aika puts all of her learnings and experiences to use, capitalising on shortcuts and unexpected routes to close the gap between herself and Akira. As dawn approaches, Aika manages to take the rose, and becomes a Prima Undine. In the aftermath, Aika and Akira both cry their eyes out; Akira feels a sense of overwhelming relief at having brought Himeya’s wayward heir back. Aika reveals that she wasn’t a fan of the old gondola because it represented the past, and having undergone so many restorations, none of the old parts remain, so she felt more comfortable in retiring it. Together with all of her peers and friends, Aika prepares to retire Himeya’s last remaining original gondola and, as Christmas draws closer, she focuses on introducing a new item to the Rose Garden, Himeya’s Café, ahead of the coldest days of the year to create new tradition for future customers to enjoy. With this, ARIA the Benedizione, the last of the Blue Curtain Call series, draws to a close, and with it, after nearly two decades of history, ARIA draws to a warm and decisive conclusion.

Through its focus on Aika, Benedizione reiterates to viewers that success is not determined by talent alone. When Akira joined Himeya and passed her exam, Aika’s mother had complimented her on possessing uncommon talent, and moreover, had worked hard to put that talent to use. Akira’s response is telling: she doesn’t believe herself to be intrinsically talented, certainly not like Alicia or Alice, and that everything she’s accomplished and gained was a consequence of putting in the hours, learning and accepting challenges. This put Akira in a unique position to be Aika’s mentor. When the prospect of becoming an Undine hit Aika, Aika suddenly realised that, growing up the daughter of Himeya Company’s owner meant that whatever achievements she made feel unearned. Akira is able to persuade Aika to just work hard and focus on making her own way without worrying about the family legacy, and over time, imbibes Aika with the same sort of resolve that she carried. As such, when Akira pits Aika against an unconventional test, although the success parameters seem impossible, Akira had set this task to her precisely because she was confident that Aika would simply apply honest effort and, in conjunction with her skills, find a way to achieve what she’d set out to do. This is precisely what happens, and Benedizione thus reminds viewers that “talent” and “luck” are ultimately just secondary. Having a natural grasp of something won’t be enough to overcome certain barriers because some problems require persistence and resolve to solve. Falling back on hard work simply means accepting that effort must be directed towards exhausting all possibilities and learning something until one is confident with all of that discipline’s aspects. This is why Akira chooses to subject Aika to an exam of endurance and frustration: while Aika has plainly become skilled as an Undine, she had sold the idea that while unremarkable otherwise, her hard work is her best attribute. However, Aika must prove this to Akira, and this is why the assignment becomes a game of endurance, of Aika coming frustratingly close on numerous occasions, failing, and finding the raw drive to pick herself up and try again. I relate to this aspect in Benedizione especially strongly because as a developer, I am untalented. I do not have an eye for elegant algorithms or clever solutions. However, what I do have is a desire to develop clean, maintainable systems, and the patience to see this through. I work hard at making code readable and well-structured, and in this way, I find that, while I am nowhere as talented as Google or Apple’s brightest engineers, I can still hold my own. This is something I learnt to accept over time, and in Benedizione, it is plain that both Akira and Aika also embrace this ethos, reminding viewers that with rare exceptions (such as athletics and the performing arts), hard work can take individuals very far.

While it was known that Aika would pass her Prima exam, Benedizione makes a special effort to show how significant this milestone was for Aika, who has now fully committed to the path she’s chosen: she will accept the role of taking over Himeya, on the condition that she be allowed to apply her own learnings and newer methods into running the company to strike a balance between old and new. In Aika’s case, the fac that she’s reconciled the challenge of maintaining a respect for traditions and origins, and capitalising on innovation, shows that unlike the reluctant Undine Double who started her journey a sullen and moody trainee, the Aika of the present has gained enough experience to value the things that Himeya Company has made effective over the years, and at the same time, she’s remained true to her own beliefs by suggesting that there’s always room to try new things out and in this way, leave her legacy on Himeya Company in a manner different to her mother’s. Much as how she had once requested a unique exam to become a Prima, Aika’s mindset is that she wants to do things in her own way and achieve excellence on her own terms, versus pursuing approval based on existing standards. Aika’s journey to becoming an Undine, and the path she took to earn her Prima title is therefore an excellent send-off for viewers: until now, Aika’s exam had never been shown, but now that we’ve had a chance to explore things, it becomes clear that Aika’s reconciling the past, present and future becomes a fitting way to wrap up ARIA as a whole. The animated adaptation had begun almost twenty years earlier and told of Akari’s story. Over the years, Akari would graduate from a Single to Prima along with her friends, and each of Aria Company, Himeya Company and Orange Planet would acquire new trainees. However, at each stage of the journey, the dynamics and challenges are shared. Much as how Akari, Alice and Aika were juniors learning under their mentors, by the end of Origination, Akari, Alice and Aika are all full-fledged Undine, now looking after their own students in Ai, Anya and Azusa. Everyone brings their own learnings, a combination of time-tested tradition and new approaches brought on by their own experiences, towards passing on knowledge, and in this way, much as how an Undine’s skills subtly shift over time to reflect on this combination, ARIA itself has also subtly changed over the years: it remains faithful to Kozue Amano’s original vision, and each iteration sees a familiar cast reprising their roles (save Athena, where Rina Satō takes over from Tomoko Kawakami) but with different studios producing the anime, ARIA itself has been modernised, providing viewers with contemporary, vivid and detailed visuals while at the same time, conveying the same aesthetic and learnings that the 2005 series had sought to convey. Benedizione thus celebrates the integration of old and new in its run, reminding viewers of this through Aika: each of Hal Film Maker, TYO Animations, and JC Staff have left their own indelible and lasting mark on an iconic series.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When ARIA last graced this blog a year ago, I had just finished Crepuscolo and found myself greatly looking forward to Benedizione. At the time, I had just begun the house hunt, and if memory serves, I had just finished touring a unit that hadn’t been quite to my liking. A week after I published my thoughts on Crepuscolo, I would end up doing a walk-through of the unit that would become my current home. Time passes relentlessly, and here in the present, I’m writing about Benedizione on a powerful new desktop, at a desk with a gorgeous view of the night lights below.

  • It is worth reiterating that both Benedizione and Crepuscolo, being produced by J.C. Works, has similar character designs as Amanchu!. These traits are most noticeable in the shape of the characters’ eyes and the pronounced eyelashes, and while subtle, they are still quite different from the art style seen in Avvenire, and the earlier seasons. Because I’d dropped into ARIA through Avvenire, I do not have any issue with the character designs from Avvenire. In fact, all of the different art styles in ARIA are secondary to the experiences the characters themselves undergo, and this is what makes all of the ARIA adaptations meaningful in their own right.

  • “Benedizione” is Italian for “blessing”, in keeping with tradition; this film’s focus is all about how fortunes become good as a result of persistence and grit, but also through fateful encounters. Whereas Crepuscolo had focused on Athena, Alice and Anya, Benedizione is all about Akira, Aika and Azusa. Alicia, Akari and Ai’s stories had already been covered in full by the events of Origination, where Akari had passed her Undine exam to become a Prima, and this in turn allowed Alicia to retire and pursue a career as a member of the Gondola Association. Since Aika’s story has never been explored in depth, was logical that the last of Akari’s generation of Undines would be given some shine time.

  • Azusa, Ai and Anya are this generation’s Aika, Akari and Alice, respectively: their adventures on Aqua and Neo Venezia are every bit as memorable as those their predecessors experienced, but since 2015’s Avvenire, I have noticed that the emphasis on the supernatural aspects of Aqua have been set aside as ARIA sets its focus on personal growth, reminiscence and using lessons from the past to drive the future. Here, Azusa, Ai and Anya are out practising in the tranquil canals of Neo Venezia, and they spot Akira out and about. Curiosity soon overtakes the three, and they decide to tail her.

  • Anime always have a tendency to portray characters as being completely unlearned in fieldcraft, setting the stage for comedy when they inevitably get burned. Akira catches on very quickly, and as it turns out, nothing funny is happening: she’d been out rowing during the morning to regroup from something bothering her, and had been making her way to Neo Venezia’s Undine Museum. As a point of curiosity, the Undine museum isn’t actually based off any museums in Venice: instead, it is modelled after the Kitaichi Venezia Museum in Otaru, Hokkaido. The museum’s architectural style is inconsistent with the buildings in Venice, so I decided to use a little computer vision to help things out.

  • The meat buns that President Aria are so fond of end up being enjoyed throughout Benedizione, acting as the perfect accompaniment for brisk days that signal the arrival of winter. Yesterday, with the arrival of September, I stepped out to enjoy a fantastic sushi and fried chicken feast for dinner. I ended up ordering a combo featuring salmon, tuna, red snapper, smoked salmon, octopus, prawn, tamago and scallop, plus the Signature Roll (smoked salmon and shrimp tempura with tobiko) and the Dynamite Rolls I’ve become fond of. Since this was dinner, I decided to add a karaage donburi and the house fried chicken to my order. Dinner was absolutely delicious and proved very hearty, proving to be a pleasant way of spending a quiet evening to the first of September.

  • At the museum, Ai, Azusa and Anya run into Asuka, an elderly lady who had once been a legendary Undine. As it turns out, Akira had a reason for visiting the Undine museum: she’d been here to check in on the last of Himeya Company’s remaining gondolas that have been in operation since its founding. As the story goes, the heir of Himeya Company will inherit this gondola as a part of the tradition, and for her own reasons, Aika has refused to accept this gondola despite its illustrious history. This revelation unsettles Azusa, who feels that Aika has always been confident, headstrong and capable of inheriting Himeya Company.

  • Akari takes some customers on a tour of Neo Venezia, and they pass by a workshop that builds and maintains gondolas. The customers had been wishing they could’ve been treated to a tour from Akira and wonder why she’d been unavailable for the day. Akari finds it unusual, since Akira would ordinarily have no qualms about using another gondola. The scenery of Neo Venezia in JC Staff’s adaptation is unparalleled, looking far sharper than anything in Avvenire – even details like water reflections are rendered in full, really bringing Neo Venezia to life.

  • It is mentioned that the last remaining gondola has undergone so much restoration that none of the original parts actually remain. This is a callback to the Ship of Theseus, a thought experiment which poses the question of whether or not a ship that’s had all of its components replaced is still the same ship as the original. Philosophers have debated this question for centuries and pose complex answers because attempts to walk through it may break down. For instance, one might argue that because the history, memories and reputation associated with the ship remains, it is functionally the same ship even if all the parts are swapped out. However, if I were to take the entire contents of a hard drive from one of my computers, including the OS, and copied that over to a different computer, while that computer technically could be used just like my previous machine, it is, strictly speaking, a different machine despite handling identically.

  • I could be here all day trying to work out something to the Ship of Theseus, and such a question is above my pay grade – I specialise in solving problems in the realm of software, so I’ll return the talk back to Benedizione. Azusa, like her seniors, is very forward, and she decides to confront Aika directly about why she’s refusing to inherit the Himeya Company’s heirloom gondola and become a top-tier Undine as Akira had done. While Aika simply indicates the gondola is cursed, it becomes clear that something’s keeping her from simply rising above all adversity and staring down the challenge with her typical spunk. Knowing ARIA, it was not inconceivable that there is some supernatural piece, and in this moment, viewers become as curious as Azusa to know of what’s really going on.

  • ARIA‘s Neo Venezia never ceases to amaze, and like Crepuscolo, Benedizione makes certain to remind viewers that Aqua is a planet of tranquility and wonder. Here, floating islands and airships can be seen: they’re the only sign that Neo Venezia is not actually Venice, and in-universe, it was explained that an array of technologies make these sights possible. Because Aqua is Mars after terraforming was done, I’d been fond of joking that ARIA is the result of the Doom Slayer’s efforts in DOOM: the use of something like Argent Energy could be enough to introduce such changes. However, after the events of DOOM Eternal, it is clear that this is no longer the case, since in the Doom Slayer uses the BFG 10000 to blast a hole on Mars, one which reaches the planet’s core. For the present, I’ll contend myself with enjoying the beautiful scenery seen in ARIA.

  • When Azusa recounts the previous night’s conversation to Akira, her timing is such that Anya and Ai show up. Spotting them, Akira decides that it’s time to recount a story to the three. ARIA is very fond of employing flashbacks as a storytelling device, and Benedizione is no exception; much of the film shares moments that hadn’t been shown in earlier ARIA works. They’re used to suggest that one’s memories become important, as drawing on lessons from the past help to inform one’s decisions in the present. To accentuate this, Benedizione uses recursive flashbacks, having Akira reminisce within her memories.

  • If improperly done, recursive flashbacks could create confusion, but here in Benedizione, it works perfectly because flashbacks are already an integral part of the story, and it’s clear when one has transitioned into one. Through Akira’s recollections, viewers learn that as a middle school student, Aika had been very standoffish and hostile. Uncertain of how to best guide her, Aika’s mother would task Himeya Company’s most promising Undine with helping Aika out. Aika had always wanted to be an Undine, but after becoming a middle school student, began to feel distant from her dreams.

  • What makes the familiar dynamic between Akira and Aika so endearing, then, is seeing how awkward things had been initially. Although ARIA‘s first season had presented the two as respecting one another, despite the pair occasionally trading barbs, Benedizione shows that in the very beginning, there’d been a considerable distance between the two. Aika herself cannot understand why Akira is so determined to close this distance. Moments like these show that early in the game, the pair hadn’t been close at all, and in fact, Aika even regards Akira as a nuisance.

  • I would imagine that for Akira, Aika becomes a fun challenge, just another problem with a solution that has yet to be found. Since Akira is shown as having a indefatigable spirit, this flashback shows how for Aika and Akira, it would become a matter of whose will was stronger, and because ARIA shows that Aika and Akira strongly respect one another despite occasionally butting heads, it is clear that Akira’s resolve was greater. This is unsurprising, since I imagine that despite her misgivings, Aika had wanted to become a worthy Undine.

  • The turning point in the pair’s relationship occurs one evening, when Akira spots Aika walking off in a huff after spotting her. Deciding to adopt a hands-off approach, Akira lets Aika be this evening rather than going after her. She ends up picking up a paddle and practises her rowing under the quiet of the night, but becomes wrapped up in her thoughts: as it turns out, Aika’s attitude stems from feeling like she wasn’t ever going to be a worthy successor to Himeya Company because she’d earned none of it on her own merits.

  • This mindset is a familiar one and is formally referred to as Imposter Syndrome, which manifests when one believes that their accomplishments are undeserved. I myself am guilty of this: during my undergraduate years, I’d felt that every passing grade I earned in a computer science course, or the projects I’d completed during summer research, was the consequence of being lucky. I’ve never revealed this to my peers, family or friends: this is why I intended to pursue a career in medicine, because unlike computer science, I had felt a shade more comfortable with biology. Having a wonderful graduate supervisor eventually convinced me that I did have a modicum of skill as a developer, looking back, his asking me to lead the development of the Giant Walkthrough Brain may have been an exercise to remind me of this.

  • This project allowed me to both learn Unity and help look after my peers’ work, and once I embraced the fact that there was always something new to discover, and that it was okay not to know something, I began feeling more at home with software development. Of course, there are moments now where I view my successes as the consequence of luck (i.e. the right information was available when I needed it), but I similarly recognise that the combination of experience and support yielded those results. Back in Benedizione, it was endearing to see Aika melt for a moment after Akira finds her and gives her a blanket after she’d nodded off.

  • For Aika, her challenge was that, because she came from a distinguished pedigree, she felt especially driven to stand out and make her own way despite having no notable talents (at least, not in her eyes). This created a sense of pressure in her to excel, and while years of training alongside Akira, as well as experiencing life-changing events with Akari and Alice have helped Aika to accept herself, some things still linger. This comes across as a shock to Azusa, who’d always seen Aika as being a solidly-dependable and capable individual, paralleling how Aika would come to see Akira as a model Undine.

  • Unsatisfied with how little progress she’s made, Azusa decides to talk to Akari, who’s known Aika since their days as Doubles. They thus swing by Aria Company with some questions for her, and arrive right before she returns from her work. Akari remarks that Aika’s always been the sort of person who would put on a brave face when things got tough, even if she was inwardly unsure of herself, and in this moment, it is shown that the tough front Aika’s adopted regarding the Himeya Company gondola is a result of her being uncertain about Himeya’s future, despite having become a Prima herself.

  • Although Anya and Ai wonder how to best approach the problem, Akari comes up with something that appeals to Azusa, Anya and Ai. Having grown accustomed to Akari being a Single throughout most of ARIA, it did feel a little unusual to see Akari be the reliable senior that Alicia had been for her, and this speaks volumes to Akari’s growth. With a gentle and kind nature, Akari was my favourite of the characters in ARIA, being the sort of person I would probably spend the future with, but as far as I can tell, I’m most similar to Aika in terms of personality.

  • The next day, Azusa and the others put their plan into action: they’ve even managed to recruit Asuka for help, and she’s agreed to book a Twilight tour with her. Although Aika is surprised to see everyone, she takes everyone out onto Neo Venezia’s canals, but becomes suspicious of what Azusa and the others have planned for them. Her doubts appear assuaged by Ai’s suggestion this is to simply learn. Everyone becomes distracted when President Aria spots a pork bun vendor and grows excited. When Asuka buys some for everyone, Anya suddenly is seized with the impulse to poke President Aria. This elicits a laugh from Aika, and Asuka reminisces on how for a time, Aika had been all scowls.

  • Even as a Single, Akira was very confident in her abilities, citing that hard work is what creates talent, and Asuka explains that this is why Akira was assigned to mentor Aika. While to an external observer, both Akira and Aika are superbly skilled as Undine, what makes them standout is precisely the willingness to work hard. Hard work is a given, and while articles out there speak vocally to how hard work alone isn’t enough, it is a prerequisite. Many articles suggest that success is found by playing to one’s strengths, recognising one’s weaknesses and learning to support and be supported by others, and ARIA mirrors this by showing how the characters succeed because of their friendships. It was precisely because of this mindset that Aika’s mother believed that Akira would be perfect for mentoring Aika.

  • Aika likely already had similar beliefs, and someone like Akira, who’d been confident in her ability, would be perfect in bringing this side of Aika out into the open. It is true that our mentors have a nontrivial impact on how we do things. For instance, my middle school computer instructor’s love for all things Apple actually made me more biased towards Mac OS, whereas in secondary school, I had an inspiring biology instructor who inspired my current learning style. In university, my supervisor had a mindset similar to that of Richard Feynman, being a big believer of the idea that there is always value in conveying complex concepts simply. Coupled with his willingness to explore new approaches, I was inspired by how our lab was always ready to experiment with new technologies, and this was how I learnt the basics of game engines and VR development.

  • In the present day, my approach for doing things is an amalgamation of how my instructors and mentors taught me. Aika is the same: while she’s warm and friendly, she’s also surprisingly strict at times. The reminiscence leads Aika to acknowledge that this side of Akira is what led to her growth, giving her the encouragement she needed to push herself despite her lack of talent. Upon hearing Aika say this, Ai and the others wonder if they’ll ever stack up to the likes of Aika, Akari and Alice, and to this, Aika replies that when she, Akari and Alice were singles, they themselves had wondered if they’d ever hold a candle to Akira, Alicia and Athena.

  • This too is a familiar feeling: when I gained admittance to graduate school, I wondered if the work I did would compared to that of my predecessors, the graduate students who had mentored me. In the end, I would come to draw inspiration from their projects and build something I would be proud of. Aika doesn’t offer an answer on how she overcame this, suggesting it’s something she still occasionally thinks about, and when Azusa tries to press Aika about the gondola, Aika falls silent. However, Asuka fills the void and provides an answer; Himeya’s gondola will become an exhibit at the museum, and moreover, since Aika’s plainly become Azusa’s role model, she’s also come far as an Undine.

  • While Ai and Anya had tried to say that their day was purely motivated by training, this was strictly untrue, and the tour ends at the gondola workshop, where the Himeya gondola has finished undergoing restoration and is now awaiting Aika’s decision. As it turns out, Asuza, Asuka and Akari had also invited Akira to things, to Aika’s surprise. Moments like these speak to ARIA‘s not-so-subtle suggestion that, when faced with problems, it is preferable to bring everyone together had have everyone’s thoughts on things, versus attempting to tough things out on one’s own.

  • Gathering all of the characters reinforces ARIA‘s themes, and this is something that the series has been fond of doing: Crepuscolo and Avvenire had done the same. Bringing the group together allows for Benedizione to enter its endgame: bits and pieces of Aika’s story had been told, and by this point in Benedizione, I’d been most curious to see the remainder of how Aika would come to be the Undine she is in the present. Anime are often direct in their outcomes, but for me, the value has always been in the journey.

  • After Akira had given her a blanket, Aika had run off into the night in embarrassment, only for Akira to show up on a gondola. Aika’s thoughts are finally revealed to the viewer, and Akira decides to take her on a night ride through Neo Venezia’s canals. With a gentle Spanish guitar accompanying the moment, Aika’s internal conflict is barely perceptible: the musical accompaniment in ARIA had always created a sense of relaxation and yearning. While this may initially appear to create dissonance, the music actually serves to maintain a consistently tranquil aesthetic throughout ARIA.

  • In the end, Akira ends up rowing for Aika through the whole night, and this moment is what wins her over: while Akira might not have any innate talent, that she’s gone to these lengths to convince Aika impresses her. During the ride, Aika had finally opened up to Akira and explains her original wish for becoming an Undine: as a child, she had a chance encounter with an Undine and, seeing the magic in the career, decided to follow in these footsteps with the aim of meeting this Undine again. However, having seen what the world of Undines was like, Aika felt that someone like her shouldn’t be in the occupation.

  • Akira ends up reassuring Aika that effort can make up for a lack of talent, and, upon spotting how Aika’s likely cold, she decides to take her to the nearest place of warmth despite her own reservations. This is none other than Aria Company, where Alicia works. To Aika’s great surprise, it was Alicia who had been the Undine she’d met as a child, and she’s quite embarrassed to be here. There is nothing wrong with Aria Company: Alicia immediately fixes Aika up with a blanket, and President Aria prepares a cocoa for her. The moment comes as a bit of a shock to Aika: she hadn’t expected to meet the person who’d inspired her again, and in her excitement, Aika is reduced to a squeaky mess.

  • In the aftermath, Aika positively gushes about meeting Alicia, although with this particular achievement now in the books, Aika does feel as though she needs to be more motivated and become an Undine on her own terms. The iconic chibi visuals of ARIA make a return in Benedizione, and having now been familiar with ARIA for some six years, I’ve found them an endearing part of the show. Akira reflects on how she’s so intent on shaping Aika into a proper Undine: she sees Aika in herself, and believes that there is value seeing someone as unremarkable and ordinary make their way in the world.

  • Akari, Alice and Aika’s chibi faces never fail to put a smile on my face and warm my heart. Aika is surprised that the pair are here, and as the evening progresses, as more of Aika’s story is told, more people show up. Once the initial shock of Akari and Alice’s appearance wears off, Benedizione resumes its flashback; under Akira’s tutelage, and through her shared experiences with Akari and Alice, Aika begins changing, developing a greater confidence in her abilities, as well as her own distinct identity as an Undine: she presently runs a branch of Himeya, and although she wonders if she’ll be able to grow it more successfully, she has moments where she remains doubtful of herself.

  • Aika’s bold and brash manner is best seen during her Prima exam. When Akira begins reminiscing about her old exam, Aika suddenly realises that she doesn’t want to pass some standardised exam that all Undine go through, and instead, demands a challenge worthy of Akira and herself. Although any other invigilator would’ve probably asked Aika to kindly continue, Akira understands how Aika feels and consents to doing a custom segment of the exam: Aika clearly has the skill, knowledge and experience to pass, but there are other areas where she could truly be tested.

  • The modified exam is thus set for the stroke of midnight, and Aika’s goal is to remove a rose from Akira’s hair, in a setup that mirrors the night Akira had spent chasing Aika around. The rules are simple enough: Aika has about six to seven hours to complete her assignment and must do so on a gondola. The reason why Akira sets up the exam in this manner is because this was a matter of persistence and determination. In order for Aika to succeed, she must not only fall on her own knowledge of Neo Venezia’s canals and the skill to navigate them, but also show uncommon grit. Since Akira basically chased Aika around for a whole night before giving her a ride for the remainder, Akira reasons that if Aika can now do the same, then she’s demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that she’s committed to being an Undine.

  • Seeing this exam suddenly brings to mind my own graduate defense. I had been talking to my mentor as peers, as we normally did, in the moments leading right to the exam, but the instant things began, an intensity filled the air – I was the student, and he was the examiner. However, like the exam that Aika would receive, there had also been a feeling of trust, and faith throughout. Akira and my supervisor never pulled any punches, and similar to Aika, I was swinging with all my might, answering every question about my project to the best of my ability.

  • Although students tend to view exams as a battle with a foe, advice from one of the doctorate students in my lab contributed to how I approached it: he suggested that I approach the graduate defense like a friendly conversation, where questions were asked to get to know my work and its implications better. In Benedizione, it’s clear that, despite the difficulty of the task that Akira sets Aika, the pair are having fun despite themselves. Akira has the upper hand throughout most of the exam, but Aika comes close several times, using her familiarity of Neo Venezia’s canals to pull off unorthodox manoeuvres that bring her ever-closer to her goal.

  • Light slowly begins creeping into the sky, and it seems that Aika’s running out of time. However, she’s not out of the fight yet, and decides to try and corral Akira to a spot where she would have the advantage. Akira soon arrives and wonders if the task she set was too tricky, but when she spots the flowers growing on a wall, she is immediately reminded of her own Prima exam and wonders if Aika had known of its significance. She pauses, and this gives Aika all the time she needs to finish the fight. Right after she plucks the rose from Akira’s ear, the sun breaks over the horizon and fills the screen with light.

  • For the briefest of moments, I had the feeling that I was watching Hikari and Matoin Amanchu!. Although the Amanchu!-like designs in Crepuscolo had thrown me off, by the time of Benedizione, I’ve grown accustomed to the new character designs and admit that the Amanchu!-style characters here in ARIA do work in the series’ favour, giving everyone a modernised look that is consistent with Amano’s designs in Amanchu!. Although this moment is supposed to be of triumph, and joy, I suddenly found myself tearing up: I had finished my graduate thesis and MCAT exhausted, too tired to feel a sense of accomplishment at what had just happened.

  • However, Benedizione captures in full just what it feels like to be successful in one’s goals. As the land becomes filled with light, Akira’s surprise turns to joy, and she opens by commenting on how, from here on out, what happens is purely up to Aika. She’s passed the exam in full, having shown a level of determination and resolve that is worthy of the Prima Undine of Himeya title. However, with this accomplishment, and the accompanying freedom to be a full Undine, comes the attendant responsibilities. The Aika of this time is a far cry from her old self, and she promises to commit to her goals of becoming a great Undine and preparing herself to one day run Himeya in full.

  • This scene was especially poignant, and in completing her exam, Aika shows Akira that she’s come to find her place as an Undine on her own terms. To Akira, this means that she has now fulfilled her promise to Aika’s mother in full. The spot where Akira had become a Prima now takes on a newfound significance, in becoming the same spot where she saw her own student go from being a sullen Double to a full-fledged Undine with her own distinct strengths. Fateful encounters are a big deal in anime, and while I find that people often take these for granted in reality, anime has a wonderful tendency of reminding people to be mindful and appreciative of the meetings they’ve had in their lives.

  • The final stage of passing a Prima exam is the removal of the remaining glove, to signify a fully-qualified Undine. The moment is a bittersweet one, much as it’d been for Alice and Athena, and Akari and Alicia. I imagine that for my supervisor, watching me finish and turning my sights towards the future must’ve been a similar moment: shortly after I finished my defense and learned that I was to pass with minor revisions (where said revisions were a few grammatical fixes and improving a definition of what an Agent is), he also asked me if I would consider pursuing a PhD and expand out the VR/AR projects I’d started.

  • In the years subsequent, my supervisor became the department head, and new undergraduate students and graduate students have come in to achieve great things of their own. People may feel that their forerunners are giants in the field, but the reality is that every generation brings something new to the table. On the topic of new generation stuff, a few days earlier, I caught wind of something I didn’t think would happen in the time that it did. It turns out that my neighbourhood computer hardware store received a shipment of MSI RTX 3060 Ti LHR GPUs, and what’s more, were running a flash sale at 620 CAD (470 USD) per card. Since the RTX 3060 Ti’s MSRP is 400 USD (about 526 CAD with current exchange rates), and the MSI GPU is an after-market card with a custom cooler and RGB lighting, I felt that the price was right for me to make the purchase. I have previously stated I was going to wait for the RTX 4060, but it’s coming in somewhere 2023, and both availability and prices are unknown.

  • Conversely, an RTX 3060 Ti going for close to MSRP is known in the moment, and the card is no slouch, even if the 4060 hypothetically trades with the 3080. I thus bought the card, which is a work of art with its steel backplate and RGB lighting, and installed it yesterday: although I’d been anticipating a tough installation, after I put the power cables into my machine back in March, it turns out I had all of the right pins in place, so it was a simple matter of pulling out my GTX 1060 and putting the larger 3060 Ti into the PCI slot. I’ve since tested the game on DOOM Eternal and was blown away by how I was getting a smooth 80 FPS with ray-tracing enabled on ultra settings, and in spite of this, the GPU usage was barely breaking 40 percent. Back in Benedizione, a stylised version of the kanji 姫 (Hepburn hime, literally “princess”) can be seen in Himeya’s logo while Akira and Aika share a heartfelt post-exam conversation. After looking around, I learnt that in Chinese, it’s an archaic way of saying “woman”, but it’s also a surname.

  • Both Akira and Aika subsequently cry their eyes out at the prospect of no longer being mentor and student, before regaining their composure, and as chibis, Akira resembles Mato. As memory serves, in Origination, Alicia had put off Akari’s Prima exam for the same reason; she’d come to greatly enjoy Akari’s company and wanted to spend more time with her. However, Alicia eventually takes the plunge and encourages Akari to take the exam. After Akari becomes a Prima, she takes over operations at Aria Company, while Alicia becomes a member of the Gondola Association. Despite their jobs taking them separate ways, Akari and Alicia can always meet, and similarly, even after Aika became a Prima, she’s still able to hang out with Akira with some frequency. Knowing this allows everyone to seize their futures without becoming distant.

  • With this, Aika’s journey towards becoming a Prima Undine of Himeya Company is now finished, and having now seen the whole of Aika’s story, it makes her path even more meaningful. ARIANatural and Origination had largely focused on Akari’s experiences as an Undine; some episodes were given towards the other characters to enrich Neo Venezia, but ultimately, the main story had been about how Akari’s open mind allows her to make the most of everything on Aqua and show that she has the characteristics of becoming an excellent Undine. However, this had left Alice and Aika’s stories untold: Crepuscolo and Benedizione rectify this to close off ARIA‘s story.

  • By this point in the evening, Athena and Alicia have both joined the others. The two end up hearing the last segments of Aika’s story, and with the whole crew assembled, the evening’s main event can continue. While both Crepuscolo and Benedizione don’t have anything quite as grand as the magical events of Natural or Origination, the emphasis on the characters and their stories proves to be the real magic here. The lack of supernatural in the later ARIA instalments was probably by design: the mystery surrounding Aqua and Neo Venezia ultimately is a matter of perspective, and the characters’ own encounters and experiences forms the excitement in their memories.

  • The time has finally come to retire the Himeya Company gondola. Earlier, Akari had explained to Ai that traditionally, retired gondolas are burned at a bonfire in a large ceremony. However, what was noticeable was how Akira chooses to handle the retirement of Himeya Company’s most iconic gondola: rather than setting it on fire as tradition stipulates, she places candles on it, and intends to donate it to the Undine Museum instead once the retirement ceremony is over.

  • Al ends up joining the others, stating that he would’ve liked to have been here for something that means a great deal to Aika. It was great to see characters from ARIA making a return in Crepuscolo and Benedizione: Al and Akatsuki were largely absent from Avvenire despite playing a role in ARIA, and while their presence is not as substantial here in the movies, it was pleasant seeing them nonetheless. In Benedizione, however, Akatsuki only makes two appearances, sneezing once when Akari mentions his name. His thoughts immediately stray to her after sneezing, and I found it touching that this was the case.

  • In the end, Aika commits to her decision of not inheriting the gondola. This had been something that would’ve doubtlessly lingered on both Azusa and the viewer’s mind throughout Benedizione: Aika’s choice is a reflection of who she is, and in choosing not to inherit the gondola, she indicates beyond any doubt that she absolutely intends on forging her on path ahead. However, the manner in which the retirement ceremony is conducted also speaks volumes to the fact that Aika is determined to allow both tradition and innovation to co-exist. Rather than burning Himeya’s last original gondola to retire it, the choice to donate it means future Undine can still look upon a gondola with a great deal of history behind it.

  • I believe that with BenedizioneARIA draws to a complete conclusion. When I wrote about Crepuscolo, I had been under the impression that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would have three parts, and as such, imagined that after Benedizione, there would be one final act to focus on Akari. However, as it turns out, Benedizione was in fact the last act, and Avvenire‘s three episodes was the first instalment. While I am a shade disappointed that there won’t be more ARIA or a dedicated film for Akari, this makes sense, since Akari’s story had already been covered in full during the three seasons: as a part of her open mind, Akari is one of the few people in Neo Venezia to have been personally guided by the Cait Sith himself.

  • Thanks to the Cait Sith, Akari has seen each of the Endless Waterway Hall, the Carnival Casanova, the Mirage Coffee Shop, the Galactic Train, the Lady of San Michele Island, the Stone of Misfortune and even the Cait Sith. This showed Akari’s attunement to, and appreciation of, the world around her. Having three full seasons to chronicle this meant that Akari’s own growth is already well-established, culminating with her Prima exam at the end of Origination. As such, it follows that the Blue Curtain Call trilogy would be a sequel, set to show Ai, Azusa and Anya’s own development as they strive towards the goal of becoming Prima Undine themselves.

  • After the candles are lit and placed on the gondola, along with some roses, everyone thanks the gondola for having provided service for as long as it did. Seeing how Aika conducted herself, both as a prospective Prima and here, as a Prima, helped Akira to improve as an Undine, as well: there are cases where the student can influence and impress a mentor. Having been in both positions, I can attest to this fact, and I’ve always been of the mind that someone younger may yet surprise me in positive ways. I was ultimately glad that Himeya’s gondola was not torched, as it still remains a tangible piece of Himeya Company’s history.

  • As winter sets in, I believe that this marks the first time in the Blue Curtain Call trilogy where we’ve seen Neo Venezia with overcast skies. In spite of the gloomier weather, things are as peaceful and serene as they’ve always been. Akira prepares to head out on her day’s work, greeting Aika’s mother along the way. Aika’s mother had given Aika the choice of deciding whether or not she would one day take up her current post, and Akira had helped Aika to understand her decision. In the present, I imagine that Aika’s mother would be very proud to see Aika embracing both her family’s past and pursue innovation in her own manner.

  • Meanwhile, at Himeya Company’s branch, Aika’s firing up her staff with a new menu item, and Azusa, pleased to see Aika back to her old self, makes a tongue-in-cheek remark that causes Aika to reprimand her. It would seem that Azusa’s similarly inherited Aika’s tendency to make witty retorts. While this is likely the last viewers will see of Azusa, Anya and Ai, knowing how ARIA unfolds means their own futures are never in doubt: they each have good personalities about them, are willing to work hard, but also stop and smell the roses when appropriate, and each of Ai, Azusa and Anya have excellent mentors with them.

  • Benedizione closes with snapshots into the other characters day as a gentle snowfall arrives over Neo Venezia. At Orange Planet, Anya passes Alice a thermos full of honey tea so she’ll stay hydrated and warm during her work, commenting on how similar Alice is to Athena in the process. It’s a touching moment, and Alice replies that she’s still not worthy of being Anya’s senior just yet, much as how Athena lamented that she hadn’t been ready to mentor someone like Alice.

  • Meanwhile, at Aria Company, Ai, Akari and President Aria prepare for another day of work. Akari’s monologue, that things will continue on after the current generations have passed on, but how their feelings linger, act as a send-off for both Benedizione and ARIA as a whole. ARIA‘s original successes stemmed from the fact that the world-building had been solid, and the stories surrounding each of the characters were both seamlessly woven into Neo Venezia and Aqua, but at the same time, were immediately relatable. Together with its emphasis on an appreciation of the ordinary, ARIA became the forerunner for the anime today that strive be relaxing experiences.

  • Overall, ARIA the Benedizione and ARIA the Crepuscolo together earn an A+ (4.0 of 4.0, or a perfect ten of ten): for longtime fans of the series, it is a suitable sendoff that gives Alice and Aika some shine time on top of bringing back all of the memories behind the characters and the considerable growth they’ve experienced throughout the series. While ARIA had been very forward with its messages and themes, the series never once comes across as being too overt with things: masterful use of the setting to tell a story means that the life lessons ARIA sought to convey are done so in a tactful manner.

  • One year ago, I finished Crepuscolo and had been staring down one life event that looked like it would change my life dramatically. Like the feelings each of Alicia, Athena and Akira faced when Akari, Alice and Aika were preparing to become Prima Undine, the prospect of moving felt quite intimidating. However, a year later, Benedizione is in the books, and I’ve now spent a half-year at the new place. While some parts of my life are quite different, others remain comfortingly familiar, allowing me to take stock and appreciate the parts that are different without overwhelming me.

  • These elements are what ARIA speaks most strongly to, and by Benedizione‘s conclusion, it is reasonable to suggest that, while change is inevitable, so is everyone’s ability to adapt and appreciate what life may bring to them. Benedizione concludes with the end-card, “Towards tomorrow, with the one you love”. It’s a fitting close to the series, and there’s a sort of finality about such a statement: so long as one is with those they care about, there isn’t any challenge that can’t be overcome. I imagine that this is the last time I’ll be writing about ARIA (unless I decide to return and revisit each of ARIANatural and Origination in the future); with this in mind, I hope that readers have enjoyed accompanying me on this journey through one of the most iconic iyashikei around.

When ARIA first began airing, I was learning about one-variable linear equations and trying to make sense of Lord of the Flies as a middle school student. I did not become familiar with anime until secondary school, and it wasn’t until I finished university that I began watching ARIA. After checking out ARIA The Avvenire as my graduate programme drew to a close, I would return and watch each of ARIA, ARIA The Natural and ARIA The Origination. In this series, I found an infinitely peaceful world that was superbly explored and developed, and moreover, I found a series whose characters were exceptionally written. Everyone’s experiences fit seamlessly into the unique world of Neo Venezia that Amano had built out, but the lessons that each of Akari, Aika and Alice found remained highly relevant. With a touch of supernatural, speaking to the idea that the world is vast, and some things remain unknowable despite our best efforts to study them, ARIA became a cornerstone series in the iyashikei genre. Having developed a reputation as an iyashikei connoisseur, I determined that it was worth checking out, and while the visuals in the original three seasons are dated, it became clear that ARIA lives up to the praise the series has garnered. What makes ARIA distinct is the fact that it is set in such a unique world, but in spite of this, thought and care had been placed to ensuring that this is a world whose mechanics are logical and consistent. With viewers confident that the world Amano had built withstands scrutiny, this allows ARIA to focus on its characters, and this combination gave ARIA its charm. The series had ended on a high note in Origination, with Akari earning Prima status and taking on Ai as her apprentice, but subsequently, returned to grace viewers with expansions to Anya, Alice, Athena, Azusa, Aika and Akira’s stories, as well. Having finished ARIA in full by the time Crepuscolo and Benedizione released, I was therefore able to see this series off on a very high note. The story within Benedizione, with its highly relatable and relevant themes, in conjunction with the fact that Benedizione is a swan song for ARIA, made the final film an emotional powerhouse. Benedizione thus becomes an essential experience for all fans of ARIA, one which offers a definitive close to the series by showing that each of Akari, Aika and Alice are going to be fine, and that the new Singles, Ai, Azusa and Anya, are in excellent hands as they strive to pursue a future as Undines, together on the idyllic planet of Aqua.

ARIA the Crepuscolo: An Anime Film Review, Reflection and Full Recommendation

“It’s great to reminisce about good memories of my past. It was enjoyable when it was today. So learning to enjoy today has two benefits: it gives me happiness right now, and it becomes a good memory later.” –George Foreman

Anya becomes worried when she notices that Alice and Athena have both a little off of late, and relays her worries to Ai and Azusa, who suggest that they do a surprise party for the pair. After speaking with Akari, and on President Aria’s suggestion, the three decide to time things for the Festa del Redentore, a July festival that gives thanks to the end of the 1576 Plague and has since included fireworks. However, Aika denies this request, since Himeya Company plans on doing a fair on the day of Festa del Redentore. In spite of these initial setbacks, Akari remains optimistic that they’ll be able to put something together. Anya later runs into Aletta, a Sylph-in-training, who gives her a brief ride over Neo-Venezia and encourages her about finding beauty in the present. Anya later has a chance to speak with Alice in the baths, learning that Alice had been down since Athena had set such an incredibly high standard as a senior that she feels like she hasn’t done anything similar for Anya. Alice recounts a story from back when she was still a pair: during Christmas, Alice had grown disheartened that Befana (Neo-Venezia’s equivalent of Santa Claus) doesn’t exist and found it difficult to get into the holiday spirit. One night, Athena had arranged a surprise party for Alice with help from Akari and Aika, and when Alice had arrived, Athena noted that the Christmas spirit for adults lies not with the existence of mythical figures, but rather, being able to look back on how wonderful the world had previously been, and using one’s own experience to help the new youth realise their dreams. On the day of Festa del Redentore, everyone is engrossed with their duties, but after the workday draws to a close, Akari and Aika meet up with Anya, Azusa and Ai. As it turns out, even Alicia and Akira were in on the plans to cheer up Alice and Athena: they’ve arranged for Alice and Athena to meet just prior to Athena’s concert and sing together. In the empty auditorium, Athena admits to Alice that during the latter’s exam to become a Prima, a part of her had wished that Alice might fail such that they could spend more time together, and moreover, Alice’s poor singing had come from her own doubts. Athena suggests to Alice that she sing in a way that she enjoys, and that moreover, it’s okay to make mistakes, allowing Alice to finally find her voice and pass her exam in full. In the present, Athena and Alice sing together before the evening show, and then board gondolas for the Yakatabune Cruise. While Alice and Athena are graceful for their past memories, Alice and Anya feels that being able to look back is what makes something so memorable, but the present will also come to become a precious memory, and the future will doubtlessly be full of new experiences, too. Thus, ARIA the Crepuscolo draws to a close. This first instalment was announced last year just ahead of ARIA‘s fifteenth anniversary, following an original story set somewhere after Avvenire. Crepuscolo is dedicated to Orange Planet’s Athena and Alice. Eri Kawai, who provided Athena’s singing voice, passed away in 2008 from liver cancer, and Tomoko Kawakami, who voiced Athena, passed away from ovarian cancer in 2011. This meant that Athena was largely absent from Avvenire. However, Rina Satō has since taken up this mantle and does a wonderful job as Athena. The themes within Crepuscolo mirror the respect for the older voices: ARIA remembers both Kawai and Kawakami’s contributions to Athena’s character, and at the same time, keep things moving forwards to honour their work.

I first watched ARIA through the Avvenire OVAs in 2016, and I subsequently picked up the three original seasons, which ran between 2005 and 2008. ARIA is an impressive series for its world-building and cathartic tone, for being able to convey the majesty of once-in-a-lifetime moments and the merits of the everyday. However, ARIA also proved a desperately tricky series to write for; ARIA is a series that covers a plethora of themes through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences together, and it is appropriate to say that there isn’t just one central theme or idea in ARIA. Being a self-contained experience, Crepuscolo does not continue on in the same vein as its predecessors: it speaks broadly about the doubts and concerns that arise during what is colloquially referred to as the passing of the torch. Alice presently worries about being a good enough mentor to Anya, but also recalls a time when Athena didn’t feel ready to guide Alice, either. However, bit-by-bit, Athena grew into the role and began understanding Alice a little better, such as being able to help create a visceral representation of how as adults, the Christmas spirit could be appreciated from a different perspective (rather than deriving enjoyment from recieving magic, adults get to experience the joys of making others happy). Over time, Alice and Athena would come to deeply treasure their time together. However, owing to Alice’s innate talents as an Undine, she rises through the ranks and can bypass the Single rank, which cut short the time Alice and Athena spent together. While things might’ve been short, Athena imparts the bit of advice that has since shaped who Alice is now, and in the present, Alice is able to sing as well as she’d like, although athena wondered if Alice had been unhappy with her. Introducing new juniors into ARIA really helped to depict succession and the passing down of knowledge to new generations, and here in Crepuscolo, the doubts that Alice face in mentoring Anya are the same as what Athena had experienced. It is the case that people can find it difficult to be honest about how they feel, as well as how newer generations can feel it exceedingly difficult to follow in their forerunners’ footsteps, but as a senior, one can always find their own approach towards things; friendship and magical circumstances can help one open up, and all it takes is a little nudge from the important people in one’s corner to set them down this path. Experience is what allows Athena to now help Alice find her way again, and in doing so, Crepuscolo indicates that Anya’s got much to look forward to, as well.

Anya and Alice both reflect on how being able to look back on past memories enhances the sense of nostalgia and wistfulness, rather like how the night looks darker when the sun is rising. This is why flashbacks are featured so prominently in Crepuscolo: they deliberately break up the story’s flow and directs the viewer’s attention away from the present. By forcibly altering the focus, viewers are inclined to pay more attention to events in the flashback to determine how they impact the present. This allows viewers to therefore see two critical moments in Crepuscolo that were of significance to Alice and Athena. Alice believes that Athena’s greatest moments come from imparting wisdom to her and helping her to appreciate what being an adult means, while for Athena, the lessons she taught to Alice have done much to make Alice the Undine she is today. While these are dramatically different moments, they had a nontrivial impact on how Alice and Athena view one another. In spite of doing much to shape the present, however, these things are also past, something to reflect on and appreciate, but not become bound to: with morning approaching, and the dawn of a new day, Crepuscolo also visually indicates that things don’t end here, with plenty more in the future that will be worth experiencing and discovering. This is openly stated during the Yakatabune Cruise; having come forward with their honest feelings, Alice and Athena are able to be truthful about how they feel about things and walk the future without anything concealed. Akari herself mentions something similar during the morning cruise, saying that she wonders what sorts of new discoveries and growth her future self will have made. While Crepuscolo might have spent half the film in flashbacks, Akari’s remarks thus remind the viewer that there is more to self-discovery than understanding moments from long ago, and that is to seize the moment, making the most of what lies ahead. Overall, the past, present and future figure prominently in Crepuscolo. All of the characters have matured (most notably, Akari, Aiko and Alice), but the traits that make everyone unique are still present: altogether, while Crepuscolo might be set a ways after Avvenire, the film feels timeless. ARIA has always excelled in conveying a sense of timelessness, and by weaving these elements together in a world quite different from our own, it does feel as though time has stood still: Neo-Venezia looks like it hasn’t aged a day, but it certainly is more vivid and detailed than I remember.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been five years since I last wrote about ARIA: after Avvenire finished, I took an interest in the series and watched all three seasons in the space of a few weeks. On the whole, ARIA excels in encouraging viewers to appreciate the mundane and extraordinary alike, to keep an open mind and always be mindful of one’s surroundings. In conjunction with the gentle guitar motifs, the peaceful world and fantastical setting that combines the great beauty of Venice with exotic future technology, ARIA creates a highly immersive and compelling world that is simultaneously similar to and unlike our own.

  • It is here that Kozue Amano is able to really present her ideas: Aqua is a terraformed Mars, and Neo-Venezia is a faithful reproduction of Italy’s Venice. In order to ensure that Aqua remains livable for humans, Amano introduces specialised space stations and exotic generators that help the planet to retain its atmosphere and retain an Earth-like gravity. When I watched Avvenire five years earlier, I joked that use of DOOM‘s Argent Energy would certainly have provided the power supply needed to fuel such functions. Said theory never took hold, and I’m rather surprised that a search for similar puts another blog ahead of mine, even though said blog has written exactly nothing about DOOM. In a curious turn of events, I beat DOOM Eternal last weekend, so I’ll be aiming to get a post on that done very soon.

  • Returning to ARIA, “Crepuscolo” is Italian for “twilight”, referring to this film’s focus on endings; this latest instalment of ARIA places emphasis on Alice and Athena, whom I felt were both shafted by Avvenire. This is a remark I can only make now that I’ve seen the whole of ARIA. I imagine that some readers will be wondering why I’ve not written about the original ARIA in my usual manner, and the reason for this is two-fold. First, I blitzed through this series at a breakneck speed, and at the time, I’d also been keeping up with episodic reviews of Brave Witches, so I was a little too swamped to write for ARIA. The second season is that ARIA is a pleasantly deep series, and there are many themes that Amano covers through Akari, Aika and Alice’s experiences.

  • At Crepuscolo‘s opening, Pair Anya is able to meet up with Athena, who is a legendary singer and was a former Prima of Orange Planet, Neo-Venezia’s largest Undine company. At present, she’s retired from her duties as an Undine (a Gondola operator and tour guide) to focus on opera singing, but still shows up from time to time. Since Athena had mentored Alice, Anya figures Athena’s the best person to speak to, since she noticed that Alice has been a little down of late. During their meeting, it’s clear that Athena still retains all of her old traits; she adds a little too much condensed milk to her beverage out of absent-mindedness.

  • At Aria Company, Alicia’s similarly retired and had since become a manager of the Gondola Association, leaving Akari to be Aria Company’s sole Prima. At this point in time, Ai’s become a Single, and here, she accompanies Akari while they give two guests a tour of Neo-Venezia’s beautiful canals. With JC Staff at the helm, Crepuscolo is beautiful: Aqua and Neo-Venezia are even more detailed than they were before, really coming to life. One noticeable change was that all of the characters have been given minor changes so they more closely resemble the characters of Amanchu!, another manga from Amano that JIC had adapted.

  • These changes bring the designs of ARIA‘s characters to be more consistent with Amanchu!‘s to mirror this fact, although things are subtle, so the differences are never too dramatic. With this being said, the characters do look a ways more mature, speaking to the amount of time that has passed since ARIA‘s beginning. Even with this newfound maturity, everyone still bears their most iconic traits, which was a pleasant reminder that while people do grow up and grow old, the heart of their personalities often remain consistent.

  • Alice’s peers notice that she’s been a little odd, and here, Alice is so distracted that she decides to eat her omuice sans ketchup. Because of Alice’s reputation as a rowing prodigy, others are intimidated by her and so, are hesitant to approach her. However, Alice’s true nature is that she’s a bit shy and not comfortable around new people; she takes time to open up to those around her. These traits are reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Chino Kafuu, and now that I think about it, Alice might’ve been the inspiration for Chino: save the fact that Chino uses elastics as her hair-ties, Alice and Chino are quite similar both in terms of appearance and personality.

  • Back at Aria Company, Akari shares a meal with Anya, Azusa and Ai. One detail I liked was the fact that President Aria is seen happily polishing off his rack of lamb before wilting when Ai reminds him to eat his veggies and hands him a plate of salad. President Aria’s antics are awesome, and in the original ARIA series, he’s gone on some wild adventures of his own while Alicia and Akari were out servicing customers and training for Akari’s eventual promotion to Prima: if I’m not mistaken, President Aria even has a super-hero alter-ego, where he goes around Neo-Venezia fighting crime and keeping the peace. In this way, I am strongly reminded of Peanuts‘ Snoopy, who was a similarly amusing and intelligent character.

  • Over three seasons, there are fifty-two episodes of ARIA (excluding other OVAs like Avvenire), and some of the more incredible moments pertain to the cats, including one time where Akari finds herself whisked to the past after crossing a covered bridge when spotting some cats, and another time where curiosity leads Akari and Aika to the Kingdom of the Cats. The blending of the commonplace and supernatural had always been one of the great strengths in ARIA, and I believe that in Avvenire, Akari reminisces about a rumoured road tile that brings misfortune on those who tread upon it. When she tries the same, she’s thrown into the sky and encounters the Cait Sith, a benevolent cat spirit who seems to show up whenever Akari is in need.

  • Akatsuki appears mid-lunch, and going from Ai, Azusa and Anya’s reactions, they’re none too fond of him because of his brash, hot-headed character. In ARIA, Akatsuki was the first customer Akari had served, and while he’s quick to call Akari “pigtails”, Akatsuki spends a great deal of time with Akari every time he visits. The other characters dislike Akatsuki, but Akari treats him a little better, taking the time to speak with him whenever he visits: he began ARIA in pursuit of Alicia’s heart, although having made it a point to meet Akari on all of his visits, Alicia suspects that Akatsuki is probably in love with Akari.

  • When Anya, Ai and Azusa consider what they can do to bring Athena and Alice together, they realise that they can time something for Festa del Redentore. The real Festa del Redentore is an Italian festival dating back to the 16th century, featuring plenty of fireworks. Many Italian festivals and events are imported into ARIA, and then subsequently adapted to fit in with the future world’s customs: ARIA‘s Festa del Redentore similarly features fireworks, as well as a boat ride over to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The original was also built in the 16 century and can be seen from every point along the Riva degli Schiavoni.

  • Aika is Himeya Company’s heiress, and throughout ARIA, had long struggled with her familial connections to the company. Despite her a no-nonsense personality and tough exterior, Aika is sensitive and kind, as well. She constantly strives to prove that she’s a worthy contributor to the family company, but after meeting Akari, begins to appreciate the smaller moments in life, as well, although she retrains a very competitive and driven manner.

  • The iconic chibi art style makes a return in Crepuscolo – they were very prominent in ARIA, and every character takes on distinct features when flustered, embarrassed or surprised. These aspects carried over to Amanchu!, and while I had found them a little distracting early on, over time, the shifts in character art would become very endearing to me, speaking volumes about what was happening in a given moment in ways that dialogue alone could not fully convey.

  • The extensive use of flashbacks in Crepuscolo is not a particularly novel thing for ARIAAvvenire had done something similar, and flashbacks also figure in the original ARIA seasons. Their presence is meant to show that important memories have as much weight as the present, and that neither are inherently more valuable than the other. Such a remark would, of course, prompt the uptight Aika to shout, “embarrassing remarks are prohibited!” Here, Athena and Alice meet for the first time, and although Athena is a skilled Prima, Alice initially worries about Athena, who is so clumsy that she ends up spilling most everything. Over time, things between the two change as Athena and Alice get to know one another.

  • It turns out that Aria Company is located down the Riva del Sette Martiri along Saint Mark’s Canal. Neo-Venezia is the location hunter’s ultimate dream, being a 1:1 reproduction of Venice, and as such, the only thing one would need to do for the complete and comprehensive ARIA experience would simply be to book a trip to Venice. Famous landmarks like Piazza San Marco and St. Mark’s Basilica feature prominently in ARIA, so there’s no missing them. After Ai, Azusa and Anya depart, they decide to find places in Neo-Venezia where it might be good to bring Athena and Alice together.

  • Here, Azusa passes by Ponte di Rialto, oldest of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal, while considering a possible spot. The original bridge was constructed in 1181 and was a pontoon bridge, but as the nearby Rialto Market expanded, the bridge was rebuilt with wood. This bridge burned down in 1310, then collapsed twice (once in 1444, as Azuisa mentions, and then in 1524). By 1551, it was proposed that the bridge was to be rebuilt using stone, and in 1588, construction began, finishing three years later. Although the design was criticised after its completion, Ponte di Rialto is an iconic Venice landmark today.

  • Guided by President Aria, Ai gets a tour of Neo-Venezia’s premiere eating spots and learns that President Aria himself had conquered numerous food challenges, including one for ramen and pizza. Cats in Neo-Venezia are treated great respect, being the mascot of their respective Gondola companies. All of the cats are endearing in their own right, and President Aria’s a special breed with full sentience. Alicia and Akari indulge him, leading him to become pudgy, but he’s kind-hearted and helps out where he can, as well.

  • While struggling to find a suitable spot, Ai runs into Alicia and explains that she’s searching for memories for Athena and Alice’s sake. Such an idea is inherently peaceful and is an integral part of ARIA: entire episodes have previously been spent on trying to find locations of interest, track things down or get something done, and while this meant that ARIA is a very slow series, this proved to be the series main joy. Humour in ARIA is very gentle, a world apart from the laughs that something like Azumanga Daioh provides.

  • Animation has certainly come a long way from 2005: Crepuscolo is comparable to P.A. Works and Kyoto Animation’s best. Of note are the water effects: so much of ARIA is set on the canals of Neo-Venezia, and while the original series did feature some reflections, highly-detailed, real-time reflections and ripples on the water come together to really create a sense of tranquility. Here, Akira takes a group of friends along Neo-Venezia’s Grand Canal, where she notices Azusa and Anya together.

  • While wondering what to do about the fact that Alice seems so down, Anya runs into Aletta, a Slyph (mail carriers) in training. In the original ARIA, Woody was a Slyph who often dropped by with messages for the main characters: back in 2002, phone calls, faxes and emails were the most widespread form of communication. In the nineteen years since Amano had penned ARIA‘s manga, the world has changed beyond recognition when it comes to communications. Instant messaging represents the easiest form of rapid communication, and video calls are now commonplace. This change gives letters and messengers a more romantic feel, hailing back to a simpler time.

  • Over the buildings of Neo-Venezia, Aletta explains that what makes her position so enjoyable is that, even though she’s a trainee and therefore limited to a certain altitude, the view nonetheless remains impressive, and she’s confident that once she becomes fully qualified, she’ll still enjoy the scenery over Neo-Venezia as she does now. This helps Anya to understand that while it’s important to think about the future, she should also be mindful of her present, as well.

  • In a brief flashback, while Aletta waves up at the sky, Anya takes an interest in a passing gondola. Simple moments like these don’t consume too much time, but even these can speak volumes about the characters and everyday observations. In this case, it’s the idea that while the future is uncertain, there are some things that occur during our childhood that can do much to inspire who we are as people today. While flying through the skies with Aletta, Anya realises that the scenery holds a piece of her past, too.

  • Right on cue, Woody appears and greets the pair before flying off for his duties. Throughout Crepuscolo, a gentle piece of incidental music can be heard playing in the background. The soundtrack in ARIA has always been of a fine standard, and I greatly enjoy music from the original series for how relaxing it is (just listening to the music alone reminds me of a gentle summer’s day with blue skies). However, for Crepuscolo, I believe only the film’s opening and ending songs are available.

  • Because I don’t often write about ARIA, I’ll present a stunning view of Neo-Venezia by sunset – from the location, this appears to be the Orange Planet’s base of operations (two large gates leading onto the canals can be seen to the left). In reality, Orange Planet is located at the site of Basilica St. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in real life, but the canal feels a little wider than the one in reality. Like other anime, ARIA is quite faithful to real-world locations, but some liberties have been taken to accommodate the story.

  • Back at Orange Planet’s headquarters, Alice has returned to her room with Maa and finds Anya admiring an autumn leaf that she’d picked up while meeting Aletta. Alice invites Anya to dinner, but Anya declines, leading Alice to wonder if Anya’s doing alright. Coincidently, when Anya bounces the question back at Alice, Alice wilts. The conversation suggests that Anya and Alice are both bad at being forwards with how they feel about things. Being honest with oneself, and being open about one’s feelings is always a challenge; even now, this is something that I struggle with.

  • Of course, there is time yet to improve this aspect about myself, and I try to be expressive about the things that don’t work for me. Given what anime has presented, I think it is reasonable to suppose that people who are the least likely to come forward with their feelings are usually the most considerate people; they’d rather take one for the team if it means those around them are happy, but sometimes, this can lead to miscommunications. In the baths, Alice admits to Anya that she’s worried about not being a good mentor for Anya, especially considering everything that Athena had previously done for her.

  • The story thus flashes back to when Alice, Akari and Aika were still trainees; it’s Christmas, and while Akari and Aika are in the holiday spirit, Alice seems a little detached from everything. Venice is beautiful during the Christmas season, and besides the Christmas markets, the area is quite foggy during the winter, so it feels like the buildings are floating in the skies. During winters, Venice can be quite chilly because of the humid air, so bringing a coat is suggested. I imagine that Neo-Venezia inherits Venice’s climate, as well; the real Venice has a humid subtropical climate with cooler winters and hot, humid summers.

  • Akari transforms into a chibi form while admiring a Befana doll – it appears that in ARIA, elements of Halloween are combined with Christmas, with the witch, Befana, replacing Saint Nicholas as the patron saint of the Christmas season and deliverer of gifts. I’ve always loved these chibi expressions, as they represent the character’s true selves in a visual format. Akari’s flat, angular lines signify that she’s completely lost in the moment, while Aika’s eyes become shiny and her mouth take on a cat-like shape, perhaps indicative of someone who’s trying hard to remain cool and composed. Alice’s chibi form signifies lack of amusement in the situation.

  • It was around here that I really began noticing how Amanchu!-like everyone looked – while it has been five years since I’d watched ARIA, seeing the characters in the present day meant some of the visual changes weren’t immediately apparent. However, comparing each of Akari, Aika and Alice in the present, versus their past selves, shows that everyone’s matured. It’s a subtle and pleasant touch. Here, Hime can be seen clinging to Aika: she’s the president of Himeya, and President Aria has a bit of a crush on her. During the original ARIA, President Aria would do things like sucking in his gut to impress Hime, but things always would backfire.

  • The dynamics among the cats bring to mind how the bunnies in GochiUsa act, and now that I think about it, ARIA might be seen as a more contemplative, quieter forerunner to GochiUsa, which shares in common with ARIA lovable characters, strong animal motifs, and a wonderfully designed world that is simultaneously similar to and different than our own. Upon returning to her room, Alice collapses on her bed, completely defeated that Christmas isn’t getting her excited. Athena ends up hearing Alice out, and does her best to cheer Alice up, but when nothing works, Athena takes a more dramatic route.

  • One evening, Alice spots something out the corner of her eye, and although she knows it’s Athena, curiosity takes a hold. Alice stumbles into a darkened courtyard after following Athena’s singing, and finds herself face-to-face with Athena, who’s decked out as Befana. It turns out that, with help from Aika and Akari, Athena had prepared a Christmas party of sorts for Alice and even granted her wish, of becoming the princess to the kingdom of bubbles. Alice had been saddened to learn that Befana was merely a myth for children and didn’t exist; her reaction is what most children go through upon learning Santa Claus is a story.

  • However, the transition from being a child to adulthood means helping the next generation of children to have fun and make their own discoveries. To this end, Athena puts a little something together for Alice and notes that it was very rewarding to have done something for those around her. This is the spirit of Christmas, and an integral part of growing up; becoming more mature means understanding others well and being able to address the challenges they face in an effectual, instructive manner.

  • After this particular evening, Alice appreciates that Christmas isn’t about the existence of Befana, but rather, being able to realise the dreams of others. The entire scene is quite magical: Athena, Akari and Aika have prepared non-burst bubbles with candles to create an otherworldly feeling. The cat waiters serving Alice and Athena are Aika and Akari – while ARIA has a very noticeable supernatural piece to it, the series is very measured about when to incorporate such elements. Here, the magic comes purely from the effort Athena directs towards helping Alice to rediscover her joy for the winter holidays.

  • Back in the present, Alice’s recounting this story to Anya shows what sort of senior Athena had been, giving Anya an idea of what Alice wishes to do as a senior. The natural progression in ARIA means that the series presents both perspectives very well. I’m sure a great many people have experienced this: as a junior, they’d see their seniors as role models, people to learn from and even lean on, and as the senior, they’d treat their juniors as they wish their seniors would’ve treated them. As a TA, for instance, I always strove to be clear in my instruction to students, and assess their work fairly. When I was a second year student, an excellent TA had prevented me from failing data structures, so by the time I became a TA, I worked hard to ensure no-one in my sections were left behind.

  • I also ended up going out for lunch with the product owner from Denver, where I had a breakfast burger (British bangers and a fried egg with onion), although if memory serves, that had been a bit of a stressful day, being my last in Winnipeg. Now that I think about it, without Alicia around, Aria Company does feel like it’s a bit of a lonelier place, but so long as Akari and Ai are present, things are a little livelier. Here, Akatsuki shares another conversation with Akari, hoping he’d be able to join her for a spot of tea, but with things being busy, Akari declines. I’ve noticed that present-day Akari speaks in a more confident and measured manner: Erino Hazuki has always given Akari’s voice a hesitant, soft inflection, so hearing the changes in Akari’s voice is another reminder that the characters are maturing.

  • On the day of Festa del Redentore, Aika is flooded with work, but fortunately, the Undines from other companies also show up to help out, and even President Aria has appeared to help direct guests to their tables. Akari and Ai are out taking passengers on gondola tours, so they’re unavailable to help out, but Anya is around to lend a hand. Orange Company and its large number of Undines means she’s able to get away on occasion to help out during festivals.

  • ARIA‘s presentation of different company sizes is a faithful and truthful representation of what is commonly referred to as the “bus factor” – for a given company, the bus factor is a measure of risk based on how well skill and information is distributed amongst a team. Specifically, it is a measure of how many people can become unavailable before productivity stops outright. Aria Company has a bus factor of 1 (if Akari were unavailable, Ai is not qualified to take customers on her own, and Aria Company’s operations grind to a halt), while Orange Planet has a bus factor of 20 (there are 20 Primas, so all 20 must be unavailable before business is halted). When I started working with my first startup, our bus factor was 1.5, and with my last position, our bus factor was 1 since I was the only mobile developer on the team (and similarly, our main product was an iOS app).

  • To reduce the bus factor on a team, cross-training is important: even if other developers can’t fully develop new features into the app or architect it out, having enough knowledge to debug smaller bugs and manage releases can save headache down the line. Generally speaking, a larger bus factor is desirable because it means more people can become unavailable before productivity sustains a decrease, and in more practical terms, it means that on a team with a higher bus factor, I can go on vacation for a week and not feel guilty about letting work accumulate dangerously. With the day’s work over, Akari joins Aika, Azusa, Ai and Anya as they prepare their surprise for Alice and Athena.

  • While Aika might be a Prima now and deeply respects her mentor, Akira, for allowing her to develop into a full-fledged Undine under Akira’s watchful tutelage, this hasn’t stopped Aika from calling Akira a dæmon instructor. Ironically, Akira happens to overhear Aika, causing the latter to jump in shock: Akira’s still got a tough-as-nails, no-nonsense personality. A major part of the fun in Crepuscolo was watching old dynamics amongst the characters make a return. There’s a sense of nostalgia surrounding ARIA, and I imagine that this fifteenth anniversary project will be a pleasant trip down memory lane for longtime viewers.

  • For me, I watched ARIA to completion five years earlier: I remember starting in August and slowly made my way through the series until by October, I’d finished. Back then, I was still working with my first startup, and I spent lunch hours watching episodes. During my marathon, one episode particularly stood out to me: during ARIA The Natural, Akari encounters a lady in black who asks for a ride to the cemetery at Isola di San Michele. Akari had heard about a ghost story surrounding such a lady in black, and finds out for herself that this lady is in fact a spectre. She is saved at the last second by the Cait Sith and finds herself back at Aria Company, although it is suggested that Akari’s experiences were no dream.

  • With all of the principal characters involved planning out the surprise for Athena and Alice, Akira and Alicia indicate they’ve found something that will work, and begin recalling a time when Athena had seemed quite down about something: when Athena had been assigned to mentor the brilliant but young Alice, she’d been worried about disappointing Alice; other Singles at Orange Planet had found it difficult to befriend someone like Alice, so Athena ended up deciding to take things slowly with Alice.

  • Over time, Alice would come to treasure her time with Athena, but because of Alice’s own skill, she advanced through the ranks quickly, and Athena despaired that their precious time was going to be cut short. Athena thus found herself wishing that time would pass more slowly, and chastises herself because a part of her wished Alice might fail, so that the two might be able to spend more time together. Athena recalls that Alice’s weakness had been in her singing: Primas also sing for their customers, and like GochiUsa‘s Chino, Alice’s voice isn’t particularly loud.

  • In the end, Athena suggests that Alice sing in the manner that makes her happy, and that with confidence, her love of singing would also reach her customers: Athena is famous in Neo-Venezia for her angelic voice and natural talent for singing, but despite this natural talent, Athena is also able to properly explain how she makes her singing work for her. This is the mark of a genius: although society has long counted someone as a genius if they possess uncommon talent in a field, as well as a ceaseless drive to explore, I’ve found that genius also entails being able to approach complex problems with elegant approaches.

  • In Athena’s case, she’s able to put into words what makes singing work for her and convey this to Alice. Being able to capture the feelings in one’s heart is a highly challenging task, and Violet Evergarden had similarly suggested that honestly articulating one’s feelings is a skill that must be cultivated over time. Athena is able to do just this, and I am reminded of Steven Hawking and Richard Feynman, both of which had a knack for finding creative ways of communicating incredibly abstract and tricky concepts in a way that even laypeople would understand. My old graduate supervisor similarly believed in this: the Giant Walkthrough Brain and my graduate thesis resulted from this, striving to present neuroscience and cellular biology in an accessible way to people.

  • With Athena’s words, Alice is able to reach her full potential and sings well enough for herself, allowing her to pass her exam and do what became a landmark accomplishment in ARIA: go from a Pair straight to a Prima. The composition of this scene evokes a sense of nostalgia, in recalling a pivotal moment in Alice’s career as an Undine, and for me, there was a lingering feeling of familiarity that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.

  • As it turns out, the big surprise plan that everyone was helping with was to bring Alice and Athena together; Athena and Alice had been worried about not being able to meet one another, so the group writes a letter to bring Alice to the concert hall where Athena is performing. In the moments before the concert begins, the pair share a conversation together, reflect on the journey Alice took to become a Prima and everything she’d learned from Athena in the process. As the others indicate, it was difficult for both Alice and Athena to be honest with one another about how they feel.

  • However, in the end, with everything out in the open, Athena is able to express her happiness at having mentored someone like Alice, while Alice is immensely grateful to have learnt under Athena. The idea of cycles and the student becoming the teacher is especially apparent in CrepuscoloAvvenire had depicted the events following Origination and showed that Ai had joined the Aria Company, while Azusa becomes Aika’s student, and Anya began under Alice. However, Avvenire had only really scratched the surface, and having now seen the whole of ARIA, I found that Avvenire was only really an essay in the craft.

  • As such, the new series of ARIA movies have the possibility of really showing the relationship between the current generation of Prima Undines and their students, all the while giving an opportunity to expand upon moments from the original ARIA series. Crepuscolo has already shown what is possible in the movie format, so I’m hoping that Akira, Aika and Azusa will get some shine time in the upcoming movie, and then assuming this to be the case, Alicia, Akari and Ai will have their stories told in the third, and final movie.

  • With their hearts at peace, Athena and Alice are able to sing together. The vocal pieces in ARIA are beautiful: originally, Choro Club collaborated with Takeshi Senoo to compose the series’ incidental pieces and Eri Kawai’s most iconic songs. The “lyrics” were composed of tones not from any known language, to create a sense of timelessness, and according to director Jun’ichi Satō, the opening and ending songs were originally intended to be written in this way. However, Kawai decided that the lyrics should be Japanese in the end to better convey the feelings consistent with ARIA‘s aesthetic.

  • There is a sadness about Athena’s character in the knowledge that both Kawakami and Kawai have passed away: this sadness seemed to permeate Crepuscolo as Alice feels like she’s treading on eggshells where Athena is concerned, perhaps mirroring the difficult decision to recast Rina Satō as Athena. Assuming this to hold true, the remarks that Athena has for Alice, and Alice’s subsequent singing with Athena parallel Crepuscolo‘s desire to let viewers know that what happened before were to be treasured forever, but what happened in the past notwithstanding, there’s a future ahead of everyone that is worth seizing, and should be seized, free of the burdens from the past.

  • In this way, Crepuscolo‘s message is a very encouraging one; the film may have begun in a melancholy and introspective fashion, but remembering the times of old and what joy it’d brought means that the film is also optimistic. As the performance’s audience begin filing into the concert hall, they are pleased to see Athena and Alice singing already; in particular, Alice’s coworkers are happy. They’d been quite worried about Alice earlier, but seeing her on stage with Athena indicates beyond any doubt that Alice had found her answers and is no longer down.

  • Al, Akatsuki and Woody were noticeably absent from the events of Avvenire. Having seen Woody and Akatsuki, it’d be nice if in Benedizione, Al and Aika are able to spend more time together: during the events of Natural, it was shown that Aika had fallen in love with Al, who works as a Genome (an occupation entailing the maintenance of the equipment that regulates the artificial gravity on Aqua to be about 1G). This story was particularly touching, and it was fun to see the normally collected Aika become flustered in Al’s presence.

  • There are a large number of opera houses in Venice, but based on the building façade, as well as ARIA‘s tendency to use the most iconic locations of Venice, I am going to guess that Athena is performing at La Fenice, which is one of Venice’s (and even Italy’s) most renowned performing venue. The current theatre, seen in Crepuscolo, was actually built in 2001, the same year ARIA‘s manga began running. It was destroyed by a fire in 1996, a consequence of arson from electricians who’d been servicing the building’s wiring. The original theatre was opened in 1792, but was also destroyed by fire in 1836. Fortunately, swift construction efforts meant that La Fenice reopened a year later, in 1837. The building has so far rebounded thrice after fires, and therefore, lives up to its name, which is “The Phoenix” in English.

  • In flashbacks, moments from ARIA the Origination‘s ninth episode are brought to life in full, given the HD remaster treatment and completely refreshed. Because Crepuscolo brought back so many memories, both for me and for the characters, I began developing this feeling that I’d seen everything before. I therefore hopped on over back to Origination, and sure enough, the very same moments in Crepuscolo were shown in Origination, albeit with a massive visual update.

  • Athena and Alice’s smiles speak volumes about the catharsis both experience after being open with one another. While the concert Athena performs at isn’t shown, the fact that we got to hear familiar, iconic performances in Crepuscolo was very heartwarming. The combined nostalgia and warmth that Crepuscolo conveys, coupled with the fact that Benedizione isn’t going to be out until May or June 2022, there’s probably enough time to go back and re-watch the whole of ARIA, front-to-back (even with my schedule and tendency to procrastinate).

  • With the concert over, the group of friends take a Yakatabune Cruise together into the dawn. Crepuscolo had covered a very wide array of themes, from the importance of honesty and an appreciation of the learnings the past holds, to the idea that growing up can mean taking one’s childhood memories and applying that to make others happy even when one knows the truth behind some things one might’ve believed as a child. However, the strength of the symbolism here, of sailing from the dark of night into the dawn, coupled with Alice and Akari’s remarks, really drove home that Crepuscolo was about living in the present and valuing the past in equal measure.

  • The strength of this message meant that I exited Crepuscolo feeling completely refreshed: like ARIA, I am a bit of a sentimental, nostalgic person, and as the anime suggests, I do view the past with a rose-tinted lens. However, this isn’t because I want to go back to those days per se, but rather, because the sum of my experiences now allow me to appreciate the importance of what had happened previously even more strongly. For instance, while my work with the Winnipeg team was not enjoyable to me in that moment, I also learnt a great deal and became a stronger iOS developer for it: today, were I to go back, there’d be a few things that I’d do differently, and I’m confident that I’m now better prepared to handle conflicts and work towards a completed deliverable.

  • Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo was a very welcome trip down memory lane, and I was very moved in watching it. It’s a strong recommendation for all fans of ARIA, and folks wondering if this film is worthwhile do have enough time to go back and check out ARIA in full before the next film releases. Themes of the past, present and future within Crepuscolo reminds me of how these days, my thoughts are turning towards what my first home will look like; I’ve been saving for a very long time for this, and since this is a major milestone, I wish to make certain I’m satisfied with everything before signing on the dotted line. Being able to watch Crepuscolo was a reminder that some things are inevitable, but with the right mindset, I will be prepared to handle what comes up, rather like how Alice is now a bit better equipped to be a good mentor for Anya.

As it turns out, JC Staff handled the production of ARIA the Crepuscolo; JC Staff had previously been involved with adapting another one of Kozue Amano’s works, Amanchu!. In typical JC Staff fashion, backgrounds are beautifully rendered, and lighting is masterfully used to convey emotion and totally immerse viewers in another world. Within moments of spotting Anya, it becomes clear that JC Staff have also brought on board the character designers from Amanchu!. Throughout Crepuscolo, visual traits from Amanchu’s characters can be spotted amongst everyone, including sharper facial features, eyelashes and brighter eyes. While not quite what I remember from the original ARIA series, the choice to subtly shift the characters’ appearances closer to their Amanchu! equivalents really accentuates the fact that Amano had created both Amanchu! and ARIA. Overall, ARIA the Crepuscolo is a welcome addition to ARIA, possessing all of the aesthetics that had been present in the originals, bringing back familiar characters and presenting hitherto unseen stories, while simultaneously giving the ARIA universe a fresh coat of paint and giving fans of the series a new story to enjoy. The first of the movies for the ARIA fifteenth anniversary project shows that in the town of Neo-Venezia, there’s always something new to explore, whether it is learning more about those around one, or some obscure treasure that has gone unnoticed. The next of the ARIA films will be titled ARIA the Benedizione and is scheduled to première in Japan on December 3, 2021. The wait this time was absolutely within the realm of what is reasonable, being only five and a half months. I am rather looking forwards to seeing what happens in Benedizione, and because Crepuscolo‘s focus was on Athena, Alice and Anya, one could reasonably surmise that Benedizione will follow Himeya’s Akira, Aika and Azusa. The basis for this is that, since ARIA originally had Akari and Alice occupy the spotlight, it follows that the last of the movies will be about the the middle Undine Company, one that has seen the least of the limelight, but one that has nonetheless built out a legendary reputation over the years and therefore, would act as a proper conclusion for this set of movies.

Towards the Miraculous Future: Aria the Avvenire OVA Episode Three Review and Reflection

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

The finale to the Aria the Avvenire OVA series follows Ai, Anya and Azusa as they create their own miracle to bring everyone together after learning that their seniors are exceptionally busy with their Undine work and will miss Athena’s musical performance. Taking advantage of the Acqua Alta event (Italian for “High Water”) that results in all their day’s duties being cancelled, Ai capitalises on the time to plan a party with Anya and Azusa for their seniors. Exhausted from her work, Alicia falls asleep and recalls when she first met Akari. It seems that Alicia has aspirations to bring change to the existing Undine Pair system that assigns Singles to a Prima and improve the existing system to encourage Singles to complete their training and become Prima themselves. As a long-established system, this is no trivial task. However, it was Akari’s presence at the Aria Company that eventually moves Alicia to pursue her wishes. Later in the evening, Athena’s singing reaches everyone, prompting Akari, Alice and Aika to recall the days they became Prima and wonder whether or not their paths will separate in the future.

Miracles form the basis for the last of the OVA’s themes yet again, except this time, Ai, Anya and Azusa’s planning of a party for their seniors to capitalise on an Acqua Alta event and bring everyone together illustrates that while there are some miracles that truly are spectacular and cannot be easily produced, miracles can take all forms and hold tremendous value even if it is as subtle as bringing friends together to share tea and pastry under the evening sun. The value of this gesture allows Alicia to remember her own dynamics with Akari. This suggests that just as seniors can leave a powerful impact on juniors, the reverse is true, as well; presumably, to encourage more Singles to complete their training and connect with their seniors more, Alicia chooses to pursue the goal of improving the Undine system for everyone’s sake. However, the true miracle of this party is seen at the very end: besides having brought everyone together, it manages to give everyone an unexpected but welcomed opportunity for listening to Athena’s musical performance.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Released on June 24, I neither have the earliest nor greatest collection of screenshots for the last of the Avvenire OVAs: my review is given the customary twenty screenshots. I acknowledge that anyone who’s read the manga and/or seen the original animated forms of Aria will have considerably greater background than myself and therefore, consider this review to be that of a scrub’s. However, because of my lack of background, I can also offer insights on Aria that differ than those of anyone who’s seen the main series or manga.

  • Ai, Anya and Azusa spend a few moments in a new part of Aqua that I’ve not seen before: I have not begun watching my way through the three seasons of Aria as of yet. These wind turbines are reminiscent of those found near Pincher Creek: the wind farm there is visible from Highway 3 en route to Waterton and was Canada’s first wind farm, but the operation has become uneconomical and was dismantled during April 2016.

  • Ai, Anya and Azusa manouver their gondolas through the canals of Neo-Venezia while discussing how with everyone’s schedules look, there will be no opportunity to watch Athena’s musical performance later on despite how much everyone’s been looking forwards to things. Anya and Azusa are new characters to the Avvenire OVAs, so once I go back and begin watching the anime proper, I imagine I won’t see them around.

  • One of the joys in Aria is how even inconveniences such as floods can be turned into miracles for the characters: it’s a matter of perspective, and Ai rejoices at the six inches or so of water that’s accumulated in their quarters. She’s now afforded time to carry out her own plans in response to everyone’s busy schedules now that it’s flooded, and here, she tells Akari how they won’t be able to spend the day together.

  • The phenomenon of Acqua Alta is responsible for the minor flooding seen earlier, and in Venice, occurs when high tide coincides with sirocco winds that push water into the Venetian lagoon. In Venice, these events are common enough so that Venetians have built their city to accommodate it, storing things of importance above the water level and using wooden platforms to traverse the area. However, Mars’ moons, Phobos and Deimos, are so small they would not have a substantial tidal impact on Mars, so the Acqua Alta event is unlikely to occur.

  • With this in mind, I will yield that allowing the Acqua Alta to occur in Aria is intended to drive the story of the last OVA forwards and so, it’s not something to lose sleep over. As the afternoon wears on, Akari receives a message from Ai and the others, inviting her over for tea. The deep blue skies of Neo-Venezia give way to the warmer oranges and purples of evening.

  • Through their efforts, Ai, Anya and Azusa succeed in gathering Aika, Alice, Akari, Akira and Alicia, as well as Akino (known as “grandma”, she’s a well-known and masterful Prima Undine who trained Alicia to take over the Aria Company) for an evening party. Ever appreciative of miracles, Akari mentions that having a party on an ordinary day makes it feel all the more special.

  • After crossing the Bow River, we hiked up the cliff side and reached the Nordic Centre, before returning to the Canmore town centre to browse some of the shops. We stopped for a tea at the Communitea Tea House (where I ordered a chilled mint green tea) before ending the day. Such outings are relatively simple to organise and might just become a yearly tradition for us. Back in Aria, Akari is promoted to a Single: I’ve not been keeping track until now, but Pairs (Undine in basic training) wear two gloves, and Singles wear one glove.

  • A fully qualified Undine, a Prima, has no gloves: this observation will be useful for ascertaining each character’s rank once I begin watching the TV series. Here, Alicia messes with both Akari and President Aria with a wind chime: in a gentle and humours moment, both seem to be reacting as cats would to stimuli.

  • Because they were released this year, the Avvenire OVAs have exceptional artwork and animation; the finale is no different, making extensive use of lighting and colouring to convey a particular mood. After she falls asleep, Alicia dreams of a more nostalgic time when Akari was still in training. Her dialogue suggests that Akari had a substantial impact on Alicia right from the start, leaving a powerful and profound impression on her when they’d first met.

  • Earlier, I noted that the Acqua Alta phenomenon would not be plausible given Mars’ lack of a substantial natural satellite, but this image, captured as Akari and Alicia quietly sail the surface of the waters, overtly depicts a natural satellite complete with maria (basaltic plains that characterises the Earth’s moon). This raises questions as to whether or not in Aria, the moon or a similar celestial body was moved to Mars in order to facilitate the terraforming processes.

  • While such an endeavour would seem optimistic to the point of foolishness, it turns out that humanity can theoretically move celestial bodies as large as the moon using scaled-up mechanisms presently being proposed to move asteroid trajectories. Aria is set in the 24th century, and since they’ve already succeeding in terraforming Mars to the point where it is inhabitable for long periods, they might also have the technologies to move lunar-sized celestial bodies.

  • Introducing change into a well-established system is never easy, and Alicia becomes exhausted from the efforts. However, she’s motivated strongly by Akari, enough to continue in her pursuits regardless of how difficult it may seem. One of the youngest to become a Prima Undine, Alicia is married to an unspecified gentleman but delays her retirement and entry into an administrative role in order to spend more time with Akari, forming the basis for her internal conflict.

  • By the events of Avvenire, it seems that she’s managed to move forwards, knowing that Akari will be a fine Prima Undine. This is a natural reaction: transitioning from one stage to another (in my case, school to real-world) is indeed scary, but it is also necessary to do so such that one can continue to contribute to society and allow the new generations a chance to explore their opportunities, as well.

  • Alicia wakes up shortly, and from my end, the last of the OVAs was also the most tricky to follow. I went through this one twice to make certain that I could follow what was going on and therefore, could extract the themes and ideas from the OVA. I would think that the main theme here is a bit more substantial beyond merely being “cathartic”: while an anime could probably get by simply for being relaxing, I imagine that there is much more to Aria as a whole, given that it’s been met with critical acclaim and can capture the audiences’ hearts as effectively as it does.

  • Athena performs “Lumis Eterne”, a song originally performed for Aria The Origination as the final OVA’s miracle. The song’s lyrics are composed in Esperanto, an auxiliary language created in the 1870s by L.L. Zamenhof with the aim of unifying humanity under a common tongue, and it’s supposed to be easier to learn than English. I’ve heard that Athena’s voice actor, Kawai Eri, passed away from cancer and it would have been difficult to re-cast her, hence her minimal presence in the OVAs.

  • Thus, while seemingly missing the one thing everyone was looking forwards to, it turns out that Ai, Anya and Azusa’s idea to host a small party gathering everyone together also allowed everyone to enjoy Athena’s performance. This speaks to the unpredictability of miracles; even though the original goal was simply to bring people together, events result in everyone experiencing a far greater time than they had expected.

  • The final moments of the OVA ends with another beautiful sunset as the day draws to a close. We’re very nearly reaching the end of this post, as well: this means that the last of my discussions on Aria is approaching an end, as well. With all three OVAs under my belt, it seems appropriate to now go backwards and watch the whole of Aria and see for myself what about Aria makes it a timeless anime: surely, it can’t just be “catharsis” on its own.

  • Because my schedule over the next few weeks will be unpredictable, I cannot say for sure what I’ll be writing, when, but I will try to have a talk about Amanchu! after three episodes out before the month is over. I also will be taking a look at New Game! as time permits (there seem to be a lot of misconceptions out there, ranging from the idea that they’re using Dell Inspirion desktops for game development, to the idea that the anime is glorifying overwork, and I’d like to see for myself whether these opinions have any weight). In August, I will aim to roll out a talk on Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero and my second experience with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Besides miracles, the other theme for the finale deals with is a parting of the ways, and how the associated sorrow demonstrates the strength of bonds amongst friends. Happiness cannot exist without sorrow, and sorrow can be seen as a sign that people care. This is a fitting theme for the last of the Aria the Avvenire episodes, reminding the viewers that their own feelings as the Avvenire OVAs draw to a close are a reminder that they genuinely enjoyed the anime. The Avvenire OVA series is plainly intended for audiences familiar with Aria as a whole, and in speaking quite openly about endings and the value of memories that are created over time with those around one, this finale suggests that the Avvenire OVAs might be the last animated incarnation of the Aria manga for the foreseeable future. With the OVAs now over, I’m presently looking to begin the series proper now such that I may explore the world of Aqua in greater detail: the only question that remains is when I will actually do so.

That Warm Goodbye: Aria the Avvenire OVA Episode Two Review and Reflection

“Miracles happen everyday, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.” —Jon Bon Jovi

After Ai recounts a story to Akari, where she had experienced a miracle of sorts while practising her craft as an undine: she catches a glimpse of the elusive Cait Sith, Aqua’s spiritual guardian who takes the form of a large cat. While trying to follow Cait Sith, she runs into Azusa B. McLaren and Anya Dostoyevskaya, two Single undine working for Himeya company and Orange Planet, respectively. These turns of events bring everyone together, and although they are unsuccessful in finding Cait Sith, they do become friends with one another. This reminds Akari of her own story, where she’d become disheartened to learn that after reaching a certain age, she’d no longer be able to see Cait Sith. While walking with Aika S. Granzchesta and Alice Carroll, they’d come across the Unfortunate Stone. Not convinced about its implications, Akari steps on it and is propelled into the skies above Neo-Venezia, where she shares a conversation with Cait Sith and learns that even if she never sees him, he’ll endure in her heart. Aria The Avvenire thus continues in the pattern of its predecessor, presenting a very straightforward but moving story about life in Neo-Venezia and bringing to bear the notion that miracles can take both small and large forms, whether its as familiar as making new friends or exciting as meeting Neo-Venezia’s guardian spirit one final time.

Consequently, it would appear that the general theme surrounding Aria the Avvenire is that miracles are not always exceptional events that follow the power law; instead, miracles are a matter of perspective and appreciation. This is seen in Ai’s story: pursuit of a mysterious shadow she believed to be the Cait Sith led her to make new friends and contributes to her development as an undine. Aria the Avvenire had previously brought Akira, Alicia and Athena together because Akari had decided to give Akria a ride around the canals, and this episode continues conveying that message, showing that some things can only be attributable to fate itself, happening for a reason. These events are meant to show that Aqua is a marvellous and mysterious place, and that the laid-back atmosphere in and around Neo-Venezia offer individuals a respite to appreciate the things in life that are often overlooked. Conversely, the episode’s second half, is not subtle about the notion of miracles: while contemplating their continued advancement as undines, Akari, Akia and Alice realise that they’ll have to become adults, which entails losing their children’s innocence (and correspondingly, their ability to see the Cait Sith). However, Akari’s not quite ready to move on yet, and later, while stepping on the Unfortunate Stone, through something that truly can be considered a miracle, her wish is granted. She’s left with a momento: a glittering necklace that Akari believes is a tangible representation of miracles: they’re fleeting, beautiful but also common if one takes the time to appreciate them.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been a little more than a month and a half since I last did an Aria post, and last time, I noted that I would make an effort to try and actually get started, but shortly after I wrote that post, I switched gears and began working on my term project, an agent-based model of filament dynamics in the cell. This project is intended to require at least two months, but because the end of March would see me attend a conference, I resolved to finish everything I had outlined in my proposal before leaving.

  • So, all of my anime-watching went out the door, and when I got back, it was the cusp of the spring season; several shows have caught my interest, and on top of that, I’ve gotten requests to watch Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, as well. Between this and the third conference paper (which was submitted a few days ago), plus participation in multiple presentations of our lab’s research to important people, it’s actually a small miracle that I watched anime at all. Back in Aria, Ai rushes to tell Akari about a miracle she’d experienced earlier that day.

  • While practising her technique on the Neo-Venezian canals, Ai encounters other townsmen and bids them good morning. Here, the water effects can be discerned and as with the first OVA, are of a high quality: there’s world reflections and surface reflections. However, what’s more impressive is that these effects are present (albeit at a lower setting) in the older episodes: while it’s the difference between medium and ultra, that the older episodes show an effort to bring Neo-Venezia to life is a solid indicator that Aria was carefully made.

  • After noticing a shadow in an alley, Ai goes off-mission to chase it, acting as a segue into the opening song. Seamlessly weaved into the narrative, I immediately look a liking to the opening song, and curiously enough, because the ending song, “Piacere”, was performed by Shiena Nishizawa, it was bundled in with the Gakusen Toshi Asterisk opening song album. I’ve not seen any other intel on the other pieces of music in the OVA.

  • Ai’s pursuit leads her into the quieter corners of Neo-Venezia: as of late, I’ve been watching my way through Sora no Woto again, and this courtyard reminds me of the general atmosphere around Seize outside of the water-splashing festival. I watched Sora no Woto during the summer of 2011, and in the five years that have passed, have watched numerous anime. That Sora no Woto still stands out attests to the strength of its world-building.

  • Eventually, Ai reaches a small garden of sorts, where she encounters Azusa (red hair) and Anya (white hair); the pair are looking for a cat to make president of their company, and when Ai remarks that she’s searching for Cait Sith here, the two decide to join her. Azusa’s quite enthusiastic and remarks that they had previously checked out Ai’s background; Anya decides that if Ai is unusual, she should be exiled to Siberia. Armed with my incredibly vast knowledge of the Soviet Union, the gulag in the Kolyma and Magadan region come to mind, an environment that is the polar opposite of that seen in Aria.

  • Thus begins the girls’ search for Cait Sith here, allowing for some of the beautiful cityscapes around Neo-Venezia to be showcased in all of their glory. Neo-Venezia is said to be a complete transplant, brick-by-brick, of Italy’s Venice. According to NASA, it costs an average of 25000 USD to move one kilogram of stuff into Geostationary Transfer Orbit, and pushing anything into Geostationary Orbit is roughly double that. Numbers aren’t my strong suit, but using a Fermi approximation, it should become clear that at present, transporting that much stuff to Mars would be prohibitively expensive given contemporary technologies.

  • However, Aria is fiction; since they’ve already succeeded in terraforming Mars and maintaining a stable biosphere, it’s easy to say that engineering and technology has progressed to accommodate economic space travel. After an exhaustive search, Ai, Azusa and Anya find themselves spent, wondering what their next move will be.

  • A break is on order, and the girls sip drinks in St. Mark’s square near St. Mark’s Campanile, a 98.6-meter (323 feet) tall bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica: the original tower was built in the twelfth century  but suffered several lightning strikes and fires between the 1300s and 1600s. The tower presently seen was fully restored in 1912, nearly a millennium after the original foundations were laid.

  • My oral exam yesterday marks the end of all my exams: because of the number of students in my class, exams were made to be twenty minutes long, and I was tested on cellular automata, Wolfram’s rules for CA, evolutionary strategies (such as the difference between (μ + λ)-ES and (μ, λ)-ES) and particle swarm optimisations. I had been so focused on my conference publication that studying became somewhat deprioritised, forgetting during the exam about how the rule numbers are derived off the sum of final states in a 1D Ca (and so, can be used to predict how a system might behave) and that a PSO would also use the position of the current global optima (i.e. the particle with the best fitness at the current time step) in computing the velocity vectors for other particles.

  • Fortunately, the other concepts were still fresh in my mind and so, I was able to adequately discuss them: the exam ended much more quickly than I thought. Today, I was in a meeting dealing with future directions and, after adding documentation for my term project, spent most of the day trying to figure out why my simulation won’t package into a standalone executable. It turns out some dependencies are missing, but upgrading all of my work from Unreal 4.8 to 4.11 should do the trick, as the latest versions of the dependencies have been improved. The food trucks were also on campus today, and so, I had the opportunity to get Wilk’s Booth’s pulled-pork poutine for lunch.

  • With no Makerspace supervision, I was able to enjoy this poutine at a much slower pace than I had when I watched YuruYuri Nachuyachumi! last term: the flavours are quite distinct, whether it’s the smokiness in the large chunks of pulled pork or the rich flavours imparted by the cheese curds and gravy, and it was a thrill to eat my way through a poutine that has quality and quantity. In fact, this poutine was large enough so that I had not finished more than a third of said poutine by the episode’s halfway mark, where Akari recalls her memories of Cat Sith during a particularly quiet afternoon. The episode’s second half deals with miracles of a much greater scale than the first half.

  • With Aika (left) and Alice (center), Akari decide to hunt for the Cait Sith themselves after learning that Akari wishes to see the spirit once more before she is unable to do so. They come across the Unfortunate Stone, an unusually large stone making up the sidewalk and observe a couple walking around it: when Aika mentions that it was real, I decided to look around, and her story checks out; on the street leading from Campo San Canzian to Campo Santa Maria Nova in Venice, there is indeed a stone inconspicuously blending in with the others. Venetians tend to walk around it, as well, although I haven’t dug deeply enough to learn what the origins of this superstition are.

  • Alice jumps onto the stone to show that nothing bad will happen, and I’m left to wonder what the remaining six wonders of Neo-Venezia are. I’ve never really been of the superstitious sort, since its basis for causality cannot be easily shown as having a positive correlation (i.e. for probabilities A and B, where 0 ≤ A ≤1 and 0 ≤ B ≤ 1, if B is positively correlated to A, then as A increases, so will B, and this is symmetric, so if B increases, so will A), or any sort of correlation to speak of, for that matter.

  • I’ll take a moment to include a cityscape shot of Neo-Venezia in absentia of people, showcasing the architecture near the city’s center. A lighter-than-air vessel is also seen: because Mars has a gravity 38 percent that of Earth’s, it would be much more economical to use lighter-than-air travel, as opposed to creating all of the infrastructure needed to accommodate heavier-than-air flight. Back in Hai-Furi, it’s explicitly mentioned that heavier-than-air travel doesn’t exist, which completely blows away their need for aircraft carriers.

  • I’ll talk about Hai-Furi next when the third episode comes out and return my attention to Aria, where Akari decides to step on the unfortunate stone for herself just to see what would happen. Shortly after stepping on it, the stone is activated and appears to be a portal through space and time itself: it sends her several klicks into the air, where she meets Cait Sith.

  • The Cait Sith (Cat Sith in Scottish Gaelic, translating to “Cat spirit”) is a faerie from Celic mythology, as large as a dog and characterised by a jet of white fur on its chest. While mythology paints it as a malevolent spirit who would steal the souls of deceased individuals, but in Aria, the Cait Sith is a well-dressed, friendly being who acts as a benevolent guardian of Neo-Venezia. In Scottish Gaelic, sith is a spirit or faerie, but thanks to Star Wars, most people are quicker to recognise “Sith” as a practitioner of the Dark Side of the Force.

  • As they fall through the skies, the Cait Sith reassures Akari that, while it’s inevitable that she’ll likely not see him again, what matters most is that he’ll continue to exist in her heart, and that’s what really counts. He gives her a physical token, a necklace with a dazzling blue stone, to remind her that he exists.  All of this is done without any dialogue from Cait Sith, showing how some symbols and ideas transcend spoken language.

  • Back in the present, Akari and Ai share a sunset together. With this episode over, there’s only one more OVA, and it’s set for release somewhere in June, so the next OVA I turn my eye to will be on the last of the Tamayura ~Sotsugyou Shashi~ OVAs: it’s been out since April 2, and I’ll probably get around to watching that once I finish helping grade iOS assignments.

  • While things have been incredibly busy for the past while, semester’s finally winding down. A majority of May will be focused on working on my thesis paper, and for this blog, it means that I should be able to occasionally drop by: up next will be posts on Hai-Furi and Flying Witch after three episodes. Both anime have excelled at capturing my attention in their own way, and it seems that I’m in agreement with a large number of viewers in finding enjoyment in these shows.

Having taken a look at the release schedules, it appears that Aria the Avvenire OVAs are being released with the Blu-Ray releases of Aria that commemorate the anime’s ten year anniversary. This means that there is an opportunity to go through one of the most widely acclaimed slice-of-life anime in high resolution and fully enjoy the atmosphere that Aria is meant to convey. With that being said, my situation has somewhat shifted since I posted the review to the first OVA, and I do not imagine it will be feasible for me to finish all of the Aria episodes before June. With that being said, I will nonetheless complete Aria; I’ve seen a great many slice-of-life anime, and in general, this is a genre that I’ve got no problems with. Slice-of-life anime with relaxing or comedic elements help me unwind, offsetting my usually busy days. This is why every season, I’ve always got at least one slice-of-life anime in my line-up. As far as Aria the Avvenire goes, I definitely enjoyed this episode, and will swing by to write about the third and final OVA once the opportunity presents itself.

To You, Who I Wanted to Meet…: Aria the Avvenire OVA Episode One Review and Reflection

“Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. The real miracle is the love that inspires them. In this sense everything that comes from love is a miracle.” —Marianne Williamson

While contemplating a promotion to be more helpful towards Alicia, Akari runs into Akira, who’s looking to deliver a mirror-birthday gift to Alicia (owing to Mars’ orbit, one Mars year is roughly 1.88 Earth years, so Birthdays are celebrated twice a year). However, because Alicia’s busy, Akira decides to take up Akari’s offer on taking a gondola ride around Neo-Venezia. As the day comes to an end, Akari and Akira run into Alicia and Athena. Seizing the moment, Akira delivers the gift to Alicia, and Akari remarks that it must’ve been a miracle that they would run into one another. While speaking with Akari later, Ai wishes that some day, she’ll likewise have friends with such a connection; Akari reassures her that it will be likely, since Mars (known as Aqua now) is a planet of miracles. This is my first exposure with the Aria franchise, which has long been held to be the single most remarkable anime that falls under the slice-of-life category, for being able to craft a fantastical, detailed world that permits the series’ protagonist, Akari, to explore their world in a laid-back manner. Paired with that’s said to be some of the best artwork around, Neo-Venezia feels like a living, breathing entity that forms the perfect backdrop for Akari’s everyday adventures as she strives to become undine, a gondolier who acts as a tour guide, with the Aria company. Aria the Avvenire is the fourth instalment in Aria (there are three seasons and one OVA prior to its release), which means that I will need to go back and watch everything before I can begin considering any sort of discussion on what Aria the Avvenire‘s overall contribution to Aria are.

At present, I cannot fairly offer insights into Aria the Avvenire‘s place in the sun: having not seen the three seasons in full, I cannot even guess where the OVAs fit in with the other instalments. With that being said, I can comment on various aspects of the OVA itself. This first episode follows a seemingly-unremarkable story: because Alice is so busy with her duties as a full-fledged undine of the Aria company, Akira is unable to deliver her birthday gift in person and initially asks Akari to do so. However, while the base narrative seems quite ordinary, the execution is outstanding: subtle details in Neo-Venezia are presented lovingly, and aural elements are utilised to bring this fictional world to life. Masterful use of lighting and angles contribute substantially towards conveying a particular scene’s atmosphere to the viewers, and coupled with the character’s dialogue, it is quite plain that Neo-Venezia is a peaceful world whose inhabitants go about their lives at a much calmer pace than seen in reality. When Akira and Akari encounter Alicia and Athena later, the combination of lighting and sound means it truly does feel like fate has crafted this one moment for three friends. I imagine that this is the magic of Aria, to meticulously create moments that inspire audiences to be more appreciative of the smaller, subtle things in their own lives.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This is my first-ever Aria review of all time, which means that with so much to explore, it was quite the feat to pick the twenty best screenshots and moments to discuss. From the looks of things, Neo-Venezia is a carbon copy of modern-day Venice, and is so well-replicated that it feels as though events from Strike Witches The Movie could happen here.

  • Unlike James Bond’s gondola of Moonraker, which was touted as one of the most nonsensical vehicles of all time after Bond converts it from a water-borne vessel into a parade float, the gondolas of Neo-Venezia are just gondolas, and the Aria Company is one of the most well-renowned organisations on Mars that offers tours.

  • Ever the stickler for detail, the English translation of this OVA’s title is grammatically incorrect: it should read as “To you, whom I wanted to meet”. “Who” is a subjective pronoun, meaning that it refers to the subject of a sentence and performs the action of a verb (e.g. he, she, you, we), whereas “whom” is an objective pronoun and refers to an object that something is being done to (e.g. him, her, you, us).

  • While regarded as a difficult point in English even for accomplished writers, there is a simple test for deciding when to pick “whom” or “who”. If the pronoun can be replaced by “he”, “she” or a subjective pronoun, then “who” is appropriate. If the pronoun can be replaced by “him”, “her” or other objective pronouns, then “whom” is correct. In this case, we can ask: “who is [Akira] wanting to meet?”. The answer is “her [Alice]”, so “whom” is the appropriate title.

  • However, for the purpose of this review, to make it easier to find, I’ll leave the grammatical mistake in place. Returning to Aria, I introduce Akari Mizunashi, an optimistic and cheerful girl who is Earth-born. Though she’s not quite as skillful as a gondola operator or knowledgeable about Neo-Venezia’s history, her strongest point is her friendliness and from an external point of view (i.e. mine), she’s the face of Aria.

  • I’m guessing that chibi-like deformations are also a feature in Aria, seen here after Akari notices Akira outside. One of the best undines in the business, bearing much semblence to Sora no Woto‘s Rio Kazumiya in manner and physical appearance: both are characterised by a strong sense of discipline and a forward personality.

  • It’s been two weeks since I actually watched this OVA for myself: it was a sunny day, and I had gone in to the lab to resuscitate my desktop, which had suffered a catastrophic failure the day before when the registry became corrupted. The failure was so severe that the OS would not recognise the display or wireless drivers, and further to this, all my restore points were lost. I decided to go in and repair Windows on the weekend, and by the time noon hour came, the machine was largely back on its feet.

  • So, I watched the Aria OVA on my laptop while sitting down to a Korean-BBQ lunch: the day had been quite stressful, and watching Aria did seem to help. Once I had finished, I put all of the necessary software back on the machine, and began working on a BOIDs implementation in Unity. Met with failure after failure at the lab and quite jittery from the cappuccino I had downed earlier, I decided to call it quits and went home. Curiously enough, I was able to solve the implementation once I actually arrived back home and decided to give it one more shot.

  • Thus, when evening came, I was able to put a few hours into playing through the Tom Clancy’s The Division beta. This moment exemplifies the sort of lighting effects that make Aria the Avvenire a joy to watch: the water effects are among the best I’ve seen in an anime, rivaling the water seen in some of P.A. Works’ titles (such as Tari Tari and Nagi no Asukara) and Makoto Shinkai’s films.

  • Akira, Alice and Athena are known as the “Three Water Fairies”, the greatest of the Undine and share a particularly strong friendship with one another. Hence, when Akira realises that Alice is busy, she’s somewhat disheartened that she was unable to give her the birthday gift in person.

  • I am fully aware that the older seasons date back to 2005-2006 and as such, the artistic quality in these early episodes might not be comparable to those seen in Aria the Avvenire. However, as important as graphics are in creating a credible environment, the absence of top-tier graphics may not be detrimental provided that other elements are at their best (especially with respect to sound and music).

  • The OVA’s first episode reaches its climax as the three friends encounter one another at an intersection in the canals. From the looks of things, miracles are a central theme throughout all of Aria: objectively defined as events whose occurrence cannot be readily accounted for by scientific means, anime tend to view miracle as statistically-improbable events that are wondrous in nature.

  • One would never do so on Earth on account of the gravity: Akria decides to throw the gift to Alice, and because the acceleration due to gravity on Mars is roughly thirty eight percent of Earth’s (3.711 m/s² compared to Earth’s 9.807 m/s²) , objects would correspondingly stay in the air for around 2.64 times longer.

  • Alice looks at the gift in amazement as the gondolas begin to separate. In-universe, Mars has been fully terraformed and has been christened “Aqua” for its surface water: Mars once possessed liquid water at its surface, although its small size meant it became tectonically inactive much sooner: a cooling interior resulted in a weakening magnetic field, and in time, Mars lost much of its atmosphere.

  • While daunting, experts suggest that technology available in the future may allow for Mars to be terraformed without an unacceptable economic or resource cost. However, even if an atmosphere can be created in a relatively short time, Mars’ weak gravity and lack of a magnetic field will make it difficult to retain said atmosphere.

  • The surface of the water shimmers with golds, oranges and reds under an evening sun as Akari and Akira share a moment together. A vast majority of the characters in Aria have names whose first character is “A”, the planet itself named Aqua, an there’s a company called Aria. This was probably a deliberate choice on the author’s part, to emphasise that miracles bringing people together do exist.

  • Unlike other reviewers out there, who enter the OVA armed with their incredibly vast knowledge of the series’ earlier incarnations, I have no prior experience with those. I will be making my way through those in the near future so that I can return to make a superior post that covers the OVAs in better detail than is possible at present.

  • This lack of experience is partially why the figure captions detail everything from grammar to remarks on terraforming. I go off-mission one final time to explain what Avvenire is, given that no other discussion has done so yet: it is Italian for “to occur”, which fits in so far with what was seen in the first OVA.

  • Ai befriends Akari early on in the anime and becomes her pen-pal, later taking on a position at Aria. A relative newcomer, she envies Akari for having people precious to her, to which Akari responds that because Aqua is a planet of miracles, Ai is sure to befriend more people later on.

  • Readers are probably wondering whiskey tango foxtrot I’m doing, reviewing an OVA for an anime that I’ve no background in. Perhaps they’d like to tell me, “get good scrub, you have no idea what you’re talking about”. To that, I reply that this OVA is something I enjoyed enough to serve as the motivation I need to watch Aria for real, and that I will be doing talks for each of the OVAs in due course.

Given that the second Aria the Avvenire OVA is set for release later this month, and the final of the OVAs will be releasing in June, I project that there should be sufficient time for me to catch up on all three seasons, just in time to write a proper discussion on the OVAs’ contributions to Aria as a whole: I’ve been meaning to watch Aria for quite some time to see whether or not it lives up to the praise that even the toughest critics are willing to offer (these are the folks who argue that anime like K-On! are intrinsically without value and will dismiss anime on the sole virtue that they are considered slice-of-life). This is a pretty high bar, and I am quite familiar with the slice-of-life genre. From what I’ve seen thus far, Aria appears to be designed to evoke a similar feeling as Tamayura rather than something like Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?; rather than setting up ridiculous situations to drive humour, emphasis is placed in presenting even the most mundane occurrences as being worthy of treasuring as a memory. So, there is no doubt that I will enjoy Aria; the first OVA might be a rather curious point of entry into this slice-of-life anime, but now that I’ve entered, I’ve got an iron-clad reason to actually go back and watch the entirety of this anime.