The Infinite Zenith

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Tag Archives: Aria the Benedizione

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.