Review: Aria The Natural

[Synopsis]:  In the city of Neo-Venezia on the planet Aqua, once known as Mars before being terraformed, Mizunashi Akari (Hazuki, Erino) works as an Undine under the Aria Company – a professional gondolier who ferries the citizens of Neo-Venezia as well as tourists through the city’s many waterways. Though only a fledgling Undine, Akari and her friends Aika (Saito, Chiwa) and Alice (Hirohashi, Ryou) have high aspirations of one day becoming as accomplished as their respective teachers, known as the Three Water Fairies of Neo-Venezia. Aria The Natural takes off right where Aria The Animation left off and in much the same way it explores the city of Neo-Venezia through the interactions of Akari and her friends.

[Characters]:

Something that I felt was lacking in the previous season of the show in respect to the main trio of girls was character depth – nothing so grand as intricate character development but rather I felt the characters needed a greater number of traits in order to better individualize each character and more importantly make them more compelling and enjoyable. In this, I am happy to report that Aria The Natural does a great job in fleshing out the characters we initially grew to know in the first season and while hardly any of them go through true long-standing character development, the additional attention to some characters and insight into their personalities was a major strength of the show brought on by this season.

Our protagonist Akari is definitely the least changed of the three girls however she also had the most going for her to begin with and so the show does not suffer in this way. Her cheery attitude and constant wonderment are kept consistent throughout the season and her characterization still works wonderfully alongside the tone of the show. While there is still plenty of Akari to go around and plenty of Akari-centric episodes I feel that the show’s occasional departure from her being the absolute center of events was a pleasurable change of pace and perspective as this approach allowed for other characters to take center stage and become more elaborate.

Aika undeniably benefited the most from this season’s branching out. While she closely emulated Akira’s prohibitive tendencies and felt unique within the three apprentice Undines she was a bit hard to pin down as she lacked a sufficient number of character traits with which to identify or empathize with. Aria The Natural does a great job exploring more of Aika and rectifies one of her problems from the first season which was lack of screen time; by the end of the season I felt far more familiar with her personality and the small handful of episodes dedicated to her did wonders for her characterization. After the events of this season Aika will certainty be one of the more enjoyable characters going forward.

Alice also was granted more screen time and episodic attention this season though I would say that she ultimately benefited less than Aika from this season and could stand to be elaborated upon just a bit more. Despite this I think she still walks away a much better character from this season and continues to be one of the highlights of the show for me personally. What appeared as an initially dismissed character trait within the first season is returned to at greater length this time around – to the point that the episode that expounds upon this is one of the best in the entire season.

Shoring up the characters with a few added traits and developments helped keep things more interesting this time around and while they didn’t develop immensely, they did change in subtle ways as they came into new ideas and realizations and this felt like enough for both them and the show.

[Art/Animation]:

The art remains unchanged from the first season and so viewers will love or hate each aesthetic element for much the same reason. The scenery and setting are once again beautiful in their art and execution and support the show alongside the soundtrack fantastically. The opening sequences of each episode do a good job of introducing the show each time and their dynamic appearance helps keep them interesting.

[Story]:

Aria The Natural goes about its business in a familiar way to that of the first season however had a slew of improvements over the previous formula while maintaining what made the original show enjoyable. The length of the season helped the show in that it allowed it to uphold its previously established slow and relaxing pace while more frequently featuring episodes of some ‘consequence’ where the tone shifted slightly or where the focus of the episode was on someone other than Akari and her encounters.

One of the major strengths of this season was how a handful of episodes shifted to more of a melancholy tone which gave the show some much needed diversity beyond its raw, over-the-top optimism. There is certainly a place for this within the show and it is very much Aria’s primary goal to support this theme however the added range of emotion was a significant improvement and something that this season features over the prior. These kinds of episodes offered the most in the way of character insight and world exploration and were generally the highlights of the show with a few exceptions.

While i wouldn’t say that the show was more ‘comical’ this time around, I felt that the exchanges and comedic remarks were more on point in Aria The Natural – they were generally funnier and more enjoyable perhaps having already established many of the catchphrases and typical reactions during the first season. Though I was not a huge fan of the more supernatural elements of the show furthered by this season I will concede that they were well incorporated into both the pacing and the tone of the show.

[Music]:

Much like the art and animation of the show the music remains pretty much unchanged from the first season and is a strong element of the show for the same reasons. Again the music blended well with the atmosphere and attitude of the show to present a soothing setting in which the events of the show transpired.

[Final Thoughts and Rating]: 

Aria The Natural was, in my opinion, a step up from the first season in how it further explained and defined its main characters and because it introduced more interesting themes intermittently while upholding what the show did well in in the first place. While I didn’t feel enthralled by each and every episode, the show had strong high points which kept me watching above all else – the show’s ability to deliver the occasional highly emotional or compelling episode was far better this season and the first reason I would cite as to this season’s improvements and superiority over the prior.

Rating: 7

I gave Aria The Natural a 7 because the show took what was done in Aria The Animation and expanded upon it successfully, adding things such as characterization and additional themes which I had previously felt the show was wanting. Given the show’s 26 episodes I occasionally felt a little bored by the proceedings however the show seemed to know just when to throw in an especially good episode to pick me back up and so while the season dragged occasionally it was never for long and the high points of the show were chiefly responsible for the show achieving the rating it did.

[Recommendations]:

In my previous review I cautioned those interesting in the slice of life nature of the show that it was somewhat demanding in that very little takes place and there wasn’t a great deal of appeal beyond the typical slice of life dynamic and though those reading this review have likely seen the first season I will at least say that the same caution is not necessarily this time around as this season offers much more in the areas of characters and story than its predecessor. Additionally, though I think Aria still falls short of belonging to the genre of ‘comedy’ I do think that this season was funnier and so those who may have found this quality lacking in the first season should be pleased with how the gag remarks and reactions have improved. Due to the length of the season Aria The Natural was able to postulate a good many more things than the first season and though the show hardly approaches the territory of the psychological it does present some food for thought in the way of its episodic themes and may be enjoyable to prospective viewers for this reason.

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