Please note that this review contains spoilers for ARIA The Masterpiece Volume 6!
ARIA The Masterpiece is a manga series by Kozue Amano which tells the story of Akari Mizunashi, a young woman who is training as one of the apprentice gondoliers (referred to as Undines) in the city of Neo-Venezia, which is covered in vast oceans.
The narrative itself takes place in the 24th century with Neo-Venezia being a city on the Planet Aqua, formerly known as Mars. Neo-Venezia is also based on Venice, as seen through the architectural style, being a harbour city with narrow canals aplenty and a reliance on gondolas for travel.
Volume 6 continues the story of main protagonist Akari, an apprentice gondolier who is working her way towards becoming a full-fledged Prima. Last volume, we saw Akari’s close friend, Aika, change her approach (and her hairstyle) and grow as a person, whilst Alice tries to find her place with her peers and Akari continues to make friends and acquaintances with the citizens of Neo-Venezia, with some fantastical happenings occurring in the process.
The volume opens with Akari and President Aria taking a morning ride, getting all of Neo-Venezia to themselves, before encountering Alicia, who proposes they redesign a decaying Palina (numerous wooden posts that dot the surface of Neo-Venezia’s water, which are used to tie gondolas to), whilst also musing that she will eventually retire and Akari will take her place as a mentor. It’s a reflection on how times are changing, though the Palina will remain with the new design Akari gives it, holding the memories of their time spent together.
A lengthy chapter in this volume also provides some nice backstory for many of the supporting players who grew up on Neo-Venezia, as we see a young Akatsuki, Al and Woody playing on a large slide formation, whilst encountering a tomboyish Akira and Alicia and forming a rivalry. This comes as the group end up meeting during a lunch outing, and sheds some nostalgic light onto what drove these characters into their eventual career paths, but also how they interact in the present.
Akari feels left out from the nostalgic reminiscing, musing that on Neo-Venezia things go “round and round”, going around in Aqua before meeting again – but that she doesn’t fit into this circle. Akira, however, reassures her that she is indeed now part of the circle, perhaps more significantly than she realises.
Another rather poignant chapter comes from a study session wherein Akari visits Aika’s dorm, and the duo start discussing potential nicknames if they were to become two of the new Water Fairies (a title given to the most accomplished Undines), though Aika realises that the attention that she thought she was receiving from other students earlier was actually bitterness directed at her mentor Akira, due to her outward-going nature.
Akira takes the opportunity to reinforce to the two that the world of becoming an Undine isn’t all smiles, and is built on a backbone of fierce competition, with those at the very top often facing ire from those who will never reach their level. She provides an analogy of a wedding gone wrong wherein the bride faceplanted into her own cake, with everyone, herself included, subsequently focusing on this one moment, as opposed to the 99% of the wedding that went perfectly.
The theme of times being good and getting used to it as a new normal tie into the earlier chapter as Akari becomes saddened at the prospect of change and losing her mentor, but also learns here to accept the good and bad, without letting either become the new normal.
Another Akari-focused chapter sees her and Athena trying to gift Alicia with a present for her second birthday (the in-world calendar spans 24 months instead of 12, leading to people giving each other an additional birthday for fun), but failing to do so, due to her busy schedule.
It puts focus on how being the Three Water Fairies seems like a unified effort, but in actuality the three barely spend time together, which saddens Akari and showcases how she hearkens back to simpler times. Akari, being who she is, pushes for the three to meet by any means necessary and they set off, only to eventually encounter Alicia taking some very important clients across the channels and, though brief, The Three Water Fairies do reunite and it’s very touching to see.
Akari gets the opportunity to do something different as she volunteers to row on a Traghetto, a form of transport that passengers stand on rather than sit, and which requires two to manoeuvre. Here, she meets several new characters, including Atora and Anzu from Orange Planet, and Ayumu from Himeya Company.
Akari learns of the strict mentoring that they face, with Anzu being in a gloomy mood having recently failed her Prima exam, though she soon perks up and is determined to succeed the next time. Akari gets the hang of things quickly and assists Anzu in convincing Atora not to give up her dreams and to retake the exam, despite the toughness of the examiners, musing that there’s no such thing as “too late” – it’s touching and again showcases how Akari can positively influence those around her, though it never feels forced, nor does Akari feel like a protagonist who can do no wrong or is spotless.
A festive-themed chapter explores the Christmas period, which leads up to the 6th January known as Epiphany, but casts a greater focus on the legend of La Befana, an old woman who gives treats and toys to good children, and coal to the bad ones. Alice becomes torn as she stops believing in the legend, so Athena dresses up as La Befana and leads Alice on a journey to the land of Bubbles, where just for a night, she is treated like a princess – I won’t spoil the outcome here but it was quite self-aware.
The volume concludes with an insight into Alicia’s calm demeanour as Akari and company wonder why she never raises her voice or gets angry. Alice ends up getting some alone time with her and learns her reasonings – that President Aria and others learn better from being guided from their wrongs to the right way, versus being scolded for their mistakes. As Alicia puts it, “All I can do is become as close to Akari as possible. To experience her challenges and failures alongside her.” It’s a lovely way to close this volume which has been focused on such themes throughout.
There are also two bonus chapters here, one dealing with horoscopes and the other detailing the early days of the Aria Company – they’re inclusions that provide some nice backstory and lighter moments.
Translation for Aria The Masterpiece was once again carried out by Katie Kimura, who worked on previous volumes and who does a solid job of preserving both the characters personalities and the various explanations of the story and its lore.
It is also again worth noting that Aria The Masterpiece was recently reprinted likely for the final time via a commission by Rightstuf based on demand by those who were either missing volumes or wanted to have the entire story in their library – this is how the volume was obtained for review.
Overall, Aria The Masterpiece Volume 6 is more low-key in its approach to storylines, leaning less into the more fantastical side of the world of Neo-Venezia, and focuses instead on the themes of change and self-improvement, with some hints of romance in the process, making for a more introspective read.