Please note that this review contains some spoilers for ARIA the Origination!
ARIA The Origination is a 13-episode 2008 anime series based on the manga series of the same name from mangaka Kozue Amano. It is a continuation from the second series Aria The Natural, and tells the story of Akari Mizunashi, a young woman who is training as an apprentice gondolier (referred to as Undines) in the city of Neo-Venezia, which is covered in vast oceans.
Neo-Venezia is a city on the Planet Aqua, formerly known as Mars. Though the story takes place in the 24th Century, the city is based on Venice, taking key inspiration from the architectural stylings and being a harbour city with narrow canals aplenty and a reliance on gondolas for travel.
ARIA The Origination continues to build upon the atmospheric charm of its predecessors, capturing the aesthetic appeal of Neo-Venezia, whilst building upon the wonderful cast of characters, with some especially poignant episodes that build towards an emotional finale.
The season features more episodes that see characters looking back at their past, whether that be their struggles to succeed and/or those that helped to push them in the right direction. In one episode focusing on Akira, she reflects on how out of The Three Water Fairies (titles given to the best Undines) that she was the last to become fully-fledged, and felt inferior compared to Alicia and Athena, and expected to be left behind.
This drove Akira to search for a four-leaf clover, only to encounter a young girl who encourages her to find her own path and gives her a red rose petal shaped like a heart instead, which she cherishes to this day in the form of a bookmark. Back in the present, Akira returns the petal to Aika – revealing that she was the young girl that inspired her that day, and whose gift lent itself to Akira’s nickname of “The Crimson Rose”. It’s a nice episode which reinforces the bond between Akira and Aika, and encourages the latter when she herself is perturbed by the prospect of birth-given natural talents that she feels she doesn’t have.
Though this is the final season we still get new characters, including Akari’s fellow peers who work on Traghetto’s (a form of transport where passengers stand, rather than sit, and requiring two to row). Akari volunteers to help and becomes friends with Atora and Anzu from Orange Planet, and Ayumu from Himeya Company.
She learns that they’re facing strict mentoring and tough exams, 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 after some self-reflection, as Akari, having gotten stuck in with the new role, works with Anzu to convince a resigned Atora not to give up her dreams and to retake the exam. She muses that there’s no such thing as “too late” – it’s a touching episode where Akari once again provides a positive influence for others as she learns more each day about life on Neo-Venezia.
Other side characters like Al also get some time here, with a particular scenario seeing Al and Aika becoming trapped in a well during a moon-gazing event, and growing closer in the process.
Alice gets some character growth this season too, as she graduates from middle school and even becomes the first ever person to be promoted straight from a Pair to Prima, giving her a lot of responsibility but also opportunities for her friends to guide her in the right direction, owing to her often-stiff nature.
Alicia gets perhaps the most significant role to play in this season, whether it be an episode providing insight into Alicia’s calm demeanour as Akari and company wonder why she never raises her voice or gets angry, or her choosing to push Akira towards taking her Prima exam after Aika’s and Alice’s promotions leave her feeling left behind (perhaps in parallel to Akira’s own situation in the past).
This plot forms the focal point of the final two episodes, as Akira takes everything she’s learnt and overcomes a challenging route, with an outcome that is emotionally satisfying, but also leads into a more poignant finale, as Alicia reveals that she’s retiring to get married and work for the Gondola Association.
This reveal casts doubt for Akari as to her abilities but when Alicia reveals that she knew Akari was skilled but purposely held back the exam to get more time as her mentor, it’s quite a powerful, yet restrained moment for the story. The finale ends on a positive and celebratory note though, as Alicia’s retirement ceremony gets a big turnout, and we’re afforded a glimpse into the future for these characters and the paths they’ve chosen.
The animation and direction from Junichi Satō continue to impress here, giving the world and stories of Neo-Venezia and its inhabitants to life in splendid fashion. The score by acoustic group Choro Club and Takeshi Senoo also continues to please, providing a perfect accompaniment to the proceedings. For this season the OP “Spirale” is delivered by Yui Makino whilst the ED “Kin no Nami Sen no Nami” is provided by Akino Arai.
ARIA The Origination is presented in its original 16:9 presentation and includes both the original Japanese language and English dub as options with both 5.1 and 2.0 available for English. I once again stuck with the original Japanese audio as my preferred listening choice and the disc offers both yellow and white subtitles as options.
This season, like the preceding ones, provides an assortment of on-disc extras including more cast and director discussion, commentaries from the English VAs, Picture Dramas, clean ED and a trailer for the US release.
Looking at the picture quality, the series maintains its hazy and overall soft appearance, set amidst the beautiful Venetian-inspired backdrop, which makes for one of anime’s most gorgeous settings. A technical note for the release is that the episodes are spread across three discs. It is worth noting also that the three-episode ARIA the AVVENIRE OVA that made produced to commemorate the 10th anniversary for ARIA’s broadcast isn’t included with this MVM release, though we do get ARIA the OVA: Arietta included on its own disc.
To conclude: Aria The Origination provides a great finale for this unique, relaxing and heart-warming series that I didn’t want to see finish – Aria is a one-of-a-kind series that I can’t recommend highly enough.