Please note that this review contains spoilers for Aria The Masterpiece Volume 7!
Aria The Masterpiece is a manga series by Kozue Amano which 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.
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 7 concludes the story of main protagonist Akari, an apprentice gondolier who is working her way towards becoming a fully-fledged Prima. In the last volume, we took a more introspective look at the characters and their developments, with highlights including Akari making new friends whilst volunteering to row a Traghetto for the day, some reminiscing on how certain characters first met, and a brief but touching reunion for The Three Water Fairies, as pushed on by Akari.
Retrospection also plays a large role in this volume, including the opening chapter, in which Akira, reflects on her youth, being the last one out of The Three Water Fairies (titles given to the best Undines) to become fully-fledged, leading to a feeling of inferiority towards her peers, and an expectancy to be left behind in the process. Akira’s fears drove her to seek out a four leaf clover for luck, only to happen instead upon a young girl, whose positive and innocent aura inspired her to find her own path, as opposed to needing to fit the same mould as her peers. The young girl gifts her a heart-shaped red rose petal, which Akira cherishes to this day as a bookmark memento. As Akira finishes reminiscing, she returns the petal to Aika – revealing the identity of the young girl that inspired her that day, and whose very gift lent itself to Akira’s nickname of “The Crimson Rose”. It’s a small but wonderful detail that’s key to the relationship between Akira and Aika, which has been explored so nicely throughout the story.
With the arrival of spring comes another Neo-Venezian tradition, this time the Marriage of the Sea, an event held once every four years that ties into the bond between the maritime nation and the sea. Part of this event also involves men giving an Undine a ring to use as part of the ceremony – this leads to some humorous moments as Akatsuki is lead along by Alicia to find a ring, complete with some misunderstanding on Akatsuki’s part, tying into his continued failures to woo Alicia.
It results in the poor fool getting a ring stuck on his finger and having to pay for it, eventually gifting it to Akari, in a touching moment, which is dashed when she too gets it stuck on her finger. Elsewhere, Aika gets one from Al, tying back into previous developments between the the two, and Alice even gets a ring of sorts from Woody, who gifts her with a screw that fits perfectly. The ceremony itself is a stunning array of panels, culminating in Akari’s delight at having become an Undine – it’s a very touching moment.
The main crux of this final volume comes when both Aika and Alice become Undines before Akari, having been tested by their respective mentors, and she briefly feels the same aches of being left behind that Akira went through in her past. There are also overall concerns that the trio will grow apart, not unlike the Three Water Fairies did as they committed to bigger responsibilities. Alicia also gets a lot of focus, fulfilling her mentor role in its finality as she puts her pupil up for the Undine exam. Akari, with all that’s she’s learned throughout the story, passes with flying colours but is met with the revelation that her mentor is retiring from Aria Company to get married and work for the Gondola Association. Whilst Akari has been doubting her own skills, owing to being the last to pass the Undine exam, it’s revealed that Alicia purposely held back the exam despite knowing her pupil’s skills – doing so to get more time as her mentor. It’s a subtle gut-punch of poignancy that encapsulates the strengths of this series and its quiet brilliance.
The manga concludes with a chapter proving a look into the future for these characters and the paths they’ve chosen, complete with Akari becoming a mentor herself to Ai, the young girl and email-pal to Akari, now training to become an Undine herself – symbolic of the cycle of mentor and pupil that’s run throughout the heart of the story – as it begins anew at Aria Company.
Translation for Aria The Masterpiece has once again been carried out by Katie Kimura, who worked on previous volumes and 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 7 delivers a wonderful conclusion to a superb manga series that brings the story full circle, whilst showcasing how the central trio have matured and found their way, with a glimpse into the future that provided a satisfying finale. A must read.