As I want to get all my points across, as well as bring this show the justice it deserves, the following review is a lengthily-detailed breakdown of every factor ranging from the story to the overall experience. You may look for other reviews to find a more concise criticism of the show.
When we usually talk about things we truly love, it becomes hard to explain why. Most people would not understand the appeal one would get from something—this is especially hard when trying to relay why your favorite book is your favorite book, or why your favorite film is your favorite film.
In cases, the often reasons for this are because one, we might sound too forceful and biased, and two, we feel that our recommendations are not doing our experiences with the said medium any justice. As such, it becomes difficult for a person to talk about his favorite without trying to sound illogical. This is hard for someone looking for a more grounded response.
This review may contain any form of bias, but I will try my best to address the criticisms one may find with this show, and offer my own insights with regards to it, and why it may be irrelevant to my own judgment. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you a heartfelt review of my favorite anime, Aria the Origination.
Whenever someone hears the name "Aria" thrown around in the anime community, it is often referred to by many as the "healing anime". Along with the likes of Mushi-shi and Kino's Journey, it is a type of show one would usually mention as an atmospheric series—to say, a show that relies on its execution of audiovisual stimulations to produce an effect of serenity and immersion into the world it's trying to present. It may rely more on enveloping the viewers with its artistic presentation rather than plot progression.
True enough to what people claim it is, Aria is a franchise that needs some patience getting into, which can lead to either one of two things: 1) You feel like you belong with the show, or you become attached to it, or 2) You get bored. Atmospheric anime, after all, take its 20-minute episode runtime to dive in with intentionally slow pacing, allowing the audience to let its philosophy or environment sink in. Of course, this would not pose true for others, who may have a different preference for how things should be presented.
Despite that, I can still say with courage that everyone should still watch Aria. Whatever one person may gain out of it, the series still provides lot of ground for one to get immersed or be appreciative of, whether it may be the story, its characters, its world, or its music.
"Lots of things change with the flow of time."
With 13 episodes, Aria the Origination is the third and final season to the Aria franchise. Three aspiring girls—Akari Mizunashi, Aika Granzchesta, and Alice Carroll strive forward to reach their dreams of being Prima Undines, the highest-ranking tour guides in the gondola services of Neo-Venezia, an exact replica of Earth's Venice situated in the planet of Aqua, or Mars as it was once called.
While the first episodes of the series are episodic and are self-contained tales—again, attributing to its slow and atmospheric nature, Origination retains the mood and flow of its predecessors but handles it with rising intensity with each succeeding episodes. How Animation, the first season, and Natural, the second, were trying to attain that execution, often resulting in an assortment of hit-and-miss episodes, Origination does not. It finally finds its footing and rids of its usually subtle approach to a more well-handled presentation.
However, it does take a considerably inferior beginning, in which the first three episodes can fit in any prior season. Although, after those three episodes, Origination brings new situations and scenarios that provide a refreshing perspective both on the world and its characters. Certain characters get the time to interact with one another in ways unexpected, and it connotes how the cast has developed with time in their own little manners through other characters. It pays a large amount of thankfulness to its previous seasons, and significantly builds on what it began. What follows is a majestic conclusion that makes the story go hand-in-hand with the resolution of the Undines' individual stories.
How Origination works in contrast to the first two seasons is the way it is generally built out. From the beginning up until the end, it reveals a planned direction it's going to take, and as such intertwines these individual tales as essential to the show's overall picture. A major theme that can be recognized from the series is the concept of change—and while it is natural that a story must eventually end, Origination takes the viewers into the eyes of its characters to emphasize how significant this impending change is. Gone will be the days that we see the girls bonding through practice, and the same also poses true for the Undines as they all step forward to face a new tomorrow. This is nothing short of compelling and remarkable, as the use of Aria's episodic strengths into a sequential structure amplifies its impact.
"But there are things that never change."
Along with its fresh take on Neo-Venezia, the show prepares to wrap up its story by presenting the final steps the beloved Undines need to face, both in the physical and the emotional sense, as well as expanding and solidifying the relationships they have with their mentors. Every supporting character also gets their fair share of screen time, with great stories surrounding Akatsuki and Al, along with reappearances of characters such as the mailman and Caffe Florian's owner.
Aika reveals a much more realistic side of her, portraying her doubts and fears as the trio's most work-oriented person. While noticeably her focus is relegated to a background character for most of the show, the episodes that do focus on her make up for its well-written setup. Like how Akari affects the people around her, Aika gets her development through her impact with other characters, most especially with Akira. Natural had already done its piece in fleshing out Aika, which may have reduced the necessity to explore her character even further. This series simply leads her into an epilogue as the heir to Himeya.
Meanwhile, Alice's large involvement this time around is monumental not only for the people around her but also for her maturity. Some of the best moments in Origination arguably belong to her, and it surmounts to a satisfying resolution with her initially antisocial demeanor. Bits revolving around Athena's character also show how the two are actually similar, and builds up to a very emotional climax that cements their relationship and solidifies Alice's overall development.
There are many things to be said about Akari's character, but the most subtle yet significant revelation about her is how she actually stands out as an Undine. Aria has always focused on Akari's adventures of the rustic and mystic Neo-Venezia, and thus veered away from depicting her skills as a gondolier. Origination brings her efforts into light, and proves how she is ready to take on the reins of being a Prima.
Another thing to point out about her is the further emphasis of her relationship with Alicia. As the final episode of Natural and the succeeding OVA Arietta sows the seeds through moments where they bond together, it is in Origination where this dynamic between them really blooms—portraying through its scenes how both are influential to one another. Through this, Alicia unravels as a more humane character, as opposed to how the trio perceives her as an unreachable being of perfection.
With the whole theme of Origination revolving around change, Akari, as the audiences' eyes through Aqua, becomes the most affected person within the environment around her. Cheerful and always upbeat, her reaction to these life-changing events pose an internal conflict within her. While she always sees change within the world of Aqua, she has never had the experience to encounter it firsthand—and the way she responds to it shows her strength, and a huge leap for her character to welcome the future that awaits her. In a sense, Origination serves as a journey to hone her as an Undine, one that truly symbolizes the loving and caring welcome of Aqua.
"Things that are precious because they change, and things that are precious because they don't change...both are precious.
"Don't you feel the same?"
Origination starts off with another beautiful and calming piece through Yui Makino's "Spirale," setting the tone of this final chapter to the world of Aria. Where Aria the Animation's OP immerses you into the world and Aria the Natural encouraging you to join in its rustic beauty, Aria the Origination's opening song reaches out to you in a nostalgic way. Containing this balance of serene and upbeat elements, it plays in an oxymoronic manner of cheerful and melancholic, much like a prelude to a happy farewell. The ending song, "Kin no Nami Sen no Nami" by Akino Arai seems to go along with this theme as well, although with a feeling that is more on looking forward to the future—again, a significant motif in Origination. Despite its departure from the usually calming song equal to that of its OP, it still finds a place to exist within Origination's somber themes, even though it may not fit entirely with Aria's atmosphere.
While it is already undeniable that Aria has great music, it never stopped getting better, and Origination raises the bar with new piano pieces to go along with the original soundtrack. Where Origination stands out against its predecessors is in its well-handled approach to music, never exceeding its use of both instrumental and lyrical pieces. The inserts never seemed off, and everything suited each scene at a most impressive tone.
Two new important tracks cement Aria the Origination as a stroke of genius. Ryou Hirohashi's wonderfully haunting "Lumis Eterne" amplifies the climactic scene of Episode 9, evoking a cathartic feeling of tearful bliss and satisfaction. Poetic and symbolic of Alice's character progression throughout the series, this song, much like any other track in Aria's score, acquires its own personality. The other song, "Yokogao," which played in the final episode of the show, is another piece sung by Yui Makino that perfectly captures the essence of Alicia and Akari's relationship, as well as their personal connection to the utopia that is Aqua. While being one of the few melancholic songs in Aria's music, it is still a sublime fit to the scene at hand and Aria's positive and emotional soundtrack.
It is also safe to say that the voice actors do not falter in their side of the job as well, and their takes on the Undines in their most emotional moments are nothing but amazing. Chiwa Saito handles Aika's different emotions with good comedic awareness, along with standout scenes of her serious and melancholic demeanor. Ryou Hirohashi's "dekkai" performance-desu of Alice's childish nature is taken in a much more playful way, and her acting is one of the main reasons why Alice had dominated some of the episodes. Erino Hazuki once again lends her voice to the ever-wonderful Akari, and a lot of her contributions to the character from the "Hahi"s to the "Ehh"s make her as the only fitting person for Akari's role.
Aside from the main trio, the Three Great Water Fairies Alicia, Akira, and Athena are also reprised by Sayaka Ohara, Junko Minagawa, and Tomoko Kawakami, respectively. While already generally praised for their roles, moments in Origination where these characters are set up in dramatic scenes with their juniors further emphasize their great performances.
With the transfer from 4:3 to 16:9 beginning from Arietta, the world of Aqua has become wider and immersive than ever. Hal Film Maker continues to work its wonders with stellar and faithful backgrounds mirroring that of real-life Venice. The background department shines with their striking, hand-painted scenery that encapsulates the nearly-ethereal beauty of Aqua, rivaling that of Kozue Amano's original illustrations. Of course, with the series mainly being set in Neo-Venezia—with the exception of an episode that takes place in Neo-Burano Island, set pieces are often used consistently and with less diversity from Natural. It's not to say that they slacked on it, though, as the depiction of the places are not only accurate but also highly detailed improvements to Animation and Natural's already captivating backdrops.
Aside from the major boost in Aqua's scenery, it is also fairly evident how the studio keeps a keen eye for the characters, with small but noticeable changes to their designs. Along with that, Origination feels livelier than other installments, having more motion with its frames and very, very elaborate facial animations in the show's critical moments. The comedic expressions remain a staple of the show, and still carry the bulk of Aria's funniest instances.
This element is not perfect, however, as a 2008 series would somewhat opt to add in CGI to save budget costs. For the most part, the CG in Aria is beautiful and does not really hinder immersion, but there were moments in Origination that it goes beyond using CG water and appears in other elements. Granted, they only appear for two noticeable scenes throughout the show, but these parts were very jarring and could very well be a valid criticism to its animation. Nonetheless, this does not summarize the entirety of the animation, as Origination continues the synchronous blend it has with the soundtrack, initiating a visual and audial experience unlike any.
Wrapping up a series is difficult. While Aria ends in quite possibly the best conclusion possible—and quite frankly, one of the best in anime, there are a lot of things to be pointed at that could have made it a bit more fulfilling.
Character balancing, for example, was noticeably more unbalanced in Origination compared to the first two seasons. While the first season focuses mostly on Akari—as it should, since it's an introduction, the second season diversifies the tales to give the other characters significant depth that they didn't have. It handles every character equally, with the inclusion of the side characters that added more color to the daily adventures in Aqua. Origination tries to shift this focus onto the main trio only, but even in this department it is considerably affected. As aforementioned, Aika does not get as much screen time as she deserves, and while episodes about her are some of the best Aria has to offer, it pales in comparison to the amount of treatment she got in Natural. More importantly, Aika is not the only one to suffer this issue, but to the show's actual protagonist as well. While the last episodes do bring Akari back into the spotlight, the middle part of the show is obviously oriented at Alice, as if the show itself is hinting what is to come for her. It is still a good buildup, and is not necessarily a bad part of the show, as she is underplayed for most of the first two seasons. However, it does betray the point of Origination being a final chapter for all three of them, and it could possibly hamper enjoyment for people expecting a well-rotated character storyline like Natural.
Another important aspect not addressed by Origination was Cait Sith and the mystical side of Aqua. Natural was all about exploring Aqua and building up its characters at the same time, with the introduction of its spirit guardian. It seemed to emphasize that we will see more of Cait Sith's involvement in the story, although it did not turn out to be the case. Origination completely drifted from its magical elements in sacrifice for a character-oriented story which aimed to bring an ending to them rather than to the world.
It could also be said that Origination's subtle but important tone shift to put the cast in situations that are much more emotionally testing than its previous iterations. In service of a plot-driven series, after all, is the necessity for conflict to arise. Yet, to bring up a counterpoint, the drama that stirs from Origination can be felt only if you have found the attachment to the characters. When looked at superficially, the conflicts that are brought up in Origination can barely qualify as drama—and even though the themes may still be somewhat deviant from what the first two seasons offered, they still run under the overall concept of optimism and hopefulness.
With only 13 episodes to end the story, it's honestly surprising that Origination manages to hold out and fill in every aspect it could accomplish in Aria's quite vast world. Not only that, but it ties every loose end about the characters in a very satisfying manner that one can easily overlook its flaws, and indulge in Origination's well-toned balance of drama and the same-old Aria viewers had come to know and love.
Origination is one of the rare examples of shows that manages to trump expectations from its prequels. What I believed to be Aria's peak in Arietta immediately got dispelled by how Origination mastered its presentation. Other than that, there are few series that get to end on a high note, and this entry to the story of Aqua and its Undines manages to bring its characters into a full circle, despite its hardly noticeable hiccups.
Aria has always been atmospheric, and it pretty much takes the cake as one of the best that handles atmosphere overall, but Origination is the cherry on top, being a conclusion to its well-rounded cast of lovable people. It allows us to appreciate more of the mundane, while also revealing the bigger picture of life.
Some would say that Aria is as saccharine as it can get with its themes, though I would beg to differ. While the franchise certainly is a defining example of things never going wrong, Origination, as it is aptly named, brings us to the beginning of all this happiness—happiness, that you may think is merely blind optimism, but one actually rooted in reality.
It is an enjoyable show—cathartic and introspective. When approaching this, one may need to put aside everything within their to-do list, and the time to be alone when watching it. It might seem like a bother, but investing yourself into it is one of the best payoffs one could ever have. Emotionally charged yet void of melancholy, Aria the Origination can easily bring anyone to tears with its innocent and caressive approach.
Seagulls fly into the sky as the fresh wind coming from the sea dances through your hair. The campanile tolls its bell, echoing throughout this city of stories. Neo-Venezia is a place filled with wonders and history, and one can easily get lost in the countless experiences you could have. Yet fear not, as someone is always there for you. People of different places and of different journeys, cross paths in this place of miracles.
Aqua may seem like an unattainable dream—a place of mere escapism. However, as long as someone welcomes anything before them, whether good, whether bad, like how Akari welcomed Aqua, and how Aqua welcomed her back, there will always exist a Neo-Venezia deep within our hearts.
Simply put, Aria is a masterpiece—the quintessential slice-of-life show. Rife with characters and stories that are intertwined in this euphoric utopia, Origination brings all of these great moments together, and reaches out to us playfully. Definitively, it is a one-of-a-kind experience you could not afford to miss.