There is a sense of idyllic rhythm that Aria exerts when one allows him or herself to engage with its cinematic heartbeat. It’s obvious: everything has its own rhythm, its own footprint, when it makes contact with another existing entity. If one takes this idea far enough, existence is just another way to visualise and define relationships. And creating rhythm is but another expression for finding uniquity.
Rhythm cannot be differentiated without uniquely defined origins. Rhythm cannot be created without dialogic or sensual interactions between multiple entities. And if one translate this thought process into understanding the most basic of human existentialism: uniquity is a process of rhythm building between individuals; relationships, sharing of ideas and the reimagining of ideas.
So what has all these giant concepts got to do with Aria The Animation? Having only viewed the first season to completion, I already felt the need to begin my exploration of the series’ evidently high resonance with the collective fandom, since I too felt the all-too-generous resonance that Aria seemed to pulsate with: right from the first episode, in fact. For a collection of character portraits that ultimately explore the overarching idea of relational harmony, Aria The Animation’s melodic personality translates into a series of rhythmic ideas that celebrates the humanity in existential curiosity, endurance, remembrance and friendship.
This publication acts as a semi-analytical piece that also aims to convey my own experiences in watching the series and ultimately (or perhaps inevitably) falling in love with it. Also, as hinted by the piece’s title: this section will be taking pages from my Cowboy Bebop piece in expressing my ideas through the framing of a song. In this case, Yui Makino’s ‘Undine’ will be taking centre stage.
The Beauty of Knowing Just How Little You Know
Aria is an experience, a tranquil pilgrimage that indulges the undertakers through quiet cinematic portraits. It is rather telling, that Aria The Animation begins its run with Akari waking up to a sombre morning next to calm ocean waves. The first dialogic exchange the audience ever encounter with the series’ characters are slightly sappy remarks about the sounds of morning. And that in itself is definitive of the show’s…artistic manifesto: remarks, stories and the mythification of daily lives.
Then there’s the discourse surrounding Aria’s choice of thematic focus: the occupation of gondola guides or Undines, and characters whose life goal thus far is the accumulation of mastering such skills of entertaining tourists. Beyond simple metaphorical comparisons with bards and water nymphs, I believe that the overarching idea of this major thematic element; and then some, all accumulate to more universal values of storytelling and myth building. But I’m getting too ahead of myself.
Circling back to Akari and Alicia’s exchanges about the sounds of morning, it is imperative that I point to some perhaps insignificant details in the opening sequence of the first episode, and the song that will eventually accompany every episode of the show. The oven’s ding, the hissing of a kettle, the crackling of nuts hitting the plate: universally familiar and diegetic sounds that introduces Neo Venezia to the audience. The normality of this decision in sound design is perhaps way too unclear to read into, but considering the competition for the audience’s attention span between such normal sounds and the non-diegetic vocals of Yui Makino, this decision speaks volumes about the creative portrayal of Aqua as an utopic concept and Neo Venezia as an…idealised yet grounded city. Are audiences meant to find such fantastical normality as a source of artistic inspiration, or are they being invited to seek out beauty within their own surroundings of normality?
The Spiritual & The Natural | Quantifying The Humanity In Progress
The tender breeze that gently grazes my cheek,
is gently lulled by the sound of waves.
Within me, something is unravelling.
I close my eyes, and it becomes visible:
the path along which the wind goes.
Come, let us row towards the shimmering waves,
our smiles will soon overflow.
Hey, let us impart the feelings of our beating hearts.
Riding the wind, I will return to you
as an undine.
Yui Makino’s ‘Undine’ is unfortunately not a song that I can explore the more artistic flourishes of; the possibly intricate rhyming and/or poetic details are lost during the translation progress, in addition to the original lyrics’ perhaps more symbolically significant details that might’ve contained more narrative value. However, the beauty of translation between linguistic regions also allows the transition of artistic intent to thrive; new meaning can be found within these English words.
The organic personality of the lyrics subtly allude to several naturalistic registrations of human senses; verses that gently paint virtual descriptions of gentle ocean breezes, the rhythmic harmony of waves and the human heartbeat. And we’re back to my point about Aria’s obsession with normality again: the lyrics’ quiet glorification of such simple life pleasures and human experiences lies in the centre of the series’ cinematic intent.
The universal language of music lives on with the song’s religiously transient lyrical progressions; a melodic disposition that flows effortlessly across the soundscape in a relaxingly slow tempo. Makino’s vocals builds upon the strings-centric and ambient synth textures with an airy delivery of the lyrics, which results in a performance that seems to float weightlessly and with ease. It is perhaps only natural that these verses of the song be allocated to the episodes’ opening sequences; each featuring atmospheric slow pans and framing of Neo Venezia’s various locations and under different lighting conditions.
I certainly feel that ‘Undine’ establishes the collective Aria experience in a way that’s rather straight-faced and heavy-handed, but in no way does it make it difficult to appreciate it on multiple levels.
When the wind becomes calm, if I look over my shoulder,
illuminated with the glow of the sunset,
even my heart is being dyed.
If I raise my eyes, it echoes forth:
the song of the stars.
Episodes 4 and 10 readily demonstrates Aria’s devotion to the cyclic disposition of life and the ultimately never-halting progressions said life must entail, for cycles to continue functioning. Death is not an end, it is a gate through which another phase of life begins. Goodbyes are uttered when bonds are tested through distance. The memories of those who passed may not be a storyline that one immediately associates with Aria’s eternal optimism, but episode 12’s epicentre perfectly sprouts in bloom with the seeds sown by episode 4: progress is a reward reaped by your future kin.
Akari’s unknowing journey back in time through the power of cats is framed as a wordless, visual poem: a bridge between two timelines, the flowing of indifferent progress and the spirit of human endurance: Aqua was not always such a photogenic, livable planet. (Although Aria didn’t stop itself from portraying the past with the same paintbrush of gentle nostalgia.)
Endings are an inevitability. Value lies in the temporarity of it all.
Mythification: Aria’s Worldbuilding Through Genuine Romanticism
Come, let us row towards that distant future;
our dreams will spread out over the water.
Hey, let us discover yet unknown treasures.
Together with you
Towards the clear skies, the birds flap their wings.
Although this is a scene with which I have always been familiar,
how precious it appears to me now…
In the second performance of the ‘Undine’ chorus, the lyrics shifted its tone from a letter that promises reunion, to one that implores the collective ‘you’ to journey along with them. The brief coda that ends the song speaks of familiar memories that only turns more precious as times goes on.
With that in mind, let’s talk about Ai.
Ai is an embodiment of the audience. A receiver of myths and stories from a world that she gets introduced to, by Akari’s mythification of Neo Venezia.
From this angle, the tradition of Akari’s e-mails addressing Ai at the beginning of each episode, with Ai’s response at the end, forms yet another cyclic relationship of myth building that’s very akin to parents telling a bedtime story. Ai learns something new at the end of every episode, or…she at least finds something new to love or marvel at. It is almost insignificant at this point to look at how Ai’s purpose in the very first episode, was to be a sceptic counterbalance against Akari’s caramel-on-white chocolate-on-toffee optimism. You could also say that no amount of scepticism could survive within close proximity of Akari.
Aria The Animation embodies the human experience of storytelling. The overarching value of tale sharing, fables passed through minds, mouths, books and letters. Through towns and cities. Over mountain ranges and lakes and seas. Across worlds and planets. Aria is a celebration of stories and genuine romanticism. Little stories within Neo Venezia, told through the main characters’ encounters with the people of the city, forms the narrative centre of the series. World building through human stories, memories and organic, ever-changing landscapes allows for a forever malleable experience that frames the city itself as a living, breathing microcosm of myths and legends.
This is but the first of many more pilgrimages that I will be partaking in with Akari and her kin. Optimism is something we need even more now than ever.
Aria The Animation’s brand of storytelling is a direct reversal in its narrative progression through broad subject explorations, and character building through worldly explorations. The characters’ growth is felt through the various regional textures that the series puts them in. Not to mention that, ultimately the story is told through the lives of undines, whose entire career is one of storytelling and myth building. It is their job to take their customers on a journey, to create a world through words and song.
Absolutely everything in Aria is a celebration. A mythification of normality.
And it is absolutely wonderful. 34 times over.
- blautoothdmand’s ‘Descriptive storytelling – When world building and narrative collide‘
- Nichi Nichi-chan’s ‘Aria – A Nod to Traditional Japanese Aesthetics‘
Third entry into my Funomenal Month of Christmas column for 2016.