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Tale of gondoliers, dreams and the lyrical rhythms of neo-venezia

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Aqua manga, created by the skilled hands of Kozue Amano, immerses readers in a captivating narrative set against the backdrop of a terraformed Mars now named Aqua. Delving into the intricacies of gondolier apprenticeship and life in the charming Neo-Venezia, the series unfolds with a tranquil yet enchanting pace, inviting readers to explore the beauty of everyday moments.

What is Aqua manga?

What is Aqua manga?

Aqua manga which is now known as Aria, is a Japanese manga crafted by Kozue Amano. The manga initially bore the title Aqua, stylised as AQUA, during its debut in Enix’s Monthly Stencil magazine in 2001. However, when the series found a new home in Mag Garden’s Comic Blade in 2002, its name transformed Aria. The serialisation of Aria persisted from 2002 to 2008.

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The narrative unfolds through two tankōbon volumes for Aqua manga and a more extensive twelve volumes for Aria. Hal Film Maker took on the task of adapting this manga into various anime television series. The first season aired in 2005, followed by a second season in 2006, an OVA release in September 2007, and a third season in 2008, aligning with the manga’s conclusion. Commemorating the anime series’ 10th anniversary, an OVA titled Aria the Avvenire graced the screens between December 2015 and June 2016. Additionally, a film titled Aria the Crepuscolo premiered on 5 March 2021, marking the series’ 15th anniversary, and a second film, Aria the Benedizione, premiered on 3 December 2021.

The English translations of the first three volumes of Aria were initially handled by ADV Manga in 2004, but Tokyopop later acquired the English-language rights for both Aqua and Aria. Tokyopop released the two Aqua volumes in October 2007 and February 2008, along with six Aria volumes distributed between January 2008 and December 2010. In North America, The Right Stuf International holds the license for the anime, releasing all three seasons in box sets under its Nozomi Entertainment imprint from 30 September 2008 to 2 March 2010.

Set in the 24th century on a terraformed Mars, now named Aqua, the narrative follows the journey of a young woman named Akari Mizunashi. Her path involves training as an apprentice gondolier, known as Undines. The series has garnered acclaim for its serene pacing, optimistic perspective, exquisite artwork, and, in the case of the anime, the high quality of its soundtrack.

Taking place in the early 24th century, specifically starting in 2301 AD, the story unfolds in Neo-Venezia, a city on the planet Aqua. Aqua was formerly Mars, having undergone terraforming to become a habitable planet adorned with oceans about 150 years earlier. Neo-Venezia mirrors Venice in both architectural design and atmosphere, characterized by narrow canals navigated by non-motorized gondolas.

Akari, the protagonist, arrives from Manhome (formerly Earth) at the beginning of Aqua, aspiring to become a gondolier under the mentorship of Aria Company, one of the city’s most esteemed water-guide firms. Her goal is to evolve into an Undine, a gondolier serving as a tour guide.

Throughout her training, Akari builds connections with her mentor Alicia, fellow trainees, and seniors from rival companies—Aika, Alice, Akira, and Athena—along with other individuals in Neo-Venezia. Aqua recounts Akari’s initiation on Aqua and her early training as an apprentice. At the same time, Aria progresses her journey as a journeyman, culminating in the graduation of Akari, Aika, and Alice as full-fledged Prima Undines.

Each chapter unfolds as a slice-of-life episode, depicting Akari’s exploration of the gondolier world, Neo-Venezia and Aqua itself. Amano’s rich artwork often spans several pages, capturing the beauty of both everyday activities and unique events, drawing parallels with the tone and impact of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, as noted by reviewers.

The author of the series, Amano, outlined her creative intentions in the original afterword to Aqua Volume Two. Her primary goal was to lead readers to discover joy in the little things and divert their attention away from failures.

In another afterword, she expressed that crafting Aria compelled her to appreciate the four seasons, aiming to convey her gratitude for them through the series. Amano meticulously devised a 24-month calendar system for Aqua, aligning with Mars’s actual orbital period of 668.6 local days (refer to Timekeeping on Mars). This configuration results in each season lasting six months.

Throughout the series, Amano indicated the passage of time and the changing seasons, with Akari explicitly mentioning the time of year to her correspondent. Seasonal observances, such as summer fireworks (Aqua Volume 2, Navigation 9, and Aria Volume 4, Navigation 20), New Year’s Eve (Aria Volume 2, Navigation 9) and character birthdays (Aria Volume 10, Navigation 46), further enrich the narrative.

In the universe of Aqua and Aria, Neo-Venezia mimics the design of the city of Venice before its demise in the 21st century. This emulation extends to replicas of renowned landmarks like the Piazza San Marco and the Bridge of Sighs. Amano’s creative process involved basing fictional locations in the series on real Venetian places. Notable examples include:

  • The Aria Company headquarters corresponds to the location of a vaporetto stop.
  • The Himeya Company headquarters finds its counterpart in the Danieli Hotel, situated on the southern promenade near Piazza San Marco.

Additionally, Amano drew inspiration from real places on Aqua for certain locations in the series, such as the Japanese shrine featured in Aria Volume 1, modelled after Fushimi Inari-taisha near Kyoto.

In Japan, new volumes of Aqua manga (Aria) routinely secured positions on the best-seller list for manga. As of July 2007, these volumes had surpassed three million copies sold, accounting for 11 per cent of all manga volumes ever sold by its publisher up to that date. By 2009, this figure had risen to four million.

The English translation of the Aqua manga (Aria) received high praise from a reviewer at The Comics Journal, who described it as “quite conceivably the best comics series ever created for elementary-school girls”. The series was hailed as a “masterpiece of storytelling and illustration, gorgeous to look at, and a feast for the young imagination in its ability to present an inviting, fully realised world”.

Both Aqua and Aria together have been lauded for their joyful calm, vividly depicted futuristic world, moments of magic and sense of whimsy. Amano’s artwork, characterised by crisp lines and details, especially in the backgrounds and landscapes, earned acclaim. However, Amano faced criticism for assigning names that all begin with ‘A’ to every character, allowing some slice-of-life stories to “drift too far out,” and portraying Akari’s character as excessively sweet and effusive.

In 2006, the Aqua manga’s (Aria) anime adaptation secured a place in the top 100 animated television series of all time in a poll conducted by TV Asahi. By June 2007, the first two seasons of the anime had sold more than 300,000 DVDs.

The anime received acclaim for its quiet atmosphere, beautiful visuals— especially the backgrounds and character designs — and an exceptional soundtrack. Anime News Network characterised the first season as “a gorgeous future fantasy populated with loveable characters”, with each episode being a “finely fashioned tone poem steeped in a love of the slow rhythms of everyday life”.

IGN, a review site, contrasted Aqua with Maria-sama ga Miteru, noting that while the latter amps up tension even around inconsequential matters, Aqua remains calm and relaxed, acknowledging that the plot is not the primary focus.

Reviewers highlighted the characters as crucial to the series’ appeal, though some criticised them as unrealistic. The voice acting of Erino Hazuki (Akari) and Junko Minagawa (Akira) received particular praise. Several reviews emphasized that the series may not cater to all tastes, given its slow-paced drama and optimistic outlook.

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How to read aqua manga

How to read aqua manga

To read the Aqua manga, you can follow these steps:

Purchase the manga

Check online retailers or local bookstores to purchase physical copies of the Aqua manga. Look for the tankōbon volumes that contain the chapters of Aqua.

Visit libraries

Many libraries carry manga collections, so you can check if Aqua is available in your local library.

Digital platforms

Explore digital platforms that offer manga. Websites or apps such as ComiXology, Kindle or specific manga platforms may provide Aqua for digital reading.

Online manga reading sites

Some websites offer manga reading for free, but be cautious of the legality of these sites. MangaPlus by Shueisha is one legal platform that offers certain manga for free.

Purchase English translations

If you prefer English translations, make sure to look for the official English versions of Aqua manga. Online retailers or bookstores may have them available.

Check manga publishers

Look for Aqua manga from official publishers like Tokyopop or others with the rights to distribute English translations.

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