The idea of stories about settling Mars and turning into a world with water is hardly an unfamiliar one; as long as we've known there was another planet in our solar system, we've dreamed about doing just that. What I really like about Kozue Amano's "Aria", though, is that the series isn't about the struggle to survive, or making Mars some cold, barren world. Instead, it's nothing short of paradise.
The thrust of the series is a pretty simple one; when Mars was terraformed, the planet was accidentally flooded when the ice-caps melted. Turning lemons into lemonade, the world was modeled after Venice, with buildings rising up amidst the water and gondolas gently moving down the canals. It's here that Akari has traveled, to the renamed world of Aqua. She's working for the Aria Company, training to be a full-fledged gondolier, or undine. And as she trains, with the help of her instructor Alicia and her best friend Aika, Akari learns more and more about the customs and ways of Aqua.
And really, that's about it. There's no big mystery (unless you're really dying to know to whom Akari writes her letters, I suppose), no huge battle to be won. It's just about Akari training to become a full-fledged undine as the seasons slowly turn on Aqua. And yet, some four volumes in, I'm utterly enthralled. (There's a two-volume series titled Aqua which takes place before Aria; the comic changed publishers in Japan during its original serialization and as part of it, the book changed names. So by this point, there really are four volumes.)
Amano's imagination runs rampant throughout "Aria", merging traditions of modern Japan, medieval Venice, and anything new he can come up with to form the world of Aqua. In this latest volume, winter has finally arrived on Aqua, so we see their version of New Year's Eve, as well as the strange bugs that signal the first snowfall on the planet. At the same time, though, there's also Aqua's version of a Venetian Masked Carnival, and a descent into the core of the planet to learn how the gravity on Aqua is amplified to keep its inhabitants grounded.
That's one of the nice things about "Aria", that Amano hasn't forgotten amidst all the wonder and excitement of his stories that this is set in the future. So there are the "salamanders" that control the weather machines, and the "gnomes" that regulate gravity. (With undines, salamanders, and gnomes, I keep waiting for a fourth group named after an air-themed mythological creature to show up.) It's nice that she doesn't lose sight of the world that she's created, even as she takes detours for stories about an old mansion that's been flooded and turned into a hot spring resort.
With beautiful, Italian-inspired art (having been to Venice, the amount of reference material that Amano uses must be massive), "Aria" is a real joy to read from start to finish. So what if very little happens? It doesn't matter, this book is like going on the best vacation you can ever imagine. If there was ever a way to really move to Aqua, based on Amano's books I'd sign up in an instant.