Unless this rewatch changes my opinion drastically, Aria is my favorite anime. I’ve been planning on rewatching it for a while, and originally I just planned on watching it again and making a Why I Love It post about the show. I still intend to do so, but I figured that with the amount I love the show, I can find enough in each episode to write a piece about every single one.
This will be coming out three times a week for nineteen weeks, assuming there’s no delays. These will likely range from more analytical pieces which look at how the episode contributes to the show, to more personal pieces which focus much more on what the episode means to me. Some pieces will likely be short, and some will be longer. I’ll try to avoid retreading too much material, though at times similar themes will lead to similar writing. Without further ado, let’s begin with the show’s premier episode.
Episode 1 is, as you would expect, an episode focused on introductions. It’s an episode that sets out to introduce two major ideas: the idea that Akari is a cheerful and optimistic girl we should care about, and the idea that Neo-Venezia is a near-utopian city of miracles, and it accomplishes both of those goals.
In order to introduce these ideas, it uses Ai-chan as a viewpoint character. As the protagonist, Akari is usually our viewpoint character, but for the first episode she wouldn’t work. Akari is already deeply in love with Neo-Venezia, and as viewers who haven’t yet been introduced to the city, that love could be alienating. For that reason, Ai-chan serves as an effective tool, changing her opinion on the city as the viewers become more acquainted with it themselves.
And the episode certainly gives reason to fall in love with Akari and the city. Akari comes across as a cute, optimistic, and sometimes slightly ditzy girl from the moment she wakes up, but her love of the city is immediately endearing. Her willingness to leave Man-Home for Neo-Venezia is, of course, something worth praising, but she also deserves praise for how much she wants others to share in her love.
From the very beginning, when Ai-chan is acting very resistant to the idea that Neo-Venezia could be a nice place, Akari makes it clear why she loves it and why it has value. She loves it in spite of — if not because of — the work it takes to live there. She clearly loves the many people who live in the city, and through the entire ride she tries to pass that love on to Ai-chan, and eventually she’s able to succeed.
The city on the other hand isn’t as immediately appealing as Akari herself. That’s not to say that it isn’t introduced well. This episode makes it quite clear how beautiful of a city Neo-Venezia is. The backgrounds — while lacking the detail of the manga — paint a clear picture of the city’s rustic beauty, and the atmosphere is clearly fantastic as well.
The episode fails to make the viewer fall in love with the city to Akari’s extent, but I don’t think that’s what the goal really was. Rather, the goal was to bring us around on the city to Ai-chan’s perspective. Much as Ai-chan starts off hostile to the city, we begin apathetic, not particularly caring about it one way or another. The goal is not to make the viewer fall head over heels for it like Akari, but to make them value it and want to return.
That desire to return is another part of why Ai-chan works so well for this episode. Akari spends every day in the city, she’s already moved there. She’s much more comparable to someone already fully invested in the show, someone willing to spend their time sinking into its atmosphere. Ai-chan is a visitor who wants to return, and the viewer is intended to feel the same after this episode.
Something else that stands out about this episode is how slow and inconsequential it actually is. Most of the episode is spent guiding Ai-chan around the city, and doing so is hardly the most important job. It’s important to Ai-chan and Akari, but in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. The first episode of Aria doesn’t put up a persona. It doesn’t try and portray the show as something its not. It does the opposite in fact, and proudly shows exactly what the entire show is going to be.
The calm and relaxing atmosphere which makes Aria the best of all iyashikei shows is in full display from the very beginning. As all episodes ultimately do, this episode focuses on a small tale in Akari’s life which has a somewhat deeper message. This time the message is that you should try to love even the things you hate, and that miracles have to be made through effort. These tie in, of course, to Aria’s main themes.
Aria fully embraces the idea that everything is of value. At no point in Aria is there a single bad person, and while bad things happen, even they can have positive sides. Aria is an all-loving series, and Ai-chan’s attempt to love her sister and the city more makes it clear early on that the series advocates love towards all. However Aria also makes it clear that miracles take effort and won’t spring up out of nowhere. Neo-Venezia is a city of miracles, but it was built on the backs of peoples’ hopes. No miracle or dreams come true without any effort.
Ultimately, episode 1 of Aria does what any first episode should: it introduces the characters and setting in an organic way. In doing so it sets the tone for the entire series, and a different start would drastically shift expectations, as can be seen in the manga. It’s hardly the best episode, or the most emotional episode, or even the most memorable episode. But it’s an episode which really understands what it needs to do and executes perfectly, drawing those who are likely to enjoy the series in early on.