The focus of this episode is on three major elements: communication, magical realism, and melancholy. All three of these are important to the show’s main themes and really make their debut here, though they have been touched on briefly in the first three as well.
Communication is introduced both through Woody and through the letter plot. Woody himself is more of a joke character than anything, and is mostly only around when the whole cast is there or when he’s going to serve a role in the plot. He’s fun, but he isn’t a character with much depth or importance, so I don’t plan on going into detail on him. That said, his thoughts on treasured feelings here are important.
The entire plot of this episode is based on delivering treasured feelings, and that’s exactly what Woody does. The importance of communicating peoples’ feelings is made clear by Akari when she reveals how much she admires what Woody does. That said, this communication is not what the show is about. As Woody says, undines create treasured feelings rather than deliver them. This isn’t a show that simply transmits the feelings of its creators. It’s a show that’s meant to create certain feelings in the audience which are similar to the feelings the undines create in passengers. Communication is important, but it’s only one way of making sure people reach those feelings.
While communication could be said to be a tertiary theme of the show, the elements of magical realism are a very frequent motif that plays a major role. As this episode makes clear, the cats of Aqua are magical, capable of many things real cats are not. President Aria’s clear intelligence hinted at that, but this episode is what really makes it supernatural. A time-traveling cat taking the form of a human is blatantly magical, and yet it’s treated as a believable, if odd, part of the otherwise realistic world.
The magical realism of Aria is a major part of the show, for a number of reasons. The first is that increases the feeling that Neo-Venezia is a city of miracles. It’s a city with an already somewhat utopian veneer to it, and the supernatural elements only add to it. Aside from that, the cats tend to only be witnessed by Akari, or others who are with her, when they’re doing something supernatural. This drills in the idea that Akari is a special person, capable of understanding the full beauty of Neo-Venezia and the world. She’s totally hopeful and finds happiness in anything, and because of that she’s given access to the magical side of the world.
Lastly, this episode really introduces some melancholy into the show for the first time. Aria is an uplifting and ultimately happy show, but it is not lacking in sad moments. It is an iyashikei, and because of that it indulges heavily in an element known as mono-no-aware. Mono-no-aware is the recognition of the beauty that lies in transience. In iyashikei and other slice of life anime this tends to take the form of acknowledging the sadness inherent in the fact that at points human relationships must drift apart, but in Aria it takes place in many forms across many episodes. Mono-no-aware is a recognition of beauty, but there certainly is a sadness to that beauty.
The sadness here comes from a fairly obvious place. Everything about the letter is sad. It never managed to make it to the intended recipient, and as far as we can tell the couple never managed to meet again. It’s a letter from over a century ago, and there’s no way to contact anyone related to it anymore. Beyond that, the cat who gave Akari the letter is unable to be reached after it is delivered.
In spite of all that, it’s not totally sad. Mono-no-aware recognizes the sadness in transience but also finds that it is the state of nature and often leads to later happiness. This story ended sadly, but the wishes of the woman in the letter and the man she was sending it to came true. Aqua reached the projected water levels not too much later, and Aqua did become a planet overflowing with happiness, or at least the Neo-Venezia region did. Sadness is a necessary part of life, and Aria isn’t afraid of making that clear. Iyashikei anime basically propose that we accept that and live without getting too worked up over it. It’s a somewhat morbid message in truth, but it’s not an incorrect one, and it’s one the show will be revisiting many times in the future.