This is another two-part episode, this time exploring two separate areas of Aria, away from Neo-Venezia. As I said in the past, The Natural is heavily focused on world-building, and this episode is particularly strong at it. The two locations they go to are totally different and carry different messages with them, but both are beautiful, leading to this being one of my favorite episodes in the series.
The first half focuses on a visit to a Japanese island. It’s said that this island is Japan’s cultural island, a thing that all countries are said to have on Aqua. That’s interesting info, but it leads me to a different question, which is why there’s so much Japanese stuff near Neo-Venezia? Many people have Japanese names, Japanese culture seems to be the second most dominant in the area behind Venetian, and it’s heavily implied that they’re speaking Japanese and not Venetian or English. There’s no real explanation for this, other than Aria being from Japan, but it’s something worth noting.
While on the island, Akari comes across another supernatural experience. A sunshower begins, and during it Akari and Alicia get split up. Akari comes across a procession of fox-masked people, who seem to be marching for a wedding. The directing here stands out, as the sense of claustrophobia and fear that Akari feels while walking through the gates as she hears the fox god behind her is particularly strong. The lighting and use of shadow here is great, just as it was in episode 1.
Luckily for her, the fox god only wanted Akari’s fried tofu/inari sushi. Akari’s able to leave without being taken into the world of the gods, and this half ends happily. There isn’t much of a moral here, other than the idea that beautiful things should be enjoyed, and the idea that you shouldn’t need to fear the mysterious and unknown. It’s interesting to note that President Aria was with her when she met the fox procession — it’s possible that he played a role, seeing as Aqua’s cats are the portal to the supernatural.
The second half has a much clearer moral: the journey is more important than the destination. Here, Alicia takes Akari on a picnic in search of a special place she had been taken before, and along the way they find many beautiful things. Akari has never seen many of the wildlife on the island they travel to, and it offers much more than just wildlife.
Along the way they find many abandoned structures from Aqua’s early history. The most prominent of these is an old railway station, used back when the planet’s towns were being built. This episode does a lot in making it clear that there are many towns and islands in the Neo-Aegean Sea that we never see, and even more across Aqua as a whole.
All these things are beautiful, but they still aren’t the special place that Alicia was searching for, so they keep marching on. While following the train tracks to the destination they come across a fork in the road, but Alicia doesn’t remember which way the destination is supposed to be. Undisturbed by this, Akari is quick to choose which way to go, and it pays off.
They stumble across an abandoned train car next to a cherry blossom tree during sunset, and it’s absolutely beautiful. This was enough to make the entire trip worth it, and they spend a bit of time sitting in the train care and looking at the falling cherry blossom petals(this too is a connection of the area to Japan).
But what they found was not Alicia’s special place. Akari expresses slight disappointment at this realization, but Alicia is quick to reassure her. It’s clear that what they found on their journey was wonderful enough on its own to justify the trip, even if they didn’t actually reach their goal. The feelings they felt while traveling more than make up for not finding the place they were looking for.
The ultimate moral of the episode as a whole is the idea that worries should be discarded on Aqua. The worries about the fox god and the worries about finding the wrong place fade into the beauty of the situations, and everything ultimately works itself out. This episode tells you not to get stressed over your mistakes and fears, but instead to simply keep going while attempting to savor the path you take.