The last few series certainly helped me make a lot of progress but I was still something of a cynical person as I reached the end of my freshman year. I might’ve made friends at long last but that wasn’t enough to change my attitude towards the world from positive to negative on its own. With Durarara behind me, my feelings of being oppressed due to my otakudom were fading, as was my inherent distrust of the individuals around me, yet I remained bitter to the world at large. Sure, most people have some kind of good in them, that wasn’t hard to accept. But, if that was the case, how come the world itself was so ugly? Why did I still feel compelled to spend all of my time in my room, locked away from the world, watching anime and playing games?
Aria did not answer those questions. Those kinds of deep ideological queries can’t be solved by one show alone and the series which did help me answer them will be covered next time. What it did do, however, was challenge the fundamental basis that the questions rested upon in the first place. Rather than say, ‘this is why the world is bad,’ it posited that the world isn’t so bad after all. And for as many heinous aspects as I still see to this day, it was a message that I needed at that point.
In a time where those simply fleeing terror incited by mankind’s strongest empire are treated like animals in said empire, it’s easy to see the world as garbage. In a time where we rapidly approach a climate which will slaughter tens of millions if not billions of human beings, it’s easy to see the world as garbage. And, a little more close to my own thoughts of 2014, in a time where the richest, most technologically developed society in human history has no interest in providing a happy, fulfilling, unalienated life for the global population or even its own citizens, it’s easy to see the world as garbage. Aria didn’t challenge any of this. Sure, it’s set on a utopian version of Mars, a technologically progressed society that still maintains the comforting trappings of the past, but it presents no path forward or challenge to the hegemonic powers which keep the world in the state it’s in. Aria’s politics couldn’t change my politics because Aria’s politics, well, they aren’t good. Neo-Venezia doesn’t challenge capital, it doesn’t address climate change, it doesn’t even manage to avoid presenting a heteronormative world.
And yet it still presents a beautiful one. Kozue Amano’s image of utopia may be flawed and ultimately incapable of fitting within my own, current worldview. But she still manages to craft such a rich town, with its own culture and people, all of whom live their lives in a happy way. Whenever Akari and the others discovered some new location, another “miracle” as she is wont to call it, it became clearer to me that the world I inhabit was just as full of beauty as the one they reside within.
I think what ultimately made Aria work for me is its quiet beauty. This soft, ethereal atmosphere, characteristic of the iyashikei genre, works better as a means of convincing someone with a negative outlook on the world than a work which comes across as saccharine and out-of-touch. From the beginning, Aria felt like it was talking to me directly, knowing what I felt and simply countering that. Ai’s feelings of hesitance in the first episode were exactly what I felt, and just like her, I was fully in love with Neo Venezia by the end.
I think I was always begging to be changed the way Aria changed me. Frankly, I didn’t and don’t enjoy cynicism, and in my relatively happy childhood I had always enjoyed being a “glass half full” kind of person. The show reopened my eyes, gave me a chance to see how beautiful things could be, and I’m not sure another show could’ve done the same thing. Other iyashikei are great and all but barring a full adaptation of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, nothing could have touched me as deeply as it did, and I’d hate to have been left in the angry, bitter state I was in. I needed someone to come around and tell me that the world had beauty, that it could be a good place, and Aria simply came at the right time to play that role. The show might not’ve convinced me that our world was a utopia, or even that its world necessarily was, but it made me sure we could build one.
Funnily enough, Aria marked one other point of transition for me. It was the final anime which changed my life that I watched due to the influence of the Orange group. We hardly split up shortly after my watching it or anything, in some ways doing so made our bonds stronger for a while, but as I had made friends over the course of the school year, the channel was simply growing less and less active over time, as I watched more and more shows like Durarara without their influence. I think Aria’s ending was primed to hit me particularly hard in this context. That you can see an arc of my reaction to graduations from K-On to Hidamari to Aria is certainly a neat oddity in retrospect. At the time, of course, I didn’t think about things in those terms. All I knew is that I truly felt what the characters were feeling this time, perhaps too strongly, and that was enough to seal Aria as my favorite anime, a position which has been challenged but not overcome in the 4-and-a-half years since. As I watched the conclusion to the last OVA, the Avvenire, once again, I wept, knowing that I’d never again be visited by a work that could hit me exactly it does even today. Thank you, my Aquamarine. You’ll never know how much you meant to me.