by Kozue Amano
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
Kozue Amano’s Aria Book 1 introduces the glorious water world of Aqua. (We know it better as Mars, now flooded and renamed.) Akari is a gondolier in training in the tourist city of Neo-Venezia. Those in her profession are called undines, after the mythological water spirits, and her joy and grace cause her to live up to the inspiration.
As the book begins, it’s autumn, and Akari’s appreciating the signs of the changing season. Her open, deep eyes express her curiosity and acceptance of the wonders that surround her. It’s comforting to read about such a happy character, enjoying her life and work.
Her first passenger is a lost old man who insists his daughter has wandered off. Nothing pleases him; he grumbles about distractions and inefficiency and backwardness. While looking for his family, Akari teaches him to relax and enjoy the falling leaves and a warm baked potato treat. The bigger issues will take care of themselves. It’s a marvelous lesson on acceptance and appreciation of what you have in the moment. The placid water setting reinforces Akari’s calm demeanor. Her lesson, that sometimes it’s worth doing things yourself and taking pleasure in honest work, is a well-taken one.
It’s reinforced by the next story, in which the gondoliers have to maintain and clean their equipment. Akari of course finds wonder in the most mundane of tasks, as when a spraying hose creates rainbows in the sunlight. One chapter gives a tour of the town as she waits for a late friend, and another takes a more mystical turn with the story of a fox spirit. As the season comes to a close, there’s a final race that may determine the future of the trainees.
The art, lovely to look at in its detail, reinforces the slower-paced appreciation of life and work. To get the most out of reading it, take your time and enjoy the scenery. The book is a pleasant, relaxing read, with deep meaning subtly presented. Traveling with Akari is a marvelous ride.