by Kozue Amano
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
Where Book 1 covers autumn, as Aria Book 2 begins, winter is coming. The first chapter introduces the snowbugs, small creatures mistaken for dandelion puffs. They have seasonal lifecycles, coming out only in the cold and leaving right before the first snow.
Lead character Akari is at least a teenager, with a career, but in the beginning of the book, when she’s never seen a fire in a fireplace, she seems very young. On the other hand, she’s from a more technological world that’s completely lost touch with nature and seasonal changes, so these kinds of concessions to weather really would be new and different for her. I sympathize with her getting used to shivers and her frequent exclamations, “It’s cold!” It reminded me of the first time I spent a winter in the Midwest, after previously living mostly in the South.
I appreciate her wide-eyed innocence. It’s a great reminder to slow down and consider the turning of the seasons and the appealing factors of each. Some will complain that nothing happens in this series, but I really enjoy seeing Akari’s approach to the world, where everything is new and wonderful. Customs and rituals like those she learns about are important markers of time passing. They should be appreciated and welcomed.
Her temporary adoption of a snowbug acknowledges that relationships may also be transitory, passing like the turning of the calendar or available only for a short time. And that’s ok. The art is perfectly suited to this kind of meditative storytelling. Lovely images of what Akari sees in her world encourage the reader to ponder both her surroundings and by extension their own.
The next chapter features that classic of manga, the trip to a hot spring. This one is different in two ways, though, from most versions: the spring is an abandoned flooded mansion instead of an outdoor pool, and the girls keep their towels on the whole time. That gives the whole thing an air of relaxing warmth instead of the usual nudge nudge wink wink titillation approach many other artists take. I have never before wanted so much to go to a spa as I did after finishing this chapter.
That’s only half the book, and already, it’s well worth the read. Additional stories include touring the city’s underground in the company of a young man, the festival celebrating New Year’s Eve, and in preparation for spring, Carnival. The excuse for having such similar events is that the colonists of this water planet are memorializing their ancestral home. Me, I just like seeing the rituals captured so well.