published by NA
If you’re wondering what to read after Aria, try Yokohama Shopping Trip by Hitoshi Ashinano, another science fiction series based around the small events of daily life. They both have similar contemplative approaches, where the gorgeous scenery is as important as plot and the theme is appreciation of what you have.
Sadly, you’ll have to download scanlations, since it’s not officially available in English. Which is unfortunate, since it’s a wonderful read (but probably a hard sell).
The science fiction is this: sometime in the future, the world (or maybe just Japan) flooded. Fewer people live in smaller villages as a result, leading to a return to the simple life. The story follows Alpha, a robot (although you wouldn’t know it to look at her) who owns a coffee shop with almost no customers.
The chapters explore what Alpha does with her days. She’s friendly, curious, and observant. I suspect the robot origin may be to justify how things seem so new to her at times, but I didn’t need the explanation. I was content seeing her go shopping for coffee beans or do work around the cafe or play the getsukin, a Chinese stringed instrument.
Other characters include the young Takahiro and his grandfather Ojisan (who appears middle-aged, not elderly), who runs the gas station. As the series open, he meets Alpha. As it continues, she becomes more of a big sister to the boy as he grows up. Then there’s Sensei, a wise doctor who repairs Alpha when she’s struck by lightning, and Kokone, another robot.
Kokone originally appears as a delivery person, bringing a message (which has to be delivered through a kiss, since the robots’ input ports are on their tongues, for a touch of yuri) and a camera from Alpha’s absent owner. The two become friends, and the series continues to follow Kokone in her life as well. She’s seeking more information on their origins, trying to learn what it means to be a robot as well as the definition of humanity.
There’s also the Misago, a naked water sprite who only appears to children alone, and only at the most random and spread-out times. She’s both fun and scary, playful and immortal and comforting. (I am surprised to note that many of those talking about the series mention her lightly if at all. As a result, I was a bit surprised, after the first few chapters, to suddenly see this naked girl swimming through. Fair warning.)
I like how calm and relaxing a read it is, while still engaging the mind and the eyes. Alpha thinks to herself, early on, “I will probably watch the passing of this twilit age.” If so, it’s the world ending not with a bang nor a whimper but a quiet sigh. It feels Buddhist, with its emphasis on simply being.
My reading was inspired by the comments at Hooded Utilitarian. For much more in-depth analysis than I have here, visit their review roundtable.