*Aria Book 5 — Best of 2009

When I’m feeling out of sorts, nothing calms like a new volume of Aria. It’s the manga equivalent of a hot cup of tea and a sit-down, a lovely mediation on appreciating the quieter aspects of life.

Aria Book 5 cover
Aria Book 5
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The series had some unexpected delays, but that means it’s timely — Akari, the apprentice gondolier (undine), is beginning her second autumn on the water planet, just as fall has firmly fallen here in the U.S.

The opening story (the book has five) is a wonderful stand-alone that sums up much of the series’ appeal. A mailman’s gondola is gone for repairs, so Akari volunteers to take him on his route through the Venice-like setting. By the end, she (and we) have learned more about her town, the way communication ties together community, and the pleasure of writing letters on paper. A more subtle message involves the skills and contributions of older workers being valuable and how they can teach the younger through example.

The art focuses on Akari’s happy, open face, and those of her friends (who can be a little more negative or concerned, providing spice and contrast). Plenty of beautiful, Italian-influenced architecture is drawn with care. It’s a wonderful world to sink into and relax with.

There’s also humor. At one point, Alice gets a bee in her bonnet about needing to train herself to be more ambidextrous since she thinks her right hand is doing all the work. But while that is somewhat silly, there’s another component of the same story that has a touching undertone, a lesson Alice learns from her singing roommate and a parable about seemingly unnoticed contributions.

A story about watching a meteor shower is one of many in the series that promote natural awareness and wonder. It also brings back Al the Gnome, a thoughtful boy who resembles Harry Potter. Another has Akira, a tough instructor who helps the younger girls improve their craft. The last is a quiet story about waiting, as Akari spends the day at a cafe learning a lesson about relaxing that I will also benefit from.

My quibbles, there are three: I was sad that two different sections introducing characters, obviously created in color, were reproduced in black and white. Also, while there’s a lengthy introduction of the premise, the character page omits the youngest undine, Alice, who features prominently in one story and significantly in two more. I found that an unfortunate omission, given how close her name is to Alicia, Akari’s mentor, and thus confusing. Last, the usage of goofy exclamations like “Holy Guacamole” or “Holy Baloney” really doesn’t suit the timeless feel of the series. The adaptation credit has changed from the previous book, so maybe the new writer needs a little more time to fully grasp the style of the stories. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


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