By Kozue Amano. Released in Japan by Mag Garden, serialized in the magazine Comic Blade. Released in North America by Tokyopop.
This is the first volume of Aria I've gotten to review here on my blog, which given I began in December 2009 should tell you something. Aria is one of those manga series beloved by bloggers and no one else, which always gets great word of mouth but somehow translates into low sales. Companies HATE these titles, mostly as the online folks won't stop going on about how awesome it would be if they were picked up, and how it would totally find an audience. (The number of Signature books from Viz on the NYT list speaks for itself.) And Aria is doubly special, as it's actually a license RESCUE - it had originally been put out by ADV Manga, who folded after 3 volumes.
And so Aria, which is 12 volumes total, seems to be down to one volume a year, meaning we should see the ending in 2017. It's a long, leisurely pace that urges us to take a closer, longer look at each volume, and learn to appreciate what is in front of us. Much like the manga itself, in fact. As readers of Aria know, this is not a manga packed with action and madcap chase scenes. This is about relaxation, and short slices of life in a Venice that just happens to reside in the future on a different planet.
There's a lot to like in this volume, though not much of it translates into things I can easily talk about in a review. Manga like this are difficult to analyze, as so much of it has to be experienced by the reader. Calling Chapter 30 a big parody of Galaxy Express 999 (which it is - President Aria even dresses like Maetel) misses the entire point of the evocative winter's night mood of the piece, as well as Akari once again interacting with the World Of Cats that only she seems to be able to connect to. Likewise, looked at dispassionately, the chapter with Akari meeting the glassmakers can be somewhat twee, another example of Akari's pure awesomeness managing to drown out even the grumpiest of voices. But it isn't dispassionate, of course - this is a manga to get emotionally involved in, so much that when Akari comes out with what should be a hideous cliche, we grin from ear to ear.
My favorite chapter of the volume featured Alice, the somewhat emotionless girl of Akari's power trio, and her encounter with a tiny, eccentric kitten. Everything just clicks here, from Aika's wild fantasies stirring Alice's imagination, to Athena's deadpan expressions making Alice even more paranoid (every single in the manga has a sempai who is very similar to them, and Alice is no exception - Athena is even harder to read than she is.) Best of all is Alice's despair when abandoning the kitten, and later frantic search for it. It's filled with raw emotion, but for all that, we still don't actually see Alice cry. We're waiting for the tears, but they don't appear - they're only implied in shots from far away. It's an excellent stylistic choice.
There's also the omake chapter, which is one of those things that is startling when you first read it, but afterwards just seems too short and one-note. That said, this is the most terrifying Akatsuki you will see in the entirety of the series.
In the end, this was a good volume of Aria. Lots of Akari being sweet, and some nice development of Athena, who we only just met last time. We're now halfway through Aria, and I find that I don't really mind the pace Tokyopop is putting it out - as long as they keep doing it, I'll be happy to spend the time with Akari and company whenever they stop by.