Aqua, Volume 1

Creator: Kozue Amano
U.S. publisher: Tokyopop
ISBN: 9781427803122
Released: October 2007
Original release: 2001

Although Kozue Amano’s two volume series Aqua is generally referred to as the prequel of her longer series Aria, as far as I can tell it was really more of a title change when the original manga serialization switched magazines. But ether way, I’ve been meaning to read both Aqua and Aria for a while now. I was pleased when Aria was selected for the March 2011 Manga Moveable Feast because it gave me the last push I needed to finally get around to picking the manga up. The first volume of Aqua was originally published in Japan in 2001 and then again in 2003. The English edition was released in 2007 by Tokyopop. Tokyopop also published the second volume of Aqua and after ADV suspended the publication of Aria, Tokyopop picked up the license, so far publishing the first six volumes of the twelve volume series.

The year is 2301 A.D. During the terraforming of Mars, the ice caps melted more than originally anticipated, covering nearly ninety percent of the planet, now also known as Aqua, in water. The port town of Neo-Venezia was modeled after the city of Venice, Italy which no longer exists on Manhome. But like the original city, Neo-Venezia attracts many tourists, sightseers, and travelers. The premier tour guides are gondoliers known as undines. Akari Miuznashi has traveled from Tokyo to Neo-Venezia to study to become an undine. She is fortunate to have been accepted by the Aria Company to become the apprentice of Alicia, considered by many to be one of the best undines on Aqua. Akari has the potential to become a great undine through hard work and practice, although she’ll have to unlearn a few bad habits that she picked up as a self-taught gondolier first. But with the help of Alicia and Akari, an apprentice at the renowned Himeya Company, Akari is determined to make her dream come true and enjoy herself while she’s doing it.

What appealed to me most about the first volume of Aqua (beside the whole Mars thing) was the artwork. Amano’s landscapes, waterscapes, and cityscapes are gorgeous. And she doesn’t forget to include details like the water life or Mars’ double moons. Her use of water is lovely, a good thing since there is a lot of it. Even the spaceships feel like they’re floating through the air. The panels with Alicia are generally striking as well. The elegance and grace of her movements and her skill as an undine are clear, especially when compared to the more awkward attempts made by Aika and Akari, although they have their moments, too. Not everything is so beautiful, however. The Mars cats are very odd looking creatures but delightful in their own way and Aika’s facial expressions can be a bit peculiar from time to time.

For someone whose dream it is to become an undine, Akari seems to know surprisingly little about Aqua and Neo-Venezia. However, this does give Amano the excuse to take the readers along with Akari on a sightseeing trip of sorts as she learns more about and explores her new home. She might come across as clueless fairly frequently, but Akari is also extraordinarily earnest and enthusiastic—her romanticism and innocence are utterly endearing. Aqua is not a series that everyone will be able to appreciate. If you’re looking for an action packed science fiction adventure, you will be disappointed. But if you’re in the mood for a charming and relaxing journey, Aqua is simply perfect. It’s gentle and laid back and even the tension in the story (what little of it there is) is fairly subdued. If anything, the first volume of Aqua might be too pretty and serene. But, I did enjoy it. It’s a feel good manga and I will be reading both the second volume of Aqua and Aria as well.

My Week in Manga: March 14-March 20, 2011

My News and Reviews

I mentioned this previously (Random Musings: Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan), but if you haven’t checked out the Anime and Manga Boggers for Japan effort, please do. I’ll be keeping the banner at the top of this blog for a while and eventually will move it to the side bar. Our initial goal was to raise $1,000 ($2,000 total) for Shelter Box USA—Japan Disaster Relief and Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. At the time of this posting, we’ve reached $3,170, which is simply fantastic.

Other posts this week included the first in-depth manga review for March—Blade of the Immortal, Volume 5: On Silent Wings II. Blade of the Immortal is one of my favorite manga series, and there’s some really great character development for Rin going on in the On Silent Wings arc. I also posted a review of the first volume of the Book Girl light novel series Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, which I really enjoyed. I’ll definitely be following the series.

A couple of interesting things that I’ve recently found online: The Manga Readers Choice Awards have been announced as has the Graphic Novel Reporter’s Core List of Manga for Spring 2011. Also, since I read Qwan this week, I want to draw your attention to Kate Dacey’s much more coherent write up of the series at The Manga Critic—The Best Manga You’re Not Reading: Qwan.

Finally, the Aria Manga Moveable Feast has begun! I’ve included quick takes of both Aqua and Aria here, and later this week I’ll have an in-depth review of the first volume of Aqua.

Quick Takes

Aqua, Volumes 1-2 by Kozue Amano. There was no way I could pass up Amano’s manga Aqua—Mars has been turned into a water planet through terraforming. The art is probably my favorite part of the series. Pretty girls in a pretty setting. There are panels that I keep flipping back to look at again, happily absorbing myself staring at the illustrations. I love Aika’s frequent admonishments of Akari’s sappy lines. And the chapters focusing on the exploits of President Aria are always fun. I was happy to see a little more conflict introduced in the second volume, but overall the series is still has a very relaxed feeling about it. I like the characters, but they almost seem to be living separate from the society around them.

Aria, Volumes 1-6 by Kozue Amano. Aria is pretty much the same series as Aqua except for the magazine it was originally published in. It still has a calm, relaxing storyline and beautiful artwork (I would love to see some of Amano’s color prints). The manga continues to be fairly episodic but it’s nice to see the same characters showing up again and again. And there are quite a few more charming characters introduced as well. The first few volumes of Aria focus on the changing seasons. Autumn is featured in the first volume, a personal favorite of mine. It’s also interesting to see the preservation of various Manhome customs and traditions on Aqua. I still find it strange how little Akari actually knows about Aqua and Neo-Venezia.

Qwan, Volumes 1-4 by Aki Shimizu. Unfortunately, only the first four volumes of the seven volume series have been released in English. It’s unlikely that the remaining volumes will be published, but Qwan is still worth taking a look at. Shimizu’s artwork is marvelous and the characters fascinating. I’m particularly fond of the lowlife Chikei (and would really like to know what happened to him). The story is a great mix of Chinese court and political intrigue and supernatural battles. The actual action can be difficult to follow sometimes, but overall the fight sequences are great. The story, too, requires that the reader be paying attention, but I found effort needed to be satisfying.

Ze, Volumes 1-2 by Yuki Shimizu. I’ve frequently seen Ze referred to as a yaoi version of Fruits Basket, and there are certain similarities. Familial and romantic relationships and dynamics are certainly bizarre and intense. And Raizou, the primary character in the first two volumes, is extraordinarily kindhearted, self-sacrificing, and just a bit awkward. Adorably so. (I really like Raizou as a character.) I enjoyed watching him work out his relationship with Kon. The magic system used in Ze can be somewhat confusing at first if you try to think too hard about it. But, I’ve always liked the concept of words being inherently powerful, both literally and figuratively.

The Irresponsible Captain Tylor directed by Kōichi Mashimo. This series was recommended to me by a friend who was shocked that I had never even heard of it. It is so very terribly amusing. Justy Ueki Tylor joined the United Planets Space Force in search of an easy desk job, but unexpectedly finds himself promoted to a captain a destroyer after diffusing a hostage situation. The crew of the Soyokaze is made up of the worst troublemakers and misfits of the UPSF. Somehow, Tylor wins them over and they manage to survive repeat encounters against the enemy Raalgon Empire. No one can really tell if Tylor is simply a complete idiot or an absolute genius, but they can all agree that he is one lucky bastard.