By Kozue Amano. Originally released in Japan by Mag Garden, serialized in the magazine Comic Blade. Released in North America by Tokyopop. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley and Katie McLendon.
Having given a long introduction to the main character of Aria – the city itself – Amano can now set about fleshing out the cast. Of course, the fleshing out is done at the exact same “slow pace” that the rest of the series has, but we do get two new regulars at the start of this third omnibus. Alice is from Orange Planet, the main competitor to Aika’s Himeya and the top gondolier company in Neo-Venezia. (Great gag when Akari asks about Aria Company and is reminded they have two employees.) Alice is one of those people who is really good at what she does but also somewhat introverted and bad at people skills, which has left her much like a prickly cat – well, prickly in a different sort of way than Aika, who’s more of an angry cat. Alice, naturally, attempts to tell Akari and Aika to go away when they first meet. Also naturally, Alice is totally unable to resist Akari’s natural in your face niceness and becomes a friend.
The other main character we meet in this volume is Aika’s mentor Akira. She’s there to underscore the fact that the gondoliers in Aria seem to get apprentices who blend well with them… or in some cases mirror them. This is readily apparent with the hit-headed Akira, who arrives after Aika runs away from her harsh training and decides to hang out with her crush, Alicia, instead. Naturally, we find that Akira and Alicia have a very similar relationship to Aika and Akari, complete with not allowing things and their competitive nature. Fortunately, Akira and Aika make up fairly quickly (it turns out Aika is actually the heir to the Himeya Company, which is one reason Akira is so strict) and she mellows out a bit for subsequent appearances. I will note it does seem odd that Athena is not mentioned several times, particularly when Alicia and Akira take their changes – and Alice – to the beach, but of course that’s hard to do when you aren’t written in yet.
The rest of the book contains more of the usual reasons to read Aria. There’s ‘sense of wonder’ chapters galore here, one of the best being a treasure hunt where the three girls run around the city finding clues and hints. As you’d expect, Akari also has another run in with Cait Sith, this one brought about by being outside on the hottest day of the year. Don’t drink that cold milk too fast, you’ll get a tummy ache. Oh yes, and we also meet Woody, who is a minor character whose main feature is that he looks – and acts – a lot like Vash the Stampede from trigun, something I suspect is mostly unintentional. And of course there’s the main reason to buy these books again – the larger trim size and nicer paper mean that it’s a treat to look at, and you want to go back and go over the art in slow motion after you finish it.
The next omnibus will have Vols. 5-6 of Aria, aka right before the series originally got cancelled by Tokyopop. Let’s hope it does better the second (no, wait, third – sorry, ADV Manga, no one remembers you) time around.