By Kozue Amano. Originally released in Japan by Mag Garden, serialized in the magazine Comic Blade. Released in North America by Tokyopop. Translated by Katie Kimura.
It may be forgotten in these days when Aria is a classic with multiple anime box sets released to great acclaim, but the manga once seemed to be under a curse. It was originally licensed by ADV manga (ask your parents), and petered out about Vol. 3. Then Tokyopop (1st edition) picked it up and made it through Vol. 6… and then did their “sorry, we’ve decided to stop publishing manga”. Now they’re back, and Mag Garden still speaks to them, so here we are having finally caught up with actual new material in this omnibus. The good news is that Aria remains exactly what its readers want it to be, giving us gorgeous artwork, laid-back slow-life travelogues, and the occasional dab of character development. And, given the larger trim and color pages, this is a very good edition to pick up for anyone who enjoyed the anime and wants more, or who was wary of getting this a third time for fear that it would strike out. (The 6th omnibus is due out soon!)
Alice (and Maa) are on the cover, and indeed there’s a sense in this volume that the author is really trying to stop having this be The Akari Show. Now that we’ve introduced Athena and the core cast is complete, we can work with them as a group, or in pairs, or alone. The volume opens with a sea change, as during a group barbecue Aika accidentally gets her hair set on fire, leading to a need for a haircut. Given that Aika’s crush on Alicia has involved her trying to grow her hair out, this feels a bit like the author trying to metaphorically move on from that static point and have Aika grow (going to visit Al makes her all flustered – the manga is content to tease yuri ships, but will never actually go there). Alice also gets a couple of good arcs here, as she’s the youngest and most immature, so her stories can be more straightforward – although an entire arc which amounts to “you should smile more” feels weird these days.
That said, it’s hard to get away from Akari’s charm, and she is still the linchpin that the series revolves around. This despite the fact that her characterization is actually the least developed – she’s never going to stop being the somewhat naive girl who finds joy in everything, as that’s what we love about her. I’d argue she could be a little more self-aware – the chapter where she hears about a ghost who spirits women away when they take her for a boat ride, then literally does exactly that and has to be rescued by Cait Sith, makes you smack your head a bit – but heck, even everyone around her spends time simply watching her walk around. The best chapter in the volume has Aika and Alice follow Akari around for the day to see what makes her special. (The answer is “she has “slow life” powers, and also the ability to be lovely to everyone even if she’s meeting them for the first time.)
There’s much more here to talk about, including the disturbing revelation that Akatsuki’s mother looks just like Aika, but the point is that this is new Aria, and it’s awesome, and you should go buy it, if only to ensure that the entire series can finally come out in North America this time.