I watched Aria The Avvenire the same day the trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens premiered. Let me tell you something. Never do anything important when the trailer for one of the most anticipated films of the year is released. You’ll forget everything you needed to do that day. Like writing an article. And now that I’ve mentioned it, I have to watch the trailer again because, well, of course.
There are times when I’m glad anime production companies condense series into a film, be it a television or OVA (original video anime), because it allows people to experience a story without having to invest too much time in watching it. This is particularly true for OVA series, because while some have interesting aspects to them, sometimes a twenty to thirty minute runtime doesn’t generate enough content for thought-provoking remarks. Thus, when they are condensed into a longer work, such as a film, it makes it easier to understand the whole of the work rather than just the individual parts. This was the case with the 2015 film—though I categorize this as an OVA because the three episodes are slated to be released between December 2015 and June 2016—Aria The Avvenire (アリア et.al.). While the individual episodes within this film were not that stimulating, when taken as a whole it faired much better, not necessarily in how exciting the film was, but in how the production team focused on where the characters were, are, and were going in their journey through life. So, while a fair portion of each episode was dedicated to flashbacks, there were some wonderful moments showing where the characters currently were in their respective lives as well as their aspirations for the future. Of course, as with the different Aria anime series, the film had a very languid pace to it. In other franchises this may be an issue, but the Aria franchise has always been predicated on atmosphere rather than witty dialog or intense action. However, the real treat in Aria The Avvenire was the reprise of the voice cast. One would have assumed the characters would have been recast since the airing of the final Aria anime series was over seven years ago, but the production team brought back the voice actresses fans have come to love.
One fascinating aspect of returning to a franchise after nearly a decade is that it allows creators to examine where the characters have gone since the end of the series. Granted, this can open a whole new can of worms in terms of narrative, but in certain genres it’s very satisfying seeing the characters you’ve come to love once more. As a personal aside, if Rumiko Takahashi ever took the time to create even one more chapter for her series Urusei Yatsura to explore the characters as adults, I would be elated. That being said, even though I enjoyed how the narrative in the final Aria series ended, I wanted to see what had become of many of the characters. I’m sure fans felt the same way because there have been a handful of dojinshi, or fan publications, exploring what happened with the characters. However, I admit while some of those publications were well written, and even though I wasn’t dying for more content related to the franchise, I would have welcomed it if something canonical to the franchise had been released through the manga publishing house Mag Garden.
Aria The Avvenire was most certainly not what I was expecting as an addition to the Aria franchise, but it brought back many of the tropes fans have come to expect from it, that is, the languid pacing of the story and the exploration of the daily lives of the main characters. Looking at the latter first, when breaking down the structure of the three chapters in the film, it’s quite clear they each began with a simple premise then segued into an exploration of it. For example, the first chapter delved into how three characters, Akari Mizunashi, Aika S. Granzchesta, and Alice Carroll, were too busy with their jobs to spend time with each other. From there, the chapter shifted to an incident in Akari’s past that mirrored the theme of the chapter. However, rather than rushing to the conclusion of either story, between Akari and her friends not spending time together and the flashback, we not only received a great retrospective of the anime series, but were also treated to an excellent look into those three characters as well. This was all achieved by dialog cues that weren’t particularly funny or witty, nor did the production team rely on fast cuts between set pieces, but rather they had Akari and Akira E. Ferrari engage in everyday conversation during the flashback as well as have Akari reminisce about those events with her protégé, Ai, in the main narrative. While the use of mundane conversation may seem dull at first, it’s truly one of the best ways to understand the characters in any piece of work. Thus, it’s only reasonable the production team took the same approach with Aria The Avvenire.
The conversation between the characters certainly slowed the pacing of the film, but that wasn’t the only factor that did. As I said, the Aria franchise is predicated on atmosphere more than anything else. The manga series used very detailed background artwork and some wonderful two-page spreads of the lush scenery of Neo-Venice to achieve this. While many of the same practices were seen in the film, the musical cues also brought the pace to a crawl. We may not consciously realize this, but the tone of a song can actually affect how we perceive the events on screen. Thus, because this film focused on the daily lives of the characters, the background music in the film had an Andante tempo with a dolce, or sweet, tone. To elaborate, most, if not all, the pieces heard in the background used a classical method of playing guitar rather than the heavily corded methods we’ve become familiar with through different genres of rock. As such, when listening to the guitar in conjunction with the background art and dialog, the passage of time during the film seemed to slow down so that we could take in and enjoy the finer points of the sights and sounds presented to us. Though there were of course no musical cues in the manga series, I believe this was the effect the author, Kozue Amano, was trying to elicit when she wrote the series. And as with the different anime series, the production team was able to recapture that feeling for this film.
Yet, it wasn’t just the atmosphere and routine conversation between the characters that were intriguing about the film. The ambiance also resulted from the content contained within the dialog. This aspect of the film centered on the future aspirations of all the characters and not just the future of the core cast of characters from both the Aria anime and manga series. Surprisingly, this was accomplished through the use of flashbacks as well as by exploring where the characters were at in their respective lives. In this case Akari, Aika, and Alice had all taken on protégés, Ai, Azusa B. McLaren, and Anya Dostoyebskaya, and as viewers we followed the development of the latter set of characters through the experiences of their instructors. This was best seen in the final chapter of the film when Ai and company held an afternoon tea party for their instructors, as well as for their instructors’ mentors—I know this is confusing, but bear with me. It was here the past, present, and future aspirations of the characters came to the forefront of the film. But, by examining one character in particular, Alicia Florence, we can see how the production team used the flashbacks and the new storyline to strengthen the theme of the film.
Beginning with the flashback first, it was no more than Alicia hiring a new gondolier, or Undine as they are called in the franchise, for the Aria Company and seeing her protégé, Akari, grow and develop over the years. Thus, this flashback not only examined Alicia and what she wanted for the Aria Company, but also explored the narrative body of the Aria franchise as a whole: Akari and company’s growth into Prima Undine. How did this relate to the story presented in Aria The Avvenire then? Simply put, it was alluded to in the film that Alicia was working on a project for the Gondola Association involving the growth and development of future Undine. Hence, Alicia was helping Ai, Azusa, and Anya indirectly through their journey to becoming Prima Undine. It’s rather interesting how in one chapter the production team was able to create an intricate narrative related to the theme of the film, yet kept it cohesive enough so it wouldn’t spiral out of control because of how many characters were involved.
While the themes, atmosphere, and dialog were all delightful aspects of Aria The Avvenire, it was the reprise of the original voice cast that made the film much more satisfying. One might have thought the production team would have simply recast the characters, especially considering there has been a seven-year gap between the last anime series in the Aria franchise and this film, but like other long-running anime franchises, the voice actresses came back for one final romp with these characters. They each brought their best performance for these characters as well, and the sections created specifically for the film were readily apparent. While there weren’t any specific examples I can point to, it truly felt as though not a single day had passed since the voice actresses last portrayed these characters. Unfortunately, one voice actress, Tomoko Kawakami, wasn’t able to reprise her role as Athena Glory as she passed away in 2011 from ovarian cancer. The production team came up with an ingenious way to incorporate her into the film, though. However, rather than discuss how this was achieved, it’s best for those interested in wanting to see how to watch the film for themselves. Nevertheless, I will say the film lacked many of the auxiliary characters that made the franchise truly memorable. It’s understandable why they weren’t added to the film, though, as the narrative focused on the core characters and their mentors and protégés rather than the world as a whole. Still, to hear the voice actresses take on these roles again was delightful to say the least.
In all honesty, as much as I enjoyed the Aria manga series and the final anime series, Aria The Avvenire didn’t need to be made. Yes, as a ten-year anniversary production it was well conceived, but I felt as though it didn’t add much to the Aria franchise as whole. That being said, the atmosphere, dialog, and theme of the film were well thought out. The idea that we could explore the characters’ aspirations through where Akari and company had been and where they were in their lives was fascinating and something I’ve rarely seen attempted in an anime film. The atmosphere was aided by the mundane dialog between the characters, and while admittedly it was dull, it helped us further understand each of them. The pacing was also affected by the dialog, but not to the same degree as the background music and art work. However, the slow pacing from the dialog, scenery, and music benefited the overall experience of the film by forcing the audience to appreciate every fleeting moment we witnessed. None of these aspects of the film were as delightful as the reprisal of the voice cast, though. While they have all gone on to various other projects, hearing them voice these particular characters again was certainly a treat. Fans of the Aria franchise will certainly enjoy Aria The Avvenire and it’s a good infection vector for those who may not be familiar with the franchise. But as I said, in the end I’m not sure how much the film really needed to be made. So, people will have to decide for themselves just how much they want to catch up on the Aria franchise through this film.