Though it borrows from the mythos of the (very real) city of Venice, there’s something pleasantly unreal about Aria. Rather, not unreal so much as there is a disregard for the idea and constraints of reality. Perhaps Aria seeks not to undermine reality as we know it, but in its ‘New Venice’, create its own sense of reality.
It’s plot and premise are rather understated, and the real focus of the show is the city itself. One finds themselves wondering what exactly they’re looking at, because, while the constituent elements of any given shot – a tree, some buildings – are grounded in reality, in tandem with the ever-present water they compose themselves like a surrealist painting.
René Margritte’s The Empire of Lights offers us a scene which wouldn’t look out of place in Aria: a confusing, yet utterly appealing combination of elements (the nighttime earth and the daytime sky) create a space that both the mind and the eye question. Yet, as our brain almost always processes information coming from our eyes as factual, we have an inherent acceptance of the image, contradictory though it may be.
There always seems to be an imposed sense of distance between the viewer and Neo Venezia. It’s a place to look upon, but never enter – imagining oneself roaming its canals feels like a violation. The city seems too pure for flesh-and-bones human beings to enter. It’s characters never progress past the point of caricatures or archetypes; they are simply a part of the picture being created. Neo Venezia is empty of real liveliness, instead replaced by a crystalline representation of liveliness, like mannequins in a store window. Normally, this is something our senses rebel against; however Aria‘s quiet hand shows us the beauty of this stillness.
It always feels as if one is going to simply drift into the ocean when watching Aria. However, it controls its pace carefully, always guiding its viewers away from simply ‘zoning out’, and towards a more active contemplation. There’s an extremity of perspective continually at play in its visual language that seems, at first glance, out of place. Being in many ways the prototypical kuuki-kei (‘airy’ type, suiting for an anime who’s title means ‘airy’ in Italian) anime, the harshness of angles that these extreme perspectives provide is an unexpected move. They serve to jar us out of our lull, remind us of the fantasy of the situation.
When the walls cease to line up at perfect right angles, we are forced to accept that Aria isn’t real. However, because it’s so gentle, we’re never mad. We simply look at the confusingly placed, yet familiar elements – cats, trees, a city square – and think to ourselves “isn’t this lovely?” Aria gives its viewers the gift of surrealism: the present of gazing upon something that reality simply cannot offer. It’s a joy to wonder what’s more solid, the ground, or the sea?