Akari Mizunashi is a new arrival in the gorgeous Martian city of Neo-Venezia. She becomes a gondolier tour guide and begins her training to become a Undine, the most coveted job on Aqua. Follow Akari’s adventures as she discovers the wonders of Aria in this prequel to the popular anime and manga series.

By Kozue Amano
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Slice of Life
Price: $9.99/ea

This sci-fantasy, slice of life story takes the main character and the reader on a leisurely journey of discovery through the water world of Aqua. While the pacing of the series is slow, the story is far from boring with interesting characters and some magical moments.

Aqua revolves around Akari Mizunashi, a young girl who has just moved from Manworld (Earth) to Aqua, which was formally Mars. Through terraforming, the planet is now habitable, and unexpectedly 90% covered in water. Akari wants to be a Undine, a tour guide who pilots the gondolas used to get around on Aqua. Akari is very friendly, easily excited, curious, and slightly clumsy. She has a lot of potential as a Undine, and works hard. She joins the Aria Company, a small but prestigious company who’s only other employee, Alicia is among the best undines on Aqua.

In each chapter of these volumes, Akari meets someone or learns something new about her new home. She experiences the annual flooding and subsequent rains known as Aqua Alta that welcomes the coming of summer. She learns about the floating islands which control the climate. She gets her first Nightlight Chime, which only last a month, and experiences the rituals that go with it. She meets all of these experiences with a wide-eyed sense of wonder, a feeling that the reader can share in.

Akari is also quick to make friends, meeting another trainee Undine, Aika, who works for Himeya, another Undine company. Aika is a little more grounded than Akari, and is always berating her for the things she says. She also really looks up to Alicia, and becomes Akari’s friend partially to be able to see Alicia more. Despite all her complaining, they do become close friends. Akatsuki is a Salamander, a worker on the floating island, and becomes Akari’s first fair as a part-timer. He’s rather brusque at first, but does eventually warm up to her.

Some of the best moments for me though, were with the cats. Martian cats are very intelligent, nearly as smart as humans, though they can’t talk. The president of every Undine company on Aqua is a blue-eyed Martian cat, who acts as a symbol and token of prayer for safety. Aria is the president of Aria Company. He is a big, rather rotund, white male cat. He takes a liking to Aria, and follows her around and rides in her gondola during practice. He provides a bit of comedy relief with some silly, cat-like antics, especially when it comes to food and to his crush Hime, Himeya’s President. But the cats of Aqua have a mysterious side too. They seem to have their own kingdom on Aqua, which is led by the Cait Sith, a demon cat from Russian folklore. The first introduction of this was a wonderfully magical moment and one of my favorites of the manga.

Overall, I really enjoyed these two volumes of Aqua. Its slow pace was a welcome relief from the drama and manic pace in so many shoujo and shonen titles. The stories are very well written, often with beautiful or reflective moments that really make you want to sit back and relax. It’s a wonderful world to be swept into, where the cares of the real world can be left behind. The art is as beautifully drawn as the story is well written. There are some truly wonderful shots using reflections in the water and perspective that really show the wonder of the world.

If you ever need something to help you unwind and remind you what it’s like to enjoy the simple pleasures in life again, this is the manga for you.

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