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Aqua 1 by Kozue Amano

Aqua v.1 (of 2) by Kozue Amano (2003). Tokyopop, 2007. ~180p, $9.99.

Over two years ago (times flies!) I reviewed three volumes of Kozue Amano’s Aria as translated and published by ADV. Those three were the only volumes released before ADV temporarily stopped publishing. Now Tokyopop has picked up the license for Aria as well as its two volume prequel Aqua. The first volume of Aqua arrived the other week and I read it in one sitting. You should probably go back and read my review of Aria first as I don’t want to repeat myself (and thus will keep this short). (But it turns out after writing this and then rereading my previous review I did repeat a lot, oh well.)

This volume begins with the protagonist Akari arriving on the the planet of Aqua (formerly known as Mars) to start training as an undine (the female gondolier tour-guides which are held in high esteem). In the first chapter she gets her first look at the city and meets her new boss and the boss’s cat (who is some kind of alien cat that is supposed to be smart as a human but doesn’t talk). Her boss is friendly and otherwise has very little in the way of personality. In the second chapter she makes a friend who is also an undine in training (at another company). The friend is practically in love with Akari’s boss (though there is no obvious sexuality involved) and is more hardnosed than Akari. Chapter three involves the yearly flooding of the city where the tides rise and everything shuts down for the day. Akari takes a walk with the company cat and ends up staying over at her friend’s room because of rain. Chapter four finds Akari and her friend trailing the company cat as he heads of to some secret cat meeting. This mostly involves the two girls boating around an older part of the city feeling lost and a little scared. And in chapter five Akari and her boss go to the outskirts of the city to an overlooking hill.

I provide this brief summary to show how very little really goes on in the book. The stories are, in precis, very simple. In a similar way so are the characters. We don’t really learn much about any of them. Akari’s main traits are curiosity and a sense of wonder in all she sees. The other characters are pretty much one dimensional so far. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing here because I don’t think that’s the point.

In my review of Aria’s first three volumes, I noted that we never see Akari giving tours to any passengers except for the introductory chapter to volume one. It only just occurred to me that, we don’t need to see Akari as tour guide, because the book itself is the tour and we are the tourists. The focus of Aqua/Aria is the environment of Aqua and more specifically the canal city of Neo-Venezia. While the characters seem to go about simple stories, the real draw for the reader is the evocation of the setting: geography, history, culture, weather, seasons. With his/her (I have no idea whether Amano is a man or woman) use of detailed backgrounds and rather flat (so far, maybe this changes) characters, the backgrounds become the foreground. In itself, this makes the series fascinating to me. It’s so low key that one could write it off as nothing.

Having read a few volumes, I started to see seasons and time passing as an element in the story. I hope that as the story progresses this continues and perhaps we begin to see repeated events (like the yearly flood).

This isn’t great manga, but it’s unusual enough to be worth reading.

Aria volume 1 will be reissued by Tokyopop in January with the second and final volume of Aqua out in February. It’s a little out of order, but at least they are getting them out kind of quickly (so they get around to volumes I haven’t read.