Aqua Volume 2 by Kozue Amano, 2003, English Translation 2008.
The is the second volume a fascinating manga series that combines sci-fi, fantasy, and slice of life. The series takes place about 300 years in the future, when Mars has been terraformed and renamed Aqua (because of all the water on its surface). The human colonies on Aqua are designed to resemble old-fashioned cities on Earth (called Manhome here). The people of Aqua prefer a much slower pace of life than people on Manhome, and aspects of life on Aqua more closely resemble Earth’s past.
In the previous volume, a young girl, Akari Mizunashi, came to Aqua to learn to become a gondolier in the city of Neo Venezia (which resembles Venice). Female gondoliers, called Undines, give tours of the city, giving Akari plenty of time to admire the beauty of her new home and meet interesting people.
The two Aqua books are the prequel to the main series, Aria. Aqua covers Akari’s arrival on the planet, her introduction to life on Aqua, and the beginning of her training. The series has received some criticism for being slow and lacking danger and adventure, but that is not really the point of the series. The main purpose is to show people how to appreciate the small pleasures of life. The sci-fi and fantasy elements (the spaceships, advanced environmental controls, intelligent Martian cats, and even the occasional appearances of the legendary Cait Sith) are mainly background to the stories about the magic of friendship and simple pleasures. Each volume contains a few short stories about Akari and her friends and the little adventures they have on a daily basis and the life lessons they learn. It’s a great series for relaxing when you’re stressed out.
The stories included in this volume are:
My First Customer
Akari gives her first customer a ride in her gondola. Although she makes mistakes, it is still a memorable experience, and she makes a new friend. Her ability to row a boat very fast backward even comes in handy!
It’s good to read the books and stories in this series in order because characters reappear. Akari’s first customer is Akatsuki, who is a trainee “Salamander” who lives on the floating island of Ukijima above Neo Venezia, which is reached by cable cars. Because Akatsuki spends most of his time on Ukijima, he tends to get lost when he comes into town. He becomes an important character who makes regular appearances through the books. There’s a story later in this book that explains more about his job.
It’s Hard Being President
President Aria feels useless because he can’t help with the spring cleaning. He decides that he isn’t a good president to Aria Company and tries to run away from home but learns that there is nowhere else where he is happy and that his friends still love him.
In the summer, people in Neo Venezia buy special night-light bells, chimes that glow in the dark.
These bells do not last forever because the glowing center eventually falls out, but sometimes they leave something special behind besides happy summer memories, a tiny crystal.
Akari goes to a night light bell festival and gets a night light bell of her own. The night light bells are a cheery part of summer, and when it’s time for them to expire, the people of Neo Venezia have a special ritual to return the glowing centers to the water when they fall out. However, Akari is lucky and gets one of the bells that has a tiny crystal when the center falls out.
I like this story because I think that the idea of having glow-in-the-dark wind chimes is really charming.
Enter the Hero!
President Aria dreams of being a super hero, like the hero of his favorite television show.
His attempts to be an ally of justice aren’t very successful until he discovers that even doing something small can make a big difference, returning a lost toy to a grateful child.
Akari and her friends visit the floating island of Ukijima where her friend, Akatsuki, is learning to be a Salamander. Salamanders help control Aqua’s climate. Because Ukijima is anchored above Neo Venezia, they have to use a cable car to get there, and Akari thinks that the view is amazing, like she’s flying when she’s there.
Akari and her friends have dinner wtih Akatsuki, and he shows them around and explains more about how Ukijima works and what his job as a Salamander involves. Neo Venezia experiences different seasons and different types of weather, but the Salamanders help to regulate it and keep it safe for the residents by controlling the amount of heat released into the atmosphere. The processes behind some of the technology on Aqua sound almost magical.
There are many amazing things on Ukijima, but Akari is most entranced by her first fireworks show. Even though Akari has never seen fireworks before, she finds herself connecting with the nostalgia surrounding them, which she realizes is a feeling that surrounds everything on Aqua and in Neo Venezia because the style of living is more old-fashioned than on Earth/Manhome.
Colds and Pudding
Akari and another friend, Alice (who you don’t really get to meet until the Aria series begins – she’s another trainee Undine), go to visit Aika, who is sick with a cold. They find her upset and learn how a simple trip to get some pudding led to a disturbing epiphany for her.
Aika was bored, hungry, and tired of staying in her room, so she decided to sneak out to get some pudding.
While she was walking through the streets, enjoying her freedom without anyone knowing she that she was gone, she caught sight of Akari and Alice practicing their rowing. At first, Aika is amused that she can spy on them without them noticing her, but then, she gets a strange feeling, realizing that, under normal circumstances, she would be practicing with them, but she can’t be with them now.
It feels eerie to her to see people going on with their day without her, as if she didn’t exist or that her absence doesn’t matter. Aika gets so spooked by the feeling that she runs home and goes back to bed, crying.
However, Aika’s friends do miss her and are thinking about her while she’s sick, and they know exactly what she needs. Trust your friends to help you feel better (and bring you pudding) when you need it!
This is the story that convinced me to learn how to make pudding from scratch one day when I was sick at home. You don’t have to go out and get creepy feelings when you know how to make pudding yourself! Pudding is an easy dessert to make; it just takes awhile to thicken on the stove.