Although Kozue Amano's two volume series Aqua is generally referred to as the prequel of her longer series Aria, as far as I can tell it was really more of a title change when the original manga serialization switched magazines. But ether way, I've been meaning to read both Aqua and Aria for a while now. I was pleased when Aria was selected for the March 2011 Manga Moveable Feast because it gave me the last push I needed to finally get around to picking the manga up. The first volume of Aqua was originally published in Japan in 2001 and then again in 2003. The English edition was released in 2007 by Tokyopop. Tokyopop also published the second volume of Aqua and after ADV suspended the publication of Aria, Tokyopop picked up the license, so far publishing the first six volumes of the twelve volume series.
The year is 2301 A.D. During the terraforming of Mars, the ice caps melted more than originally anticipated, covering nearly ninety percent of the planet, now also known as Aqua, in water. The port town of Neo-Venezia was modeled after the city of Venice, Italy which no longer exists on Manhome. But like the original city, Neo-Venezia attracts many tourists, sightseers, and travelers. The premier tour guides are gondoliers known as undines. Akari Miuznashi has traveled from Tokyo to Neo-Venezia to study to become an undine. She is fortunate to have been accepted by the Aria Company to become the apprentice of Alicia, considered by many to be one of the best undines on Aqua. Akari has the potential to become a great undine through hard work and practice, although she'll have to unlearn a few bad habits that she picked up as a self-taught gondolier first. But with the help of Alicia and Akari, an apprentice at the renowned Himeya Company, Akari is determined to make her dream come true and enjoy herself while she's doing it.
What appealed to me most about the first volume of Aqua (beside the whole Mars thing) was the artwork. Amano's landscapes, waterscapes, and cityscapes are gorgeous. And she doesn't forget to include details like the water life or Mars' double moons. Her use of water is lovely, a good thing since there is a lot of it. Even the spaceships feel like they're floating through the air. The panels with Alicia are generally striking as well. The elegance and grace of her movements and her skill as an undine are clear, especially when compared to the more awkward attempts made by Aika and Akari, although they have their moments, too. Not everything is so beautiful, however. The Mars cats are very odd looking creatures but delightful in their own way and Aika's facial expressions can be a bit peculiar from time to time.
For someone whose dream it is to become an undine, Akari seems to know surprisingly little about Aqua and Neo-Venezia. However, this does give Amano the excuse to take the readers along with Akari on a sightseeing trip of sorts as she learns more about and explores her new home. She might come across as clueless fairly frequently, but Akari is also extraordinarily earnest and enthusiastic--her romanticism and innocence are utterly endearing. Aqua is not a series that everyone will be able to appreciate. If you're looking for an action packed science fiction adventure, you will be disappointed. But if you're in the mood for a charming and relaxing journey, Aqua is simply perfect. It's gentle and laid back and even the tension in the story (what little of it there is) is fairly subdued. If anything, the first volume of Aqua might be too pretty and serene. But, I did enjoy it. It's a feel good manga and I will be reading both the second volume of Aqua and Aria as well.