ARIA Vol 1 by Kozue Amano: Gently meandering through the canals of Mars

aria cover

Blade Comics

This is probably the most relaxing manga ever written.

Meet Akari Mizunashi.

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Blade Comics


She’s what the Japanese call ‘genki’.

And this is her story.

It seems that in terra-forming Mars humans flooded the planet.

Now it is known as Aqua

Technology is 100 years behind Earth.

Now called Manhome.

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Blade Comics

But back to Akari.

She left Earth with a dream.

To become a fully qualified Undine (Gondolier) on the canals of Neo Venicia.

She is serving her apprenticeship with the ARIA company.

And that is basically what this manga is about.

Nothing life threatening happens.

Don’t read this expecting Dragon Ball Z type battles.

It is written in the style of letters home.

Everyday stories of a young girl gaining confidence and finding her place.

This manga showcases a couple of aspects of Japanese society that I think you’ll find interesting.

Group effort

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Blade Comics

I first read this manga back in 2002 when I lived in Japan.

Back then I taught English in a high school in Kawaguchi.

The whole ethos of the Japanese education system was work hard as a team and be cheerful while you do it.

It’s not a bad ethos.

Reading about Akari I was reminded of many of my students who embodied those principles of working hard and striving for self improvement.

Japanese Europhiles 

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Blade Comics


Many Japanese people absolutely love the ancient capitals of Europe.

They have an idea of what these places are like that equates to a fairytale land.

A lot of Ghibili anime are also influenced by this aesthetic for example Kiki’s Delivery Service.

In fact, there is actually a condition called Paris Syndrome which Japanese tourists are particularly susceptible to.

When the reality of the city is so misaligned with the idealized image it literally makes them crazy.

So you can see why creating a fictional Venice with all its ancient beauty intact and a layer of Japanese culture on top would be so appealing for Japanese readers.

O Kami-sama

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Blade Comics

The last reason I love this edition so much is the chapter called ‘Otenki Ame’ or ‘Rain of the Gods’.

When I lived in Japan I was fascinated by the many Shinto shrines large and small on street corners.

Close to my house was a small fox shrine.

I would always glance over at it as I cycled past.

Sure that the fox statue was watching me with his dark eyes of stone.

It wasn’t creepy.

It was an incredibly special place.

The atmosphere seemed to hang heavy around that little shrine.

So when I read ‘Otenki Ame’ it really made me smile.

Japan is a real dichotomy between ancient and modern.

Sometimes the ancient can seem rigid and frustrating.

But sometimes it can seem worth a thousand times more that all the throwaway culture we consume every day.

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Blade Comics

Maybe if you’ve visited or lived in Japan you’ll read this comic and also feel that wonderful sense of nastukashii.

Or if you’ve always wanted to visit then read this comic and get a sense of the essential Japanese character from a really sweet, feel-good story.

Also as a side note, Kozue Amano draws cats in a very odd way. The ‘President’ of the ARIA company the Shachou is a chubby white cat.

The cat is actually based on the artists own feline and I think it adds a unique look to the manga which is otherwise pretty standard in it’s aesthetic.

What do you think of ARIA Shachou?

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Blade Comics



You can buy Aria published in English by ADV Manga online and on




Usagi Drop – Part One Review

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When I decided to read Usagi Drop by Yumi Unita a Josei Comic (women’s comic) I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Certainly not something I would devour in a few days and that would change my feeling about parenting.

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So what’s it about?

The story is about Daikichi, a Japanese office worker in his 30s. He’s single, selfish, drinks too much, works too much and is basically an eternal bachelor.

That is until he attends his grandfather’s funeral where he meets six-year-old Rin.

Rin is the illegitimate daughter of Daikichi’s grandfather.

So she is basically Daikichi’s aunt.

Don’t worry the family dynamics don’t get any more complicated than this.

When the family start discussing putting Rin in a foster home Daikichi gets angry at their attitude and shouts that he’ll take care of Rin if no one else will.

Of course he immediately regrets his outburst and wonders what on earth he’s gotten himself into.

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But his sense of responsibility to Rin hardens his resolve to make the changes he needs to give her a secure home.

Apparently some of the events in the story come from the author’s own experience of becoming a parent and I think that grounding in reality shines through.

It’s also what kept me reading.

At one point Daikichi’s sister says that although she’s now engaged to be married she’s worried that her fiancé wants to start a family right away.

She says she’s got too many holidays to take, parties to go to and hobbies to pursue to sacrifice her life to babies.

I think most people have felt that way, whether they’d say so or not.

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There are a lot of opinions expressed in this comic about parenthood, about the sacrifices and the responsibilities that go with it (or should maybe go with it).

But the message is ultimately that although having children is a major change of lifestyle, you can adapt and ultimately it’s all worth it.

Interestingly though it also points out that some people just aren’t meant to be parents and don’t have that sense of responsibility.

It’s also pretty upfront about how hard being a single parent can be.

Usagi Drop - Movie Poster

I’d also say that I stopped reading at the end of six year old Rin’s story. The story then fast forwards 10 years and we meet high school girl Rin. Now I read ahead about where the story arc goes and I can only say ‘blerg, Japan why, oh why?’.

Some things should just be left alone and the story of Rin and Daikichi is one of them.

I would like to see the Japanese film of Usagi Drop though. Can anyone tell me if it is a good reflection of the manga?

Memories of Japan: Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi

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I think it’s about time this blog had some manga.

And not just any manga.

Oh no.

This is my absolute, 100% favourite manga of all time.

Let’s go back in time to 2001.

I was living in Japan, land of green tea bubble gum and potato sandwiches.

And more importantly the home of comics.

I used to go to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and just stand in awe at the thousands of pocket-size comics that I could never hope to ever read.

Well, they were all in Japanese.

And believe me that’s a pretty big barrier to overcome even with my super-genki daily study and kanji obsession.

But I did tune into a few manga that I loved to greedily pick off the station news-stands and pore over with my electronic dictionary.

My favourite of these by far was Inuyasha.

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First off I should mention that this manga is written and drawn by Rumiko Takahashi.

Probably the world’s most successful female comic writer and artist.

[Pause for applause]

She’s pretty damn fabulous.

But let’s get down to details.

If you aren’t interested in manga, never considered looking past the goofy eyes and adolescent storylines, why should you give Inuyasha a chance?

First off,  Inuyasha is a petulant half-human half-wolf demon who can be put in his place with a well timed “sit!”

There’s a lot of nice, well-timed comic moments in this.

Secondly, it features a Japanese schoolgirl Kagome, but she’s not a total sap. she’s actually the reincarnation of Inuyasha’s ex-girlfriend Kikyou who bound him to the tree after the shikon no tama (jewel of four souls)  shattered…And she rocks a bow and arrow.

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And so much more.

It’s a well developed universe you can really immerse yourself in.

The story switches between ancient Japan, a time of monsters and war, and modern Japan, a time of fragile normality.

You only need to know three things:

1. The story has a lot of charm and depth of characterisation

2. If you get into Inuyasha you are in for a great ride – there are 56 volumes

3. The monsters are awesome (in an inventive mythical way – you won’t get scared by Inuyasha)

I also loved the Inuyasha anime that used to play on a Monday evening on NHK I think. At the time I lived in Japan the theme song was Dearest by Ayumi Hamusaki. I heard it so many times and sang along to the TV that it became my party piece at karaoke.

So on that note for those of you who love a bit of J-Pop or just want to imagine ComicOpa drunkenly wailing out Japanese lyrics here’s the original with English subtitles.

Aaaah sugoku natsukashii…. (>.<)/

You can buy Inuyasha translated into English by Viz comics online and in most comic shops. I paid roughly £2 per volume in Japan so the price tag here is a little high for me.

But remember to check you local library and see what they have. Edinburgh has at least one volume on their system so you can check that out and see if it’s for you before you invest.