Aldnoah.Zero – 01/02 Review
For such a simple message, there sure are a TON of scenes in the second episode, simply repeating this line in terms of tone and actions.
Aldnoah may not be very blunt about it but so far… it’s a mecha-series. Challenging odds, tons of battles, big speeches about war and peace and the type of drama that could be easily solved by a reasonable dialogue: Aldnoah has it all! Except…! Its first two episode… actually, make that its first THREE episodes, are a prologue. Considering how the series has yet to say why anyone should give a shit about it, that’s a rather ballsy move.
Space – the place that isn’t Earth and although Earth is technically in Space, ‘Space’ is everything BUT Earth. Anyway, it’s the future and mankind has been greedily making its way to planets it didn’t have any right to visit. Turns out humanity isn’t along in space! There are other humans in space! And they are ALSO assholes!
Naturally, these two human factions immediately start a war! But the ‘aliens’ win the day and Earth-humanity is kinda grumpy for a couple years as both sides are still itching for finding an outlet for their secret hatred towards each other. I mean, it’s humans, what else do you expect…? It’s either lame fake-‘realistic’ talent-shows or a fullblown war when it comes to resolving conflicts!
But it’s the future, so everybody has already gotten tired of talent-shows (at this point it’s unimaginable how anyone could’ve ever thought this would be a good idea for a TV-series). So, it has to be the good old war-thingy once again.
Luckily for Earth the Vers-Empire has a young princess who’s naive enough to star in a Disney-movie and so she comes to Earth only with the best intentions (meaning irrational, idealistic ones)… and so she immediately becomes a victim of radical Earth-terrorists.
Well, with that shit has hit the fan for Earth and everybody can basically just watch or die or rush to their death (if they’re soldiers). But Earth is in luck once again because there are a bunch of weird, but very average Japanese teenagers (except the one guy who’s THE CHOSEN ONE of course) who are more than prepared to save the day… for whatever reason.
Also, the princess is still alive but has no fucking clue how politics work, it seems and so she has to rely on the Earthlings.
That’s a GREAT philosophy to have! Especially since nobody in this series seems TOO alarmed about this little “hobby”.
If someone explained to you magnetism for the first time, are you excited to see it do its magic a week later? You may wonder: Why DID someone explain to you magnetism when it only becomes relevant a week later? And that’s when pacing comes into play! In VERY general terms you usually have the story to tell you why stuff happens and the plot to tell you what happens, but naturally there’s this thing that forces them to work together for the sake of creating literature, movies or whatever and there’s all the other story-crap that’s also added to the mix. Essentially, telling a story is not just a bunch of good story-concepts and cool people doing some cool shit. There needs to be a structure and some instinctive understanding of drama to create a truly compelling work of fiction.
So, what does Aldnoah.Zero choose to do? Its scale is just off-the-charts epic, it has the Earth being invaded by an overpowered alien faction – and it happens on a global scale, it’s the whole fucking Earth, guys! Everybody suffers during this attack, fucking everybody! And so the series proceeds to tell us the story about some Japanese teenagers doing their best with the help of a couple Japanese adults. Also, there’s a princess who probably needs a dude to fight for her… because of course there is.
Aldnoah.Zero is just as ambitious as Zankyou no Terror with its story – except, of course, that their way of handling that ambition is VERY different. Alnoah.Zero is just this blasting, epic spectacle of a war that humanity can’t handle. And now humanity has to deal with the consequences while the alien-faction doesn’t seem to give a shit about how they’re aiming for genocide with their actions. Aldnoah wants to be big and loud and tragic and brutal but the first two episodes do a bad job of selling this story as something special.
The first problem is the structure of these first two episodes. It’s not like the series has bad writing but structurally, I find this start to be rather questionable. The first episode was practically all story with barely any plot whereas the second episode was all plot with barely any story. You may look at this purely mathematical and think that, overall, a balance is reached with this approach but watching the episodes you don’t think about some mathematical formula in terms of plot and story. Instead, you will simply watch either the first or the second episode and notice how unbalanced their story/plot-ratio is.
For an introduction into the setting of Aldnoah.Zero, the first episode is quite the bore. I mean, the writing is good enough to sell the exposition but the fact that the episode is 80% infodumps makes it boring no matter how good the writing is. Also, the most individualistic character seems to be some retired, discredited soldier with an alcohol-problem who knows more about the ‘enemy’ than everybody else. Even that is kinda formulaic but at least you have some resemblance of a layered characterization with this character. The rest that is presented in this episode is pretty much standard-fare. Slaine and Count Cruhteo could be interesting but they feel more like rudimentary plot-devices to tell us that not everyone in the Vers Empire is bad.
But the first episode worked, at least insofar as that it had set up a sufficient plothook with the assumed assassination of the Vers Empire princess. And so the second episode devoted all of its time to showing the result of this event. There are a ton of shots detailing the massacre of the Earth’s defense in this episode and it’s just plain weird how everybody in charge on Earth seems to be completely surprised that they’re about to lose the war – AGAIN. All the warmongering from the side of the Earth-people that was hinted at in the first episode seems to be completely delusional. Even if it was supposed to be a somewhat delusional opinion that Earth could win a war against the Vers-Empire at this point, Earth loses a tad TOO fast for such an opinion to exist. I mean, it should be more than just idle fantasizing that convinced these people to advocate a second war with the hope that Earth would win this time around, right?
Well, anyway, things are pretty much hopeless for Earth and the way the Vers Empire conducts conquest you would think you’re watching death-metal in action: Each of the leading knights that conduct the invasion is just hyperactively trying to one-up each other in terms of aggressiveness. And some are petty as well, it turns out to be. There’s a nice little detail with the way the Vers-Empire starts taking out Earth’s communication-infrastructure before it starts engaging their military-forces. That’s the kind of sound strategizing all these battle-heavy shounen-series should have more often. Actually, what this series delivers in terms of military strategy and tactics isn’t even enough! It’s not like I want to see those types of stories in animes but if an anime really wants to take on war as a theme, it should at least show that it isn’t all guts, idealism and fluff-bullshit that save the day. Taking such stuff more serious is one good way to actually give more meaning to all this slaughter going on in these war-scenes.
And that’s where the story kinda falls apart: This series wants to tell this epic and loud story about a war but then it foolishly proceeds to tell yet another story about a bunch of Japanese teenagers in Japan saving the day. I know, there are a ton of animes who do this but in this case Alnoah has invested a ton of time in setting up a very epic scale for this series’ war. So when the story becomes “Everywhere hope is lost – except in Japan… for whatever reason!”, it doesn’t feel like it’s very reasonable. Well, I guess, Hollywood certainly would pull the same kind of shitty move with an epic story. But it’s worth mentioning here because Alnoah’s storytelling actually calls attention to this idiocy with its storytelling-style, instead of trying to hide it.
Also, Aldnoah has a bit of problem telling the audience why anyone should even give a shit about its story or its characters. While on an incidental level, there’s quite a lot going on in these two episodes and the first episode has set up quite a big challenge for the protagonists to deal with, but overall it isn’t really clear what all the fuss is about. Well, actually, there’s one thing characters have made a fuss about in these two episodes: Why can’t just everyone be happy together and live under an everlasting rainbow in some nice-looking valley with a glittering, pure river? Yeah, sure, why can’t everyone in the universe coexist like that…? What a profound question! Jesus, what comes next?! The question whether you use a yellow or an orange crayon to draw the sun…?
All these years in space and the Vers-Empire still produces assholes like it’s a fucking tradition for sentient species or something.
The problem with this approach is that it’s a fairly straightforward one and the series isn’t helping by portraying 70% of the Vers-Empire as war-hungry idiots. There are the greatly underpowered Earthlings on one side and the despotic Vers-Empire on the other side. And now you have the good guys fighting for these two peacefully working together and the bad guys working towards a brutal war that won’t help anyone. The first thing one notices is the lack of nuance in this conflict as it’s VERY obvious who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. The other thing is that this is a battle happening on a purely idealistic level. These two episodes have done a bad job explaining why anyone of the Vers-Empire would like to see a war on Earth happening and why the princess actually wants the Vers-Empire and Earth to become allies except to follow the naïve notion of ‘world-peace’.
What you’re left with is a rather intricate story-setup with no discernable hook. Aldnoah.Zero simply hasn’t been able to sell itself as interesting after two episode. Sure, due to all the details provided in the first episode, it’s easy to imagine for this series to go somewhere interesting… but right now? Right now, it just seems ready to become yet another dull mecha-series that’s concerned with world-peace and saving the day.
Episodes-Rating: 1st Episode – 6.0/10 2nd Episode – 6.5/10
- Inaho, the teenager-hero-person for this series… Apparently he’s a sociopath… or kinda autistic. Because he has yet to show much of an emotional reaction to, well, anything, I guess. BUT he’s VERY talented, of course! After all, despite the emphasis on daily life and characters who are somewhat average, animes don’t truly want to tell stories about stinky average people…
- There are some nuances for a morally grey story in these two episodes but the way characterizations on the Vers-Empire-side are handled I don’t think that sort of world-building will matter much.
- So, there’s a princess working for peace together with an underdog-Earthling-team using special powers in order to bring about ultimate world-peace…? Phew, and there I’ve feared, I would have to take all the detailed world-building serious… Guess we go for the easy route with this series’ story.