Aldnoah.Zero – 04 Review
Wait, why is the alcoholic war-veteran the only one dispensing sensible strategic and tactical advice among all those military-people? Also, why are all the other relevant military-characters in this series women? Why is Marito the only one who seems somewhat competent among all those military-people that have been introduced until now…?
Zankyou no Terror really reminded me of the whole nuclear history Japan has. It’s a tragic history… which means it’s great material to use in fiction! This episode, for example: The imperialistic Martian Vers-Empire destroys Tokyo with meteors that form a mushroom-like cloud just so that they can claim ownership of another part of the world. Look, I would like to think this is more a series trying to play with history-based imagery than actually engaging with historical commentary, but who knows… this is the fourth episode. It doesn’t have to mean anything really! Just look at Man Of Steel and how that movie used 9/11-imagery. That movie didn’t really have anything to say about the whole 9/11-incident and still it used that imagery.
Humanity survives. Millions die in an inferno of violence and self-righteous hatred and still… Humanity survives. Again and again Martian knights, once concerned with honor and etiquette, dallied with brutality and viciousness exacting a judgement more bloody than fair on the people on Earth. Only one place resisted.
Inaho, a random kid: He has good grades, does well in mecha-practice, doesn’t give a shit about his instructor being an alcoholic obviously. Somehow he would’ve found something to do with his life, something ordinary, something boring. Not that Inaho would’ve cared. There are lizards out there less cold-blooded than this bloody bastard.
But it all changes within one moment. And like most such moments in a guy’s life it starts with a damsel-in-distress, even better yet: a royal one. The Martian princess, thought dead, is in quite the pinch hiding among the human survivors and so it’s up to Inaho to rescue her pussy and world-peace.
I would like to think that in the 21st century nobody would be able to just randomly express racism – even if the situation’s as dire as this one. It feels REALLY weird that nobody even comments on this extreme statement.
Aldnoah’s approach to its premise still seems so generic and streamlined to me. There’s no ambition or vision behind this series. It’s really just a smart script for a standard-mecha-series and the series is neither self-aware nor edgy. Where this series excels is when the smart script can turn battle-scenes into little mind-games. Although you need to suspense your disbelief for these scenes in some ways, those are still really entertaining action-scenes. The problem starts outside those scenes because the series doesn’t really seem to capitalize on all the issues presented by the story.
One of the biggest problems of this series is still Inaho, the hero-character. While I like that he’s actually competent in handling combat-situations instead of just being superficially talented or overpowered, outside of the battle-scenes he’s pretty much a dud as far as charisma goes. Look, I get it that his lack of expression is his shtick but with him being one of the most important characters he gets hurled into A LOT of dramatic scenes and it will be REALLY hard to sell those scenes when one of the main-characters just gives a deadpan-delivery for all his lines.
The whole ‘emotionless’-gimmick is very hard to pull off. I mean, sure, I know, there’s a way to portray a girl as moe with that sort of gimmick but Aldnoah.Zero is a serious series. Characterization-based gimmicks need to be utilized by the story! This sort of stuff can’t just be thrown into the series with the expectation that most of the audience will like it on sight. Even if it’s a popular gimmick to use for characterization, you STILL need to sell it. Sure, there are certain character-types every one of us will instinctively like more than others but the characters who will actually stick with us weren’t that lazily characterized. Just look at Persona 4: Golden from this season: Yuu, the main-chara, constantly delivers deadpanned reactions – but they work! Persona 4 actually uses this style to deliver jokes; it integrates this abnormal behavior into the character-dynamics of the series instead of just letting it sit there. It’s not enough to have just a character remark on the weirdness of Inaho’s behavior, the appearance of emotionless-ness is a characterization that begs for depth. Subtlety is key, though, when you’re trying to portray an apparently “emotionless” character. Rather than to show off a character’s “emotional moments” when he’s usually emotionless, it’s important to show the single-mindedness needed to stay emotionless when you’re naturally not. For storytelling that can’t use inner monologues easily, it’s important to show off this difference between what a character appears to be and what happens inside the characters’ head. Just delivering hints of emotionality by letting a completely rational character take risks isn’t the most poignant way to sell an essentially “emotionless” character, but it’s a move into the right direction.
What really hurts the episode, though, is the still present lack of a compelling theme. The Martian princess wants to reveal herself – among a group of Earthlings who have mostly turned into Martian-racists. Yep, what compelling drama! A princess is trying to heroically sacrifice herself to save the humans who fucking hate her. And who can blame them? 99% of the Martians they’ve encountered were fucking trying to murder them! The naivety of the Martian princess is just unbelievable. Her blatant optimism and universe-peace-activist-behavior is just the worst kind of stereotypical Disney-princess-behavior (except the series doesn’t even offer her the chance to be a protagonist). She really is just a cheesy version of every princess-character ever.
Inaho doesn’t really help with the thematic complexity here either, as he just bluntly points out what’s logical in each situation. Sure, it makes him seem competent and confident but thematically? Can you be any more predictable than pointing to the obvious, logical solution all the time? Drama isn’t created by a human robot doing the logical thing. But it’s even worse than any of those cheesy Gundam-protagonists as in that Inaho doesn’t really fight for any ideals. For him it’s all just a logical decision that’s needed in order to survive. There’s no passion in those actions and there’s definitely no metaphorical or allegorical value in those.
Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to put him into a situation where he tried to uncover the conspiracy from within instead of this secretive scheme that enables him to reconnect with the princess during some random skirmish…?
As for the actual story-part of this episode you have Inaho deciding to protect the princess, one random teenager-guy deciding to become a Martian-racist and Slaine deciding to get into the action. But the whole thing lacks scope and momentum. I know, most animes don’t bother to venture outside of Japan with their stories but this one bothered to actually do that. It showed the world’s (more or less) most important places being invaded by the Martians. This series presented the destruction of a war on a global scale. So, now to go back to a Japan-centric perspective seems a bit cheap. Sure, they have this jamming-thingy to account for a lack of communication but this is still a story about the whole planet Earth in terms of how it was presented. In the second episode it may have been somewhat effective to portray the war on a global scale but why even bother with this when the story ultimately ignores that part? Either show Japan’s POV or show a story that isn’t focused just on Japan: You can only do one of those things within a series.
This episode doesn’t feel very energetic, either. Just take Slaine’s plotline in this episode: He realizes what he has done when he shot another noble – but gets saved immediately by this ill-considered meteor-shower from one of the conspirators. What follows are a couple of scenes among Count Cruhteo’s ship as Slaine struggles to comprehend the extent of the conspiracy against his beloved princess. In the end he settles for being paranoid and keeping his knowledge a secret. This is an intriguing dramatic struggle for a character to have – and it’s portrayed in the most boring way imaginable. For one, it’s portrayed by Slaine trying to convince Count Cruhteo to send him out into the field while debating in an inner monologue whether the Count is part of the Conspiracy. It’s a dialogue-scene – where only one of the participants is acting dramatically. They didn’t invent monologues so that characters could do those in their mind while talking to an oblivious character! Two, those scenes happen in the same place again and again. If you ignore the inner struggle of Slaine, those scenes are just lame and repetitive without having real tension or an interpersonal dynamic. How about just letting Slaine have a surreal dream-sequence to show his state-of-mind and then let him go to Count Cruhteo having come to a decision and begging the Count to let him participate in the next attack? All this worrying of Slaine as it was portrayed may have been logical in his situation but sometimes it’s more important to talk about a character’s feelings than to just show off the character’s situational awareness.
The series still delivers its best scenes when it comes to action, though. When Inaho and his two friends engage that Martian knight, the episode had already established his superiority to the human mechas. But Inaho (naturally) still won the encounter in the end and it isn’t some cheesy emotion-fuelled miracle that enables Inaho to win, it’s an intelligent plan based on teamwork that wins the day in this episode. The execution of the plan is still a bit on the plot-convenient-side of things but that’s already enough to make these battle-scenes way better most of those Gundam-scenes where the protagonists show off their Newtype-powers. Aldnoah.Zero has a nice way of setting up a Martian mecha’s strengths that make it appear invincible only to then cleverly show off its weaknesses.
I was surprised how action-filled this episode turned out to be. I really had expected a more laid-back episode that concentrated on characterization and world-building. That it turned out to be this action-heavy… well, as for this particular episode, it certainly helped to make it an overall entertaining affair. But the characters in this series really need some down-time to become more compelling. Most of the characters still seem like one-trick-ponies as they are thrown into the same sort of serious ‘We fight for survival!’-situations again and again.
- Is this weird interest Darzana Magbaredge shows in Marito going to develop into a love-triangle with Yuki, Inaho’s older sister? Because I really have no idea what Darzana is going on about otherwise whenever she offhandedly compliments Marito.
- Well, I’m really interested to see how this series will tackle Marito’s alcohol-problem. They better not solve it with just some random fluffy comment that encourages him to simply “get over his addiction”.
- The way the Martian princess’ little “maid” acts, I doubt she will keep her cover for long. Only a complete idiot wouldn’t take notice of that weird dynamic the Martian princess and her “maid” have.
- The design of the Martian knight of this episode was kinda medieval despite all the fancy equipment he had on his mecha. That fucking mecha COMPLETELY relied on the human pilot’s reflexes and combat-skills. As soon as any situation would arise that would overwhelm that pilot, he’s fucked. The idea for this mecha was more romantic than practical.