Aldnoah.Zero – 05-07 Review
That’s easy for him to say. After all, he’s on a guilt-trip. As for the rest of humanity I will hazard a guess and say: No, actually dying is kinda always a bad thing.
Doesn’t the Vers-Empire have anything better to do than to invade Earth and wreck the place? They’re on Mars for God’s sake, fucking Mars! They’re in the SAME solar system as Earth! All this fancy Aldnoah-shit and they still haven’t even managed to colonize other solar systems apparently! And who the hell designed those Martian Kataphrakts…? And why would you let those be piloted by egocentric pricks who probably can’t even spell the word ‘teamplay’…? I really question the way the Vers-Empire conducts warfare in this series… No wonder they can be bested by that little wonder-boy Inaho.
Slaine has a problem, a big problem. He knows something he isn’t supposed to know and he doesn’t know what everybody else around him knows and because those who already know what he knows will probably kill him for what he knows he tries to tell someone he can trust what he knows. If anyone can be reasoned with it’s the dude who fathered the guy who fathered the princess. Well, you would think so but turns out… Blood may be thicker than water – but rampant racism and paranoia are even thicker than blood. So, Slaine has to flee and decides to look for the princess by himself.
Meanwhile Inaho is kicking butt like usual. Some people on the ship have problems and… yeah, that’s all one needs to say about that. And the ship he’s on finds a hidden dock by chance that contains a big-ass space-battleship. There’s also a super-mecha!
Good for them! Now someone only needs to call Inaho a Newtype and we got ourselves a new Gundam-series!
Yeah, no shit, Sherlock! Add an Austrian accent and that kid could play the Terminator!
Earth gets invaded, millions of people die and only a few escape from the blind rage that’s unleashed by some space-empire who are too racist for diplomacy. But a few survive, one of them a group of Japanese civilians, some students and some soldiers, all together on a military-ship. But what is the most important point of drama? It’s a naive princess that just wants to explain the situation to everyone that when she was declared dead, she didn’t actually die but she didn’t tell that anyone sooner because her only friend is a little maid that sucks at keeping her identity a secret.
Aldnoah.Zero lacks heart. There’s drama, tension, danger, battles and whatnot, but constantly people talk about doing the right thing for the right reasons. And they either do that, then that’s because they’re good guys or if they don’t for some reason, then that’s because they’re bad guys. Meanwhile, the rest basically just follows someone else’s lead.
I’ve already mentioned previously how the series fails in portraying the scope appropriately but more than a lack of actual worldbuilding, the series doesn’t feel like the battle for survival that it is. Look, that ship Inaho & Co with the princess are on – it’s on the run from an enemy way more powerful than they can handle. The tension should make that ship seem like a prison and running from an overpowered enemy that basically has already won the war should be the starting point for a lot of pessimism. I mean, it’s not like there’s a happy, celebratory atmosphere on that ship but it all seems too muted, too disciplined and too calm. Just like Inaho’s outward apathy, the atmosphere on that ship is just… reasonable. People are reasonably worried about attacking Martian mechas, people are reasonably outraged over the aggression of the Martians, everyone is reasonably attached to whatever personal drama they have but nothing of it feels passionate or compelling. Everybody knows how fucked up the situation is – and they’re basically fine with it! They all seemingly have accepted their fate and they aren’t being a sourpuss about it – like, at all! When in the seventh episode most of the people on the ship have to become part of military, there’s just this shrug-and-sigh-atmosphere and everyone’s like “Guess, I gotta do this shit now.”.
This series’ perspective on the military has mostly the same problems most mecha-shows have: They trivialize it. Some even go so far as to glorify it and Aldnoah.Zero isn’t doing that at least but the series still misrepresents a crucial fact about military-life and that is its lack of normalcy. Military-life isn’t the norm for most people in this world and glossing over this fact means it gets trivialized. That these kids have apparently been trained as soldiers for a long time – gets glossed over. These kids had to learn how to deal with war! But the series is like “Oh, good, so they can make themselves useful in the battle despite being teenagers.”. Naturally if one has seen enough animes, one knows this isn’t an approach unique to this series. In fact, it’s basically the standard for a shounen-series to somehow create these shortcuts for why teenagers can get involved in apocalyptic wars and be prominent figures in these situations. What this does to the characterizations and stories becomes obvious when you ask yourself just how many teenager-characters of these series are concerned about growing up and adulthood. And when it’s an issues, growing up is treated like some switch that can instantly turn the teenager-character into an “adult” who can take responsibility. Rather than to portray it as a process, it’s a sudden character-development for dramatic convenience. Also: Most of them don’t even have parents-figures in the story!
The series is very quick to somewhat streamline and normalize the situation in a way where characters enact routines instead of freaking out about the situation. Naturally angst in overdoses can be pretty annoying as well but as far as emotions go, they should never feel tonedeaf. But by episode 07 there’s a lack of urgency and chaos in the story and that saps any drama that actually IS there of its strength. The drama that should be happening on a group-level here simply gets ignored. Instead drama happens on a personal level with each of the characters having their own problems and trying to find solutions to those by themselves as well. Just look at how the Vers-Princess STILL insists on explaining things to everyone will end the war. She’s just stuck in that naïve, optimistic perspective. After the dialogue from the fourth episode, no real reflection seemed to have happened. And then when she finally reveals herself the drama isn’t centered on the characters but the events of the battle and how her choice impacted those.
I… I really don’t know what to say. How has she NOT been discovered…?! It’s beyond me how that princess could’ve kept her cover intact with that little girl around calling her constantly “Your Highness”.
The battles are still the highpoint of each episode as these are the only moments when the show feels energetic. There’s a nice flow to these scenes that see Inaho gradually working out how to stop whatever the Vers Empire is throwing at him. The only problem is that while Inaho is interesting as an idea, charisma-wise he’s a total dud. There’s no real sense of personality to his actions and it’s not really clear what’s going on in his head. And until Episode 07 that was a big problem.
Well, the ending of episode 07 kinda changed things. Aside from the battle-scenes this was the first purely character-based moment that was actually interesting in this whole series: When Slaine asks Inaho if he’s just another one who wants to exploit the princess, Inaho, after a pause, asks whether that would bother him. That’s a rather loaded comment, to put it mildly. Inaho is interesting because he’s so much more competent than your usual teenager-protagonist but he would become a genuinely compelling character if that competence would be put into a frightening context once it’s revealed what motivates his actions. He could be a character who looks at a princess and doesn’t see a damsel-in-distress but a tool he can use for his own gains. I’m totally onboard for such a plottwist where Inaho essentially becomes an anti-hero or maybe even a villain. As long as Inaho remains the center of attention for this series’ story, stuff like that can only be beneficial to the series.
Slaine’s storyline is the most interesting one conceptually, although I’m not sure that the series does a particularly good job of selling his plotline. Finally Slaine has reached a decision about what to do and his plan is to go to the Emperor and tell him the truth. In the end, the whole storyline is just a slow build-up towards a plottwist and the problem with this setup and its effects is that it seems kinda bland.
For one, it all seems way too easy. The sequence of Slaine sneaking into the Emperor’s bedchambers in episode 05 for example isn’t half as tense as you would expect it. On the contrary, the security seems rather lax and Slaine very easily sneaks into that bedroom for a little chat. Why this sequence isn’t good enough actually relates to two factors: One is how it’s set up in the episode and the other is where it eventually leads to. The first one is the more problematic as Slaine’s “Mission: Impossible” coincides with Inaho’s battle-sequence. Changing between the two sequences the episode tries to ramp up the tension and fails at both. After all, it’s not clear what’s actually significant (beyond the immediate survival) about Inaho kicking this Martian knight’s ass – again. And since Slaine’s stealthy endeavors seem way too easy to be called tense, it’s really more of a waiting-game. Because that’s the other thing that hinders Slaine’s sequence: It doesn’t lead to a surprise.
Look, Slaine’s current storyline is one of paranoia. Slaine doesn’t know who’s involved with the conspiracy to kill his beloved princess but he really doesn’t know what the hell he’s supposed to do about that. So he’s searching someone he can confide in. He chooses the Emperor in the fifth episode to be trustworthy and so he takes it upon himself to sneak into that dude’s bedroom to explain the situation. First of all, Slaine sneaking into the Emperor’s bedroom should seem like a challenge. When Slaine gets the chance to talk to the Emperor it should be a moment of triumph for that character! But it isn’t! Rather easily Slaine manages to sneak into that bedroom and he bluntly explains the situation. So, now it’s all about the Emperor’s reaction and since the audience doesn’t know that character very well, it’s VERY easy to get suspicious and NOT expect a virtuous answer from him. The scene between the Emperor and Slaine shouted “Plottwist ahead!” so loud that I was just impatiently waiting for the reveal of the betrayal to show itself. The particulars of the actual dialogue really seemed kinda pointless in that regard. After all, none of it matters thanks to the predictable plottwist at the end of that scene!
Naturally, the plottwist comes and the series acts like it’s a very dramatic plottwist but once more the series totally fails to nail the emotional resonance of that scene. Aldnoah.Zero still has no real personality that would set it apart from any other mecha-series. Sure, it’s smartly written in terms of the battle-scenes and none of the scenes are jarring or obnoxious. But deepdown the series lacks this vital piece which would make all that resonate with the audience. The only thing of potential here is Inaho’s character and what kind of person he could turn out to be. Anything else that this series has to offer at this point has already been shown off. That the characters have a genuine space-battleship with a super-mecha certainly isn’t the kind of stuff that reeks of potential to me.
- I sort-of care about Inaho, Slaine, Marito and… that’s about it. There are A LOT of characters in this series I really don’t give a shit about. And the worst thing is: The series doesn’t even do a good job of making their stories seem relevant.
- The Vers-Empire aren’t really good villains. They’re racist, arrogant and some of them kinda wanna murder their own princess because she feels a bit iffy regarding this whole war-thingy. Yeah, she’s weird like that. It’s not like throwing all this military-hardware at a planet barely able to put up a resistance is a waste of resources…