Aldnoah.Zero – 09-12 Review
Just one of the interesting setting-aspects this series sadly didn’t explore more: The fact that the technologically superior Vers-Empire has actually a more primitive societal system than the people on Earth.
And with this my holiday-break has ended! Maybe I will write a post about my holiday in Scotland, especially since I was right there during the Independence-Referendum which was quite the experience. You don’t see stuff like that every day after all! But back to animes (professionalism and all that, you know…). Like last season I really have paid no attention to the anime-previews for next season. I just watch the 1st episode of everything and see what interests me. I mean, this summer-season has been the first time I did this and I don’t think like I really missed out on anything in particular. But first: Aldnoah.Zero. Before I tackle the review I want to clarify one thing: Yes, there will be a second season – and it will air in the Winter season 2015. Now here’s the review!
This isn’t a bad series. In fact, it’s quite a good series but it isn’t one that will leave a great impression. And it’s not one particular thing about this series that’s wrong, it’s just the way it has all been put together for this first season that ultimately diminishes its impact. Aldnoah.Zero’s first season is a great example of having just this long list of great things you need to describe with a “Yes, that’s great, but…”. There’s nothing simple-minded about this series and it’s certainly way better than most of the shounen-heroism-mecha-shows out there but ultimately it just doesn’t come together to deliver something special.
The most noticeable element of this first season is its pacing. The plot is just this non-stop train of events that maybe doesn’t have enough plot-twists to really deliver every single episode but overall the plot progresses quite smoothly and in a fast-paced manner. In fact, considering how the action oftentimes overtook any concern to bring character-background-related depth and/or personal drama to the proceedings, the series could’ve actually condensed its plot even more.
Characterization really has taken a backseat in this first season and the audience really is rarely invited into the headspace of any particular character. You only get glimpses and strangely enough the one who gets the most character-moments, Marito, is basically just a non-essential subplot in this first season. And there’s no more frustrating example of that than Inaho, a character whose depth is actually present as one can see in the end, but the series never has done much to explore it. Instead it lingers on his stoic façade, even turns it into a bit of a gimmick and only emphasizes his ability to be this calm, collected genius in combat-situations. There’s a moment in the ninth episode when his sister talks about his psychology and everyone around her is just baffled that he supposedly doesn’t have the emotional capacity of a screwdriver for example – which isn’t surprising actually because after all, that’s EXACTLY how the series has portrayed him. Only in the end does the series finally give in and it shows the emotional undertones that really ARE there. But more than just a lack of finesse in the voice-acting-performance (which was a tad TOO monotone), there’s also the obvious lack of time. Characterization was more implied than shown or even told in this first season. And the writing was good enough for me to take an interest in some of the major characters but I didn’t really sympathize with them.
But then again that bit of distance was maybe something the series wanted. The story of the series really took a turn for the dark in its last third and that’s when the series actually started to come into its own. Before that the series seemed weirdly unremarkable and mediocre. I guess, it’s not that much of a surprise that the story would develop like that when Gen Urobouchi is the script-writer. And at this point Gen Urobouchi’s trope-tendencies are becoming a bit routine, I feel like – at least as far as his series are concerned. Naturally it isn’t that much of a problem currently because right now only Gen Urobouchi creates Gen-Urobouchi-stories but there will be a point when he has to do a little bit more than to infuse genre-stories with a dark flair. The few couple tropes that seem to fascinate Gen Urobouchi are sacrifices and that nobody gets exactly what he or she wants. In the end, Gen’s stories always punish the people trying to do something, be it good or evil but like in any other story good still wins the day in the end – but the hero has to pay a price. And most of the time the price involves some sort of sacrifice. Madoka Magica probably has the happiest endings of all his stories actually as the ending of the original series and the ending of the Rebellion-movie classify more as bittersweet than tragic in my opinion (with Rebellion being the sweeter one of the two when it comes to the bitter and sweet balanace). But if you look at Fate/Zero’s ending, the ending of the Sayaka-arc in the original Madoka-series and, well, this first season’s ending, you can see this dark way of how the characters’ ambitions and wishes are twisted by the action and lead to these unforeseen horrible consequences. It’s a bit of a “the way to hell is paved with good intentions”-mentality. The good guys want to make good things happen but ultimately they just add to the horror and tragedy of the world they live in.
And in a way the fast pacing really helps to drive the point home that this is a story with moral ambiguity. You’re not supposed to see Inaho with his Martian princess and the other survivors as some sort of heroes. This story isn’t about winning the war. There’s even this poignant discussion in one of the last episodes where Inaho explains how terrible wars are and the way they end. They only had to fight long enough until enough people had died so that both sides could come to their senses and try to find peace. And this first season never even deals with this peace-process. It’s remarkable just how bleak the atmosphere gets when the traitor-faction of the Vers-Empire under Count Saazbaum and the survivors aboard the Deucelion basically just slaughter each other without rhyme or reason.
Oh, for fuck’s sake! Does that stupid joke never get old…?! Someone should tell all these stupid people who like these lame lampshading-jokes that nobody in real life remarks how anything is like something that happens in real life. You know why nobody does that?! Because common sense gives the average person enough self-awareness to know what is real! Just pointing out how someone in a fictional situation thinks he’s in a fictional situation is just as non-sensical and unnecessary as people in real life remarking that they experience real life!
And one of the few characters that were portrayed in an interesting way was Count Saazbaum himself, the villain. The instigated war between Earth and the Vers-Empire never had made much sense. It didn’t even make sense the first time around and that they would start a second one so soon after the first one really didn’t make much sense. But the motivation Saazbaum had was quite interesting. It was nihilistic to the point of being self-destructive. That was a nice version of the typical “I want to destroy everything!”-routine a lot of villains have. The Vers-Empire’s need for the resources on earth that turned to envy used as a tool to further the destruction of not only the people on Earth but basically the Vers-Empire itself as its envy leads to the destruction of Earth. It’s a fine story-idea.
Naturally, if you’re so inclined, you could wonder how a whole faction of the Vers-Empire could be SO suicidal. But here’s another big flaw of this first season: It just couldn’t handle its own epic scope. At no point during this first season did I feel like I was watching some giant war between a Martian Empire and Earth. Just like with the characterization, there simply wasn’t any time for it to begin with! And once again all the depth that should’ve been shown or at least told the audience by the series was simply implied! This first season seriously dropped the ball to really do a lot of necessary worldbuilding here. The series needed to do SO much more in order to sell its setting and its story. Instead it was just scratching the surface with most of it and like with the characterizations the series simply did just the bare minimum required to make the series work.
But there’s a second season. Actually, personally I think a more conclusive but just-as-bleak ending would’ve been better. After all, like I’ve said, the series didn’t handle its characters and its worldbuilding very well, so it should’ve just concentrated on delivering its message. And letting this meaningless, nihilistic war end in such a bleak finale would’ve been more than fitting. The Vers-Empire is doomed and everything it has done has just brought this doom closer. And so some desperate, influential soldiers start this faction that just want to end it all. And they come close, SO close. The good guys win the day – except most of them die and those who survive aren’t happy they survived. Overall, the Vers-Empire is still doomed and a lot of people have died for nothing. If you had condensed this story more without the need to create this big cast of characters that can populate a 2-cours-series (even with some characters dying), I think you would’ve gotten a more effective story. I mean, stuff like scope and worldbuilding are things you can ignore if you limit the perspective of the series to a few characters instead of trying to make the series look epic. This first season was good, REALLY good, its last third was even great, I would say, but at its core is the potential for an even better series, I would say.
- Wow, I can’t remember the last time first aid actually saved somebody in fiction… That stuff is usually just a pointless act of desperation.
- Also, about the two good guys who presumably died in the end: I can imagine both being shown lying in coma in the second season for some reason and still survive for some reason. The series never really shows where the characters are shot and nobody has checked them whether they are actually dead. Although she’s more likely to survive than him, I would say. Personally I think, story-wise there are benefits to both of them being dead and both of them barely surviving. So, who knows how this will play out…
- Slaine really has bad timing and bad luck in general, like, all the time actually. He’s the kind of guy who would end up stopping a Hitler-assassination although he originally wanted to save Jews from a concentration-camp.