Review-Roundup: Yuri Kuma Arashi 04, Aldnoah.Zero 15

_C12__Aldnoah_Zero_-_15.mp4 - 00000Yeah, sure, that’s how brains work. A few more episodes and Inaho can use telekinetic powers like Scarlett Johannson in “Lucy”, I guess.

This time I review:

Yuri Kuma Arashi 04: Flashback-time! Apparently the Bear-World resembles a fairy-tale-kingdom and the bears send their criminals to the humans – because they can’t give up on their love. Seems like love is a crime no matter where you go in this series.

Aldnoah.Zero 15: Inaho is Odin and Slaine gets adopted. There’s also a war going on… I assume. People certainly fight and die a lot. Why they keep fighting, though, is anybody’s guess…

Yuri Kuma Arashi 04 Review:

_C12__Yuri_Kuma_Arashi_-_04.mp4 - 00005The way Lulu’s room changes depending on what’s going on in the story is a great example of visual storytelling. For once the visuals in this example aren’t just stylized allegories but directly link to the story. It’s just a neat way to tell that story and nothing more! And that should be good enough. It doesn’t always have to be some elaborate, witty allegory.

If anything, this episode truly shows what the first three episodes lacked: warmth. This episode was endearing, theatrical and also a bit strange but it had a relatable undercurrent which helped the audience to connect to the story. This series has been struggling so far to really find a connection between the world it’s showing and the characters that inhabit it. All you’ve got are allegorical catchphrases, a stage-y direction and a bunch of repetition. The first three episodes never showed you how it all fit together. It was clear that the series was trying to make a point with its ramblings but it never tried to make that point relatable.

In this episode, it’s the fairy-tale-trappings that help to set up a world that is actually more coherent than the human world we’ve seen so far. This world of castles, princesses, servants and romance is already more relatable in how typical that world is. And the story of Lulu as a princess who is jealous of her brother for getting all the attention while said brother desperately tries to earn the love of his sister is really straightforward and simple as well. Thanks to that all the allegorical stuff and symbolism becomes something that is added to the story instead of being the whole story.

The tone of the episode is also more lighthearted compared to what the previous three episodes had been going for. All the stage-y stuff of reusing set-pieces and actually certain scene-sequences as well just fits that tone perfectly. When Lulu is repeatedly devising ways to kill off her brother only for him to come back from death and deliver the “Promise Kiss” in the form of honey, it’s obvious that the series is going for humor here. But more than that it’s absurd humor as the “deaths” of the little brother become more certain with each sequence and yet he survives it each time. So the story already has a very surreal feeling that just gets more fairy-tale-ish thanks to the voice-over-narration and how said narrator is literally sharing the “stage” with the “actors” and at one point the three judges even interact with Lulu (a sequence which once again relies on repetition).

Another thing that differentiates this episode from the other three is how it talks about love. In this episode even the lost love of Lulu becomes a hopeful promise in the end and in the dialogue-scene between Lulu and her brother love gets romanticized and mythologized. Love is seen as an essential part of the world as the stars in the sky are seen as these signs of love and the honey the little brother is bringing the whole time is equated with a notion of love that is considered meaningful (maybe even destined, I guess).

It’s weird, though, to look at this romantic, bright, hopeful episode and remember how the first three episodes have talked about the same topic. The first three episodes are all doom and gloom. Kureha loses her lover, the world she lives actually has forbidden such love and then there are bears in human form running around eating people. And the intro to those episodes was basically “thanks to a meteorite bears have started eating people, now humans have built a wall in order to survive”. The bears were the enemies and they were disguising themselves as humans in order to attack humans in secret. And the series does indeed start with Kureha who seems to be the main-chara losing her lover to a bear-attack. Things go downhill from there as she realizes just how many bears are running around. Meanwhile she’s grieving for her lover in secret since their love is a forbidden one. But that’s where it really comes all together, isn’t it? Love. Who knows what deep comments get added to this story but it doesn’t seem like a really complex one.

The difference between how this episode had talked about love and how the first three episodes had done so is certainly context. Those first three episodes are just drowning you in symbolism and allegories. Add to that the vagueness of the setting as you really only have the school, Kureha’s house and the garden with the lilies as setpieces (again a very stage-y approach to the setting) and it’s hard to find a throughline that’s as relatable as the fairy-tale-setting of the Bear-world.

Also, Kureha’s character-arc doesn’t really seem to be headed into any particularly interesting direction. I guess, it’s no wonder that it’s Ginko who seems more like the main-chara in the opening. She’s the character with a quest and a goal. Why the series wouldn’t want to start with Ginko’s story is beyond me. Her storyline is way less complicated than Kureha who had this forbidden romance, this mysterious mother-figure and is also being targeted by different bears for different reasons. Kureha is a character who may be connected to a lot of plot-points but she’s trapped in the interconnected web spun by those and really remains mostly passive in her approach to it. The first three episodes haven’t offered a compelling path of what she should do instead of hiding from the world to cry. Actually, if anything, those three episodes have given her even more reasons to just hole up in her room. It’s obvious that the series’ plot will rely on Ginko to push the plot forward because the current Kureha isn’t really protagonist-material.

Even though this is a flashback-episode it has added a much-needed context and direction for the series. By revealing Lulu’s past and Ginko’s goal, the series finally has gotten a relatable focus. That said, despite all its stylish stage-atmosphere and allegories the story feels less and less like one that necessarily needed to be that abstract and surreal. After all, what this series seems to be going for seems to be a simple Romeo-and-Juliet-like tale of a complicated love. The depth is there but it doesn’t feel like it’s adding much to the basic story. Rather than adding depth to the story, all the “depth” is piled on the story, essentially obscuring it and making it more complicated.

Episode-Rating: 7.5/10

Aldnoah.Zero 15 Review:

_C12__Aldnoah_Zero_-_15.mp4 - 00002A little bit of advice for anyone who wants to write a script for a movie or a TV-series one day: If you feel the urge to write “I knew it, he’s using precognitive abilities, too.” – don’t, just don’t.

I mentioned last week how the series seems to become more Gundam-like with all its mecha-action and epic storytelling. A lot of people, though, compared this series rather to Code Geass and I think that is indeed a more fitting comparison. Code Geass had this air of theater and cheesy melodrama whenever it tried to be serious. At the same time, though, Code Geass’ plot was this mess of almost nonsensical plottwists based on the exaggerated characterizations. Aldnoah.Zero isn’t there yet – but it’s headed there. The whole epic scale of the story disappears into the background and with it goes any considerations of how the current events even fit into the world set up by the first half. Aldnoah.Zero is introducing new story-elements more for the sake of drama than worldbuilding. At this point, the war between the Vers-Empire and Earth is just this vague concept which the audience barely knows anything about.

And really, the series is just getting worse and worse. Let’s start with Inaho… He barely had a personality in the first half and that had been turned into a fun gimmick. The first half had at least the naïve princess to evoke these more human reactions and decisions in Inaho. Actually, it’s a bit weird that the series still hasn’t explained what Inaho’s deal is. Why is he SO emotionless and super-smart? Right now it feels like the characterization of Inaho is trying to continue his characterization from the first half – but Inaho never really had gotten an origin-story. There isn’t anything personal there to make Inaho’s character feel more grounded as he’s getting more powerful. All what you get from the series is just this shrug and the nonchalant comment of “That’s what he does, right?”. At the end of the first half that was fine but the series shouldn’t just move on without actually exploring that character. His character becomes less and less likeable as the series moves forward while only caring about how powerful he is.

On the other side of the conflict you naturally got Slaine. Just like Suzaku in Code Geass he’s the “derp who just can’t catch a break”. Slaine never gets what he really wants and his actual ambitions sound more like a form of idealism that’s so cheap that it feels more like nihilism. I mean, seriously, he wants to win the war for the Vers-Empire – only to start a revolution that will radically change the Vers-Empire. That isn’t exactly something which you would call a “good idea”. Saazbaum in the first half of the series at least just wanted to ruin both the Earth and the Martians in order to stop all the warring between the two. But Slaine wants to win one war in order to start another one. His character is just unlikeable at this point and he doesn’t have the charisma of a good villain either. He just seems like this petulant kid who didn’t get the toy he wanted and so he has decided to go on this whole revenge-crusade.

There’s also the father-thingy of course. Look, just like with Slaine’s ambition to start a revolution in the Vers-Empire, the series once again introduces an element to the story that seems way too tangential to the actual main-story. And the series just rushes through the whole thing as well! The other counts still hate Slaine since he’s an Earthling and so Saazbaum adopts him as his son. And in the same episode it’s revealed that Slaine had been just using Saazbaum and simply waiting for the right opportunity to quietly kill him. First of all, that’s WAY too much story for just one episode. Second, what does this have to do with the conflict between Earth and Mars? The first half made it seem like Earth had pretty much lost the war within the first week and there were only a few survivors… but here we are still watching mecha-battles in space between the two sides (which have operating space-stations as well). The war seems far from over. Seriously right now the current battles in this series have the strategic depth of two bulls ramming their heads together (and to be honest I don’t understand how the Martians can continue to throw mechas at the Earthlings like that when so many die each time thanks to Inaho alone). And third… I still have NO idea what the Vers-Empire is like. I assume it’s a miserable little shithole – unless you’re a noble. The whole medieval-shtick the Vers-Empire is going for is probably a reference to how the class-system in medieval times had been this rigid thing because everybody needed to do their part to ensure the survival of the society. That’s just my assumption, though. The series just doesn’t do enough! This series is just throwing all this character-melodrama out there without having enough story to back it up.

This second half tries to expand the story, develop the characters and it tries to raise the stakes. Okay, that’s all fine and dandy but it really feels like this series just doesn’t have enough room for all its ideas and doesn’t have the necessary focus to discard a few of those in order to have a more effective story. There are all these tiny things in this series that feel like tangents because the series doesn’t have the time to explore those and weave them into the main-story properly. That redhaired Martian on Inaho’s side… her one moment of “greatness” was her killing the princess (who then got saved by Inaho). Since then, though… nothing. I don’t even know why she’s still in the series. Inaho’s pseudo-girlfriend doesn’t fare much better with her unrequited love. Those two characters appear in each episode but their scenes don’t really amount to anything. And Inaho’s bigger sister as well as the adult-dude from the first half – they have made no appearance thus far. All that stuff just feels lackluster. There’s no cohesion here that would give you a unifying theme or some sensible plan of what the series is going for at this point.

Aldnoah.Zero has way too many balls in the air and it just doesn’t know how to juggle them all at the same time. The series tries hard to stay cool and it mostly does that using the battle-scenes and these had been one of the more entertaining elements of the first half. That element of the series is starting to get boring, though, since there isn’t any compelling story to give those scenes a good context. That finale of the first half had been filled with promise – and this second half has done nothing to capitalize on that.

Episode-Rating: 5.5/10

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on January 27, 2015, in Aldnoah.Zero, Reviews, Yuri Kuma Arashi and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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