Aldnoah.Zero – 04

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Secrets and lies…

Aldnoah.Zero took some very interesting turns story-wise this week.  I like the dynamic that’s being set up here, with all of the teen heroes in the act of hiding their own secrets – some of which are known to the audience, and some are not.  But somehow the episode itself seemed a step down for me in purely mechanical terms – there wasn’t much flow.  For the first time in the series we got an ep that was rather uneven and disjointed, and while it’s also the first not under the direct supervision of Urobuchi Gen I don’t think there’s enough there yet to assume the one is a direct consequence of the other.

One of the most interesting elements in the story for me is Asseylum – or “Seylum” as she asks to be called when posing as a Terran refugee (that pseudonym is such a clever ruse that I doubt anyone could connect the dots…).  She’s a character whose screen-time practically begs us to read between the lines for hidden meanings, and there was a lot of grist for the mill this week – much of it coming from Eddelrittuo.  In the first place it’s now clear that Asseylum knows there was a conspiracy among the Martians to assassinate her, which makes her behavior in Episode 3 much more logical.

Watching Eddelrittuo offers other interesting possibilities, though.  Her panicked interruption when Asseylum was explaining her existence to Inaho is a clear sign that something is up, and there are many inconsistencies with Asseylum’s situation.  Some have been suggesting all along that Asseylum actually did die, and that this is in fact the double – perhaps taking it upon herself to try and stop the war because she knows it’s what Asseylum would have wanted.  I’ve resisted, but I’m starting to warm to the idea.  Why was the “Princess” left with no entourage except a little girl if indeed she was too sick to join the motorcade?  The costume changes are the result of holography we’re told (which makes more sense than mahou shoujo, though it’s less fun) – could they be hiding something beyond simple wardrobe?  A different appearance altogether, or serious injuries Asseylum is trying to conceal?  Something is definitely more than it appears here, even if it isn’t 100% clear just what that is yet.

Secrets are a major theme in the story at this stage.  Inaho knows Asseylum’s secret (at least the one she posits as the truth) and must decide whether to act on it – his choice for now is to conceal her identity (and his growing crush) and try to help her contact her grandfather, the VERS Emperor.  Rayet knows, too, and she of course is hiding a secret of her own.  But what’s also secret is what Rayet’s true feelings are.  How informed or even complicit was she in what her father was doing?  And even if she was a willing participant, how does she feel about the Martian plotters after seeing her family slaughtered to protect their secret?

And then there’s Slaine, whose loyalty is surely to Asseylum above all else – he knows she’s alive (or at least someone that looks to be her is) and he stops himself just as he’s about to reveal that to Cruhteo, correctly sussing out that his master was involved (and perhaps the mastermind) of the plot.  Slaine is now playing the game of pleading to be allowed to “avenge” his mistress – which earns him repeated physical abuse from Cruhteo – but what is his true endgame?  Does he intend to launch a rescue mission under the cover of a revenge strike?  Slaine also carries the secret of Trillram’s true fate, and I doubt he’ll be revealing that anytime soon.  Slaine’s chosen course still strikes me as arguably the critical question in this phase of the series – he sits at the nexus of the story both in personal and practical terms.

The action side of the episode isn’t as engaging, for some of the reasons suggested above, as well as the fact that the animation this week wasn’t quite up to snuff with the first three episodes (an A-1 Pictures trademark).  As the survivors wait for a warship to arrive a meteor bombardment wreaks havoc, and communications remain basically shut down.  This is the opportunity for sub-knight Vlad to take to the scene with his kataphrakt, Argyre.  We see a repeating pattern here – he makes mincemeat of the regular military, and it’s up to Inaho and his teen titans to step in and save the day.  This kataphrakt is different than Trillram’s, though it seems to rely on the same “Aldnoah” power source – this time it manifests in the form of a katana of light which he uses to slice through the kataphrakts opposing him.  Inaho once again concocts a clever plan and gets the best of Vlad with Calm and Inko’s help just as the reinforcements arrive, but Vlad and his Argyre survive to fight another day.

There’s still very much a sense of preamble to Aldnoah.Zero at the moment.  For all the devastation they’ve caused, the Martian kataphrakts we’ve seen do battle on Earth’s surface are strictly shock troops – we don’t appear to have seen any actual Knights dirty their hands yet, only their flunkies, and it seems safe to assume their weaponry is that much more overpowering.  As far as the mecha element goes this seems like a very traditional show, albeit one with unusually good execution – where it has a chance to be exceptional is in the way it breaks down the personal side of the story.  What all the main cast is hiding from each other (not least Inaho behind his stoic exterior) and how its reveal will reflect on the themes of racism and colonialism – that’s what offers up the possibility for some really interesting development.

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  1. s

    I liked how this ep accomplished the task of creating some genuine intrigue behind character motives and how some of these characters are holding secrets. it will be interesting to see what each character does with the secret they hold and how it effects their characterization. On a side note, what did you find wrong with the animation this week? 4 eps in and the animation has been fairly consistent, the explosions are animated nicely, the battles have a good sense of motion. Lighting looks quite nice what with the shadows and particle effects; there's a good use of blooming. My only complaint would be on the character animation side but its super super slight compared to the other eps.

  2. t

    I'd love nothing more than to believe that the princess is really dead however If the princess is really dead then I need an explanation for what happened at 5:55
    Why would her assistant call her "Hime-sama" in a low voice so others don't hear while the princess/double isn't transformed, there'd be no reason to call her that in private unless she's the real one.

  3. A fair point. But Eddel's behavior is definitely suspicious, and the two of them are hiding something big. I don't claim to know exactly what, but they're hiding it.

  4. R

    I would agree with this one. Especially if you look closely and notice that Eddelrittuo calling the girl "Hime-sama" looks more like a slip of the tongue rather than her pretending. I am guessing that the big secret the two of them are hiding is not Asseylum's identity, but that she already know way more about the whole assassination plot than she is letting the others in. Again, I theorize that she was assisted by another faction to escape death.

    On a side note: wasn't Calm there when Asseylum revealed her identity to Trillram? I am a bit stumped as to why he doesn't seem to be aware that she is with them on the ship.

    Man, even Cruhteo seems to be in on the plot. Slaine definitely has a lot on his back now. I agree with Enzo though that this ep feels a bit off compared to the previous three.

  5. m

    There's absolutely no way the princess can be dead and the double is pretending to be her. That goes in the category of wild random guesses that people make so they can say "I totally called that!" if it happens. If it were true it would be abhorrent writing. She needs to be alive to drive Slaine to follow the path he will inevitably follow, and there's no character who was ever introduced as a double before. Yeah, that makes the fact that the princess used a double leaving only her maid behind somewhat questionable, but if you made the double the one who lived without ever introducing the character it would be awful writing. There's no legitimate twist that includes that that would enhance the plot. At least you can explain the princess not being guarded by saying the only way to guarantee the double worked was to make sure no one knew about it since her own people were targeting her. It would be worse than if her change in appearance was actually due to being a mahou shoujo. Although something being bad writing doesn't rule it out per se, but I'd like to give at least that much credit to the writers/director.

    I agree that the fight at the end had a sense of repetition of the last episode, but I will give a lot of credit here for having the "Aldnoah" power manifest in a much different way. I like the idea that each of these mechs are unique and what that could lead to in terms of battle styles. Though hopefully they avoid the pitfall of having a CE/Star Driver "of the week" stretch where it becomes how to exploit each new mech's weakness which is found after losing enough of the regular forces. It hasn't been enough in a row yet that I'm bothered by it, and at least it beats them using the same exact strategy on a mech with the exact same powers as last week. They've also managed to avoid, so far, the standard "steal the enemy mechs and use them better than they ever did" trope.

    But I'm with you in thinking that the most intriguing part seems to be the secrets of the young cast members. It'll be interesting to see where Inaho is trying to go with his plans, and how the princess will inevitably tie in Slaine to those plans. And what I'm most interested in atm is to see what Rayet is intending to do, and whose side she is truly on. Is she staying with the Terrans until she can return to Mars somehow? Did she truly mean it when she said Martians are the enemy? Is it revenge she wants, or just safety? I find I care far less about the action scenes than I do the parts that preempt and more so the parts that follow them.

  6. I must confess, I wouldn't consider it bad writing if the double turned out to be alive and the Princess dead. We've been introduced to her in concept if not in detail; it's not as if we got to know the Princess well at all before the terrorist attack, either. I still don't consider it the most likely possibility, but I do think it is one, and I would have no problem if the story goes that way providing it's handled well.

  7. R

    I am just curious. What would be the story's point if this scenario (princess is dead, double is alive) is correct? Why would the double be motivated to impersonate the princess?

    I agree with Maverick that the other way seems to make more sense storytelling-wise.

  8. I can think of any number of possibilities. It could be a simple matter of her wanting to do so because it's what Asseylum would have wanted. Maybe something like actually being her sister or cousin (though I'd prefer that be avoided).

    Again – I'm not saying this is the most likely scenario, merely that it's possible. And that those two are definitely hiding something important about Asseylum's identity, even if that isn't it.

  9. w

    I think it's very possible but I'm not convinced. Like Roger I can't yet see any point in making a double princess. Unless they went the Rei Ayanami route or something…

    I think the something important you're referring to may be to do with her Mahou Shoujo powers.. Something the Esselyum is capable of that they want kept under lid.

  10. N

    Slaine's Chekov's necklace remains unfired. Once they are reunited, and whether or not she brings that out, will be the real test.

  11. M

    I still think Cruhteo doesn't know about the assassination, but my view of him kind of changed this episode. I thought if anyone who will feel angry about the princess and turned against his fellow knights, it will be Cruhteo. But it's clear now that if he found out the princess was indeed alive, he will only retrieve her, send her back to Vers and then continue the war. These knights just want Earth so badly.

  12. w

    I wonder if it was the humour that made it feel disjointed for you. It did a little for me. Everyone seemed a little too jovial (more so than usual) given their current circumstances. They had a little too much time for witty banter amidst serious problems.

  13. I think that's been true generally, but it was more the scene transitions and general pacing. It felt very awkward to me.

  14. m

    I think what's going on is that there's much less intrigue and build-up in this episode as compared to the first 3. The first 3 episodes had a real sense of panic, while this episode had everyone falling into their roles, and the action felt a little abrupt as well.

    While I enjoy the battles, I hope this doesn't become a pattern cos I can see where it'll get tiresome. I would enjoy a little more unpredictability.

    I also think Princess Asseylum is still alive… so Slaine gets a more significant role. Else there's no real emotional connection and resolution (Imagine his battle for vengeance, and the girl ends up being a double… that would be a major upset… though that'll be interesting to see)

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