Aldnoah.Zero – 05

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None of you took that scene in the preview at (suck) face value, did you?

There’s no doubt that Aldnoah.Zero is airing in the right season, because this is a summer blockbuster if anime ever produced one – a popcorn flick that’s easy on the eyes and ears without being too demanding on what’s behind and between them.  Gen Urobuchi’s involvement here (supposedly minimal beyond the scenario and first three episodes) is an interesting factor, because the show feels like a hybrid of sorts – there’s a lot of very stock mecha stuff going on here, but just a hint of Gen-like machinations in the political side of things.  It puts me in mind of an what happens with an art-house director gets hired to direct a big-budget Hollywood goliath.

I will say this much – whatever concerns I had about Gen not being directly involved (which flared up after last week’s somewhat disjointed episode) are partially alleviated, because narratively at least this week’s was much better.  We were very much back in the rhythm of the first three episodes, with much better pacing and scene transition, with the concurrent dramas and Sawano Hiroyuki’s insistent soundtrack giving the ep a non-stop air of tension and anticipation.  While there are some interesting outliers with Aldnoah.Zero, ultimately in order to succeed I think it has to build on a base of executing unexceptional material exceptionally well, and that means more episodes like this one and less like #4 are crucial.

Right now what’s working best for me is that execution – the series is quite exciting and consistently engaging – and the emerging subtleties of the Martian political situation.  What isn’t working as well for me is Inaho and the general scenario with his supporting cast, which a lot more routine and predictable.  As to Inaho himself, at least to my tastes he’s starting to take on a bit more of a Marty Stu quality than I’m comfortable with.  His ridiculous level of strategic genius is like his flatline personality – there’s nothing wrong with it on its own merits (his use of explosive armor to deal with Vlad’s plasma weapon was quite ingenious), but without some explanation or embellishment it feels rather unsatisfying.

I can accept a teenager making everyone on both his own side and the enemy’s look incompetent in battle – it’s a trope as old as mecha anime.  But I want to know why he is the way he is, how he got that way.  And his robotic demeanor isn’t especially interesting without some context to understand it (though his puzzling question to his sister about his pajamas – the armor, perhaps? -was certainly eccentric, and his slow-mo salute to Lt. Marito was the funniest moment in the episode).  I know this much – if the action sequences in Aldnoah.Zero are going to come down to Martians kicking Terran ass every week until Inaho suits up and schools everyone, that’s going to get old fast, no matter how well-done those sequences are (and so far, they really are).

On the other hand, I find things with Slaine’s storyline quite a bit more interesting.  I liked the way Aoki Ei and screenwriter Takayama Katsuhiko rapid-fire switched between the events on Cruhteo’s ship and the Terran warship, each growing steadily more tense as the episode progressed.  Will Slaine and Inaho’s paths intersect, or will they continue to influence events separately for the entire length of the series?  It’s an interesting thing to ponder, and there are many interesting things to ponder on the Martian side of the equation this week.

In the first place it’s now crystal-clear that Cruhteo was indeed out of the loop on Asseylum’s assassination attempt, which I would have bet against before this episode.  In hindsight it does make sense, and the likeliest scenario is that he’s more or less a dupe, being set up by Saazbaum’s faction as a fall guy in case anything goes wrong (as indeed it’s starting to).  Even as Cruhteo sets up his own investigation as to what really happened with Asseylum’s assassination, Saazbaum sets up his own investigation of Cruhteo – struck by reports about Trillram’s death that don’t seem to jibe with his dying in Saazbaum’s own meteor bombardment (which in itself made little sense, as Trillram would have known it was coming).

The upshot of that is that Saazbaum has realized that something is up with Slaine.  This proves crucial given the dynamic with the Emperor (Ogawa Shinji), who’s declared a temporary armistice based on his doubts about why the Terrans would have perpetrated or even been complicit in his granddaughter’s death, knowing the consequences.  All of the Knights including Cruhteo are outraged, and Vlad goes so far as to immediately disobey by going on a mission of revenge against Inaho.  Slaine eventually sneaks into the “audience chamber” – which is actually a form of holographic projection – to tell the Emperor the truth and try and stop the war.  But Saazbaum has gotten to the Emperor first, telling him that Slaine was a Terran spy who would be trying to poison him with lies.  For now, the Emperor seems to be a fairly moderate but easily duped figure, and frail to be point of being bedridden.  That implies that his public “appearances” are no more than holographic projections – and prompts some interesting questions about what’s really going on with Asseylum.

There’s a lot of really fascinating stuff going on with this side of the story, all the more so as the details are filled in.  The so-called “kiss scene” in the preview of course turned out to be a troll, but it did show us how Slaine came to know Asseylum – she saved his life after he seems to have crash-landed on Mars.  He has a long-dormant personal connection to the Emperor as a result, and Saazbaum makes reference to “Dr. Troyard”, who’s no doubt Slaine’s father.  My sense of the Orbital Knights is that they’re a bunch of political extremists hell-bent for leather to take the Earth by force, militarist and nationalist by temperament and philosophy, and loose cannons that the Emperor couldn’t control even if he was inclined to.

That’s both a strength and a weakness for Aldnoah.Zero, as it certainly sets up an interesting dynamic on the Martian side, but makes it hard to have much respect for them as adversaries.  The one’s who’ve gone down to directly engage Earth (Trillram and Vlad) have been stock cartoon villains, bullies and sadists humiliated by an opponent who still smells of mother’s milk and now dead as a result.  Cruhteo – generally sympathetic to the Knights’ cause but unaware of what they’e done to further it –  is the figure who seems destined to emerge as a key, as his reaction when he discovers the truth will impact the story significantly  Most of the intrigue on the ground comes via the secrets and lies among the young cast members and how they’re going to impact the story going forward, with Rayet seeming to be a real flashpoint in that respect.

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  1. R

    At least, Inaho's Marty Stu-ness is waaay below Kirito levels. Still, it does take away a bit from the intensity of the action whenever he pulls something out of nowhere Lelouch-style. And i found the exposition on the strategies he does to be a bit on the awkward side.

    One thing that is definite now is that the girl they have with them is indeed the real Asseylum (just take a look at how Eddie acts here). I still like the political intrigue, but I do find the happenings here a bit too fast. One moment, the emperor declares a stop on hostilities and a few minutes later, he goes into open war again. I also found the twist with Sauzbaum beating Slaine to the punch a bit forced.

  2. Z

    No offense, but trying to justify something by making comparisons with the lowest of the low like SoL doesn't really inspire much confidence.

    On that note Aldanoah Zero's political intrigue is pretty rote as well. The king or whatever is mislead without even considering other parties with vested interests might be lying…

    I thought this series was improving a bit last week, but it sure feels like they've taken a step backwards with this one.

  3. R

    Hahaha! I know. Am not even justifying it. I am actually worrying about where Inaho's characterization is heading. It's starting to become repetitive. I wish they would slow to finally give us a more thorough look on the guy.

    As for the king, that's why I said what happened here was too abrupt. It just made him look like an idiot who, as you said, is so easily mislead by those around him. Again, it would have been better if the whole thing was spread out to several eps.

  4. Z

    He must have been taking his PhD in unorthodox military strategy while the rest of his classmates were slacking off thinking about their deeto and other important anime high-school student concerns.

  5. A

    I'm not too sure I agree with you guys about the King. Given the context of the story, we know the Mars have a Feudal Class System in which the upper class' opinion is given more weight. Moreover, Slaine is the lowest of the low in their society and was constantly shown to be distrusted among everyone except the princess.

    Now we saw in the episode that Slaine was one step late in his plans. The traitor has already researched Slaine's involvement and convinced the King accordingly. The way Slaine sneaked into the King's chambers and mention "treasonous" things would most likely confirm the King's suspicion towards him.

    As for Inaho's personality, we could see that he's the only one who's deliberately made to look that way. Therefore, it's almost certain that there's going to be an explanation for it sometime.

  6. R

    My issue with it was not with how the politics played out, but more on how the series presented it. the king declaring a temporary armistice was interesting twists because it totally changes the game. However, that impact was completely undone a few minutes later (for the audience. it could have happened within hours in-universe) when he abruptly changed his mind and declared war again. :oleI said, it would have been better if they had separated the two events a bit longer to maintain the tension.

  7. s

    Exactly right Alan; it doest feel forced as it makes sense given Slaine's position so the way that scenario played out was fine in my opinion, especially from a story-telling standpoint. What i do agree felt awkward was how that situation was constructed in the first place. I personally dont find any problem with the armistice being quickly withdrawn; afterall, an armistice is a slight reprieve from battle with no defined period of time to which it is upheld. The disconnect lies with the king wanting to investigate his daughter's death but at the end of the day, not actually do any investigation; he was back to square one which was believing through word of mouth that his granddaughter is dead instead of searching for that hard evidence. It makes the armistice itself seem pointless which i think attributes to the misstep viewers felt in regards to that plot point.

    But that would be just jumping to conclusions which is why i think the smart thing to do is wait till the next ep to see just how sazzbuam convinced the king that the princess is actually dead and that what slaine would tell him would be a lie because for all we know, Sazzbaum could have shown the king footage of the princess double being blown to kingdom come and then proceeded to tell the king that slaine would try to trick him, which would be pretty convincing. Or perhaps the king took Sazzbaum's word because Slaine arrived just like Sazzbaum said he would, which in the king's head, would kinda confirm for him that his granddaughter really is dead. Rationally speaking, in a situation where tensions are high, that kind of circumstantial evidence would be enough to put a person in a position where they would most likely be convinced of something or feel more likely that what they are being told is indeed the truth. When you think about it that way, actually makes sense and the king's change of mind becomes a lot more plausible. It's not like the king declared the armistice because he was being compassionate; he just wanted to see if he was wasting his time with this war so its not like he would need to be heavily coerced to start the war again. I always have an open mind and it usually pays off. I dont like being a viewer who questions little thing unless presented with all the facts.

  8. S

    Regarding Inaho, who seems to get a lot of a discussion around his characterization, I think he’s a unique MC and a good fit for this kind of series. So far, Aldnoah is more of a story-driven show than a character-driven show and like Terror in Resonance, I’m much more interested in the result and how things play out rather than the characters themselves. To me, it doesn’t really matter why Inaho has this extreme stoic personality or what his background story is (if it’s not important to the plot), he’s just a small plot tool that plays his role to elevate the story. This isn’t Inaho’s story, it’s a story about the war between Earth and Mars, so the emotional resonance with his character isn’t required.

  9. w

    I'm with you on Inaho. I do quite like him, he feels like a sort of zen-warrior. But I'd like some context. Maybe not explicitly, like not a flashback episode, but if they could just suggest a few things here and there we'd be golden. Probably an obvious point, but it's likely to do with his parents, whoever they were. Lt. Kayano Ai paused when she heard his name, and I don't think it was just because of his sister.

    Slaine's part was great. I like him, and I really hope I doesn't turn out that being Slaine is suffering. And also that first meeting was so HNNNG~

  10. G

    I have no doubt that the King won't be around too much longer. As frail as he is and easily dupped by other nobles he will either die of his illnesses and there will be a power grab or he will be assasinated and someone else will fill the void.

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