I’m a bit surprised by the markedly hostile turn in the commentary about Aldnoah.Zero of late, because for me it remains a sterling example of how to do popcorn anime right. There are a few factors that might be involved, and a lot of it likely comes down to expectations. As far as I can tell Aldnoah is mainly trying (and thus far succeeding) to be a well-made and entertaining traditional anime sci-fi series, but the trend is for there to be disappointment in series Gen Urobuchi is only tangentially involved with for not being more in his usual intellectual-desolate vein. And of course no group of fans is more anal than mecha fans, who will pick apart every bit of minutiae about a show and endlessly compare it to their franchise of choice (most commonly Gundam), with unfavorable results.
So in the end, Aldnoah.Zero may be stuck in the middle – too traditional for one nearly-half of the audience, not traditional enough for the other. Be that as it may, while there are still things that don’t compute for me (not to obsess, but the fucking timeline just doesn’t make any damn sense) I think the show is rollickingly entertaining – solidly produced and directed, with a very sound and easily relatable general plot and a relatively good stable of characters. “Mainstream” is not a four-letter word, not when it’s executed as well as this show is – and I think Aldnoah holds up very well against other prominent examples of series that have come to the table with the same general set of goals.
This week featured two things I quite welcome, fairly natural exposition and lots of well-paced action. It also more prominently featured the adults in the cast, which I equally welcome – Inaho being the smartest kid in the room and Slaine being the great hope for peace on the Martian side are fine, but the series can only benefit if the actual soldiers prove themselves to be more than window dressing. On the expositional side, I think Asseylum’s reaction (“Grandfather! How could you?”) to the Emperor’s declaration of war pretty much seals the deal on her being the true Princess – though I suppose in theory she could be a twin or something, she seems not to be the double. As for Eddie, I’d love to get her at to the poker table because her acting skills could use some work. Quick tip: if you’re trying to hide the identity of a princess, addressing her repeatedly as “Hime-sama” in front of military officials is not recommended.
It was a big week for Asseylum’s reactions revealing significant nuggets of information about herself, and her conversation with Inaho was an interesting one. She spills a little more detail about Aldnoah (kudos to Inaho for asking, because with full-on war declared you’d certainly want to know as much as possible), the most interesting of which being that it apparently “chose” her Grandfather when he discovered it at Vers. The implication seems to be that it became a hereditary trait in his family, who are now the only ones who can impart it to others – and it’s this which the Emperor used to establish his dominion over the Knights. More on that later, but Asseylum’s pout when Inaho lectured her about how Slaine was wrong about why the sky is blue and clouds are white (Rayleigh scattering, Mie scattering) certainly establishes with whom her heart lies. It was also a classically ham-fisted social moment from Inaho, but that’s in-character. I hope Aldnoah doesn’t descend into a romantic boondoggle but even if it does, I don’t see Inaho and Asseylum as a likely pairing.
Meanwhile, the ship (the actual one) is steaming towards Tanegashima (which must surely be most beloved among all RL locations for sci-fi anime), where the full wrath of the Martians fell all those years ago. That brings back nasty memories for Marito, who has plenty of exposition of his own this week. He seems to have been the only survivor of Heaven’s Fall, and the report he wrote was classified as the ravings of a terrified madman (though of course, that was surely for political reasons). Moreover, Captain Magbaredge (forgive me for not mentioning earlier that she’s played by Kayano Ai) reveals herself to be the sister of John Humeray, Marito’s shinyuu, whose death he (wrongly, it seems) blames himself for. Marito’s arc – PTSD, outcast, alcohol issues, scraggly beard – hardly has an original element to it. But I like it as a contrast to all the fresh-faced seishun that dominates the storyline.
A lot of elements are converging, then, at the end of the episode, as the ship arrives in Tanegashima only to be ambushed by Femieanne (Kaida Yuki) whose Kataphrakt is of the “flying fists” variety – they detach, attack, and re-combine at will. It’s a very traditional VERS mecha – highly potent with some inherent weaknesses. The mech and its components are invulnerable to both types of Terran rounds, but Inaho as usual has a plan – use explosive shells to throw the projectiles off course before they can hit their target. It works well enough, but in a refreshing change it’s not Inaho who saves the day – he can’t hit the one descending from straight overhead (that’s an incredibly difficult shot, BTW) and it seems the bridge is about to be destroyed. But a last-minute deflection saves the day, and it’s a bit of a misdirection in figurative as well as literal terms – rather than Lt. Marito, who’d dragged himself into the cockpit to try and help despite his bouts of terror, it comes from the ship of the escaped Slaine.
Yes, it seems Slaine’s path is about to converge with the rest of the cast on Earth at last. Some will no doubt take issue with the fact that he was able to escape, but I chalk that up to the fact that Cruhteo was ordered by Saazbaum to take Slaine alive. Sniping him down as he fled or shooting his fighter out of the sky would have been easy enough, but taking a fleeing fugitive alive is a lot harder than killing them. What’s more important is why Saazbaum is so determined to take Slaine alive – because he’s the son of Dr. Troyard. Dr. Troyard is obviously a crucial figure in the study of Aldnoah, and the Orbital Knights keen interest in him seems to suggest that his research offers a way to free themselves from the necessity of relying on the Emperor and his family for the granting of its powers.
In any event, Slaine’s arrival would seem to indicate that the story has reached a turning point. In purely practical terms crossing the paths of the two main characters obviously changes things, and there can be no doubt now that Slaine has fully shifted sides (how could he not?). But we’re also seemingly shifting the focus away from the political and onto the military, with Slaine no longer trying to force change from the inside on the Vers side. He’ll no doubt be valuable in terms of providing strategic help to the Terrans, and no doubt try and help his true love establish contact with her Grandfather and bring hostilities to a close. But it seems as if Cruhteo could play an even more crucial role now that Slaine has defected, because he really represents the best hope for someone in a position of power on the Martian side to be an agent for change once he learns the truth.