Aldnoah.Zero – 06

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Way to sink your own ship there, Inaho – though fortunately not literally.

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.

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21 comments

  1. R

    I guess the problem here is that Urobuchi's name was used a bit too much to drum up interest for the show, such that everyone expected this to be your typical Urobutcher series.

    Aside from my issues with how last week's episode was presented, I also still consider this an excellent series. I like that they downplayed Inaho's heroics (a bit). And, at least now, it is clear why Marito is such a scaredy cat and unable to return to piloting.

    Am also glad that they actually dealt with the whole "why the sky is blue" in a rather amusing manner. I nearly facepalmed in the first episode at how incorrectly Slaine explained the thing. And Asseylum pouting is a surprisingly welcomed lighthearted moment, Eddie's clumsiness too.

  2. J

    Seems to me that piloted ground-based Mechs are a pretty worthless idea. But I guess if you pile on enough magic technology they can eventually stand-in for whatever you want, from samurai warrior to flying saucer.

  3. m

    The show has been so entertaining to watch, and sucks you in like a good sci-fi movie does. The problem (with lots of sci-fi stuff) comes when you try to get to into the details. I'm with you on the timeline really being an annoyance for me. The fact that they can say shit like "we are embarrassed that we share common ancestry with you" when the Grandpa was the first of their "race" is absolutely absurd. If the show wasn't entertaining enough for me to ignore that it would be a deal breaker for me. It's beyond unthinkable that a first generation born martian could consider themselves different from other earthlings, or that someone from one nation's space program would ever consider themselves not an earthling. It's one of those things that is so dumb that it begs the question: how did an entire group of writers/directors/producers/cast/crew/etc not have one person say something about it? It makes me question all of their talent/intelligence levels that they would just let something so blatantly forced slide. That aside, I don't have any real issues with the tech or anything else. All of the rest seems to fall under the same category as "how does the light saber know when to stop?" or "why build a 'Death Star' that can be destroyed with one missile?". It isn't ruining anything for me, or even taking away from the story. As long as they stop mentioning about how new the Vers Empire is, then I'm willing to forget it altogether for a show that I'm enjoying so much.

  4. d

    Re: Death star

    By the third movie, it was the bait, and realistically while the emperor died and the death star destroyed… the rebel fleet should've lost because they were completely surrounded and outgunned let alone the legions supposedly on Endor. Emperor had them checked and mated.

    Death star or no, the rebel fleet was inferior to the one that surrounded them, and on Endor walking teddy bears with clubs are no match for ranged death (even with the poor markmanship of storm troopers, they should've hit eventually).

    Internal consistency vs Artistic liberty for entertainment. Obviously Aldnoah took the latter route… fiction for entertainment, no matter how ridiculous.

  5. d

    I am of the mind that the fiction writers are of the mind that their targeted Japanese audience simply doesn't care about such trivial details as accelerated timeline and military incompetency. They aren't tackling these tropes on purpose, but picking and choosing which they can market.

  6. v

    Yes, the timeline is really irking me as well These Martians act and speak as if the Terrans are a completely different species from them. That would make more sense if they had a few hundred years of brainwashing or nation building.

  7. Z

    Aldanoah Zero's premise is very similar to the infamous anime Yoake mae yori ruri iro na. Difference being the warmongers were Lunarians and no emphasis on mecha.

  8. R

    Here is an interesting thing to consider. Migrating to a new planet is vastly different than simply moving to another country. Mars is so inhospitable that sending people to live there for years on end is pretty much a death sentence (but then again, there is Mars One). So it is not unthinkable that those who manage to live through the initial years of settlement would immediately feel much superior than those who were left on earth. Still, them being able to establish a flourinshing "empire" in just a few decades does sound really odd (and is probably more a sign of that superior complex).

  9. v

    You make a good point Roger. Though I am under the impression that when they got to Mars, everything left behind by the previous super-civilization was in functional condition so all they had to do was move in (which explains why the empire flourished so quickly).

    Expanding on your line of thought, perhaps it is having such immense power as Aldnoah which caused the superiority complex. This episode revealed that Aldnoah recognized the emperor as its rightful heir. To be "chosen" or "recognized" can be a powerful feeling I believe.

  10. R

    Though I am under the impression that when they got to Mars, everything left behind by the previous super-civilization was in functional condition so all they had to do was move in (which explains why the empire flourished so quickly).

    It could have possibly been. However, the settlers would need to understand how the tech works and how it would work for them. after all, it is a highly unlikely coincidence that the supercivilization that left the tech is exactly compatible with human life. That study could have taken a lot of time (and is probably still ongoing, hence the interest in that Dr. Troyard), in which many people might have suffered as they try to makes ends meet in their new home.

  11. A

    Well, after Suisei no Gargantia, I honestly didn't expect Urobuchi to stick around for too long, but so far this show has been far more consistent in my eyes. It traded conspiracy and grittiness for action and competency porn, which I'd take anytime of the day with the soundtrack this thing's got. It's very uplifting. Whether this is what the show was supposed to be like or not doesn't take away the fact that it's disgustingly good at it.

  12. Hey, it's made it this far without completely jumping the shark with the most extraneous and poorly executed beach episode ever – that's a start.

    As for "supposed to be" that doesn't really enter into it for me. It's supposed to be whatever the creators wanted it to be – rest assured whether he's writing episodes or not, Gen was fully in the loop about where the show was going and that has his personal sign-off.

  13. S

    Forgive me if I'm wrong, but where's the timeline inconsistency? I thought the princess called the ruler her "great grandfather", which could signify any number of generations past. The old man maybe lived for centuries, no?

  14. I believe he's her grandfather, not great – but in any event, according to the official timeline the Mars colonization didn't even begin until less than 35 years before the present.

  15. w

    I actually thought this episode made the timeline a little bit more credible. The story about how Esselyum's grandfather was 'chosen' to control the Aldnoah and the appointment of the other knights helps explain the sort of medieval/feudal heirarchy they have, as well as their sense of superiority to the Terrans. Viewing themselves as the 'chosen few' sure would have heightened their opinions of themselves, and accelerated any push for dominion over Earth. Madness born from power and all that jazz. Still, a ridiculously busy 30 years..

  16. w

    Also, would not have guessed you'd care for the shipping in this series. Approved! 😉

  17. LOL – what part of "I hope Aldnoah doesn't descend into a romantic boondoggle" gave you that impression?

  18. w

    Haha – Well I guess that's caring about it in its own way? I thought that was just you not wanting awkward love triangles bogging it down, which I'd agree with.

    It was actually just above it, the "Asselyums pout… certainly establishes with whom her heart lies" that made me think you're paying attention to shipping.

  19. I just don't think this show needs shipping – it's fine without it. Be the exception. But if they did, I never saw Asseylum and Inaho as a likely match.

  20. s

    haha most action/mecha shows never really need shipping; it's just a silly fun thing to indulge oneself in along with the plot. I just hope that the show is not aware of that itself as in i mean i hope that if it does introduce the aspect of romance…like slaine's feelings for asseylum, or if Inko and Inaho do have a thing for each other because they go way back (Inaho, Inko, and Yuki do seem to have a familial relationship), i hope the show just plays it straight and makes it a form of character fleshing rather than an aware attempt to create ships because yes, i would agree that this show does not need that. There's no need to try to make various romantic situations with all different types of cast members just to get reactions out of various group of viewers…just play it straight. If viewers themselves want to put themselves through shipping wars, then that should be their little project, not the intent of the show.

  21. S

    Personally at this point I thoroughly think that Aldnoah simply brainwashed/took over the minds of the colonists. Hence their sense of distance/superiority. Another possibility is that they ALREADY were a minority, shunned extremist faction on Earth and they went to Mars pursuing their own independence (for example: they knew about the ancient alien race and had gone there looking for its ruins). They could have planned this for centuries, slowly building towards having the right technology to go get it. That would make it much more plausible – for everything else, there's the Aldnoah drive.

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