Where to begin with that one? The mind boggles, seriously. This series is a lot of things and not all of them are desirable, but one thing it certainly isn’t is boring. Aldnoah.Zero keeps the manic energy and the crazy plot developments and the soundtrack coming at you nonstop, and it’s pretty hard not to get swept up in it. But while there were certainly individual moments that were very strong, this episode isn’t going down as one of my favorites. In fact, it would be fair to say I have some serious issues with it.
I have to lead with Slaine, because his situation is certainly the most insistent in my mind. In sum, I’ve never especially cared for the trope of taking a character and giving them the Job treatment – having them be the punching bag for every sort of existential and physical torture the writer can throw at them. It’s a cheap and manipulative writing technique in my opinion, and whether you care to blame Urobutcher or not – and who knows to what extent this is coming from him, because who knows how deep his involvement is right now – it’s certainly a signature in his writing style. There were already signs this was starting to happen, but this episode took it up to what for me was an unacceptable level. I suspect I know where the plot is going with this but we didn’t need to see what we saw this week, and I hope we don’t see more of it.
Torture porn aside, the other main problem I have is with Cruhteo. I don’t know whether he’s dead or not – given what we saw it seems like the likeliest possibility (especially as his Aldnoah-powered Kataphrakt seems to shut down) but it’s not impossible that he could have had some sort of teleport capability or something. Irrespective, when that “Forgive me, Slaine” moment arrived, I threw up in my mouth a little. That was so wrong on so many levels I hardly know where to begin, but let’s start with the fact that no, I don’t fucking forgive you whether Slaine does or not. Is the fact that Cruhteo didn’t know about Asseylum’s death supposed to vindicate him for being a racist and classist who not only employs torture to achieve his goals, but seems to derive real pleasure from it? Or the fact that despite knowing Asseylum’s desire for peace with Earth, he gleefully uses her death – even if he didn’t help cause it – to launch full-scale war? No, this is a bad man and his actions this week were reprehensible by any standard of decency. If he’s dead, good riddance – but that doesn’t wipe “Forgive me, Slaine” from my memory. That was the low-point of the series so far and I’ll be surprised if it’s dethroned.
As bad as that whole torture sequence was, it’s certainly effective at eliciting a visceral disquiet at seeing Inaho and the princess having wistful walks on the deck of the Deucalion and bird-watching. I don’t believe it was Inaho’s intent to have what happened to Slaine happen, necessarily, but the plot is certainly going to some interesting places with him. This appears to be the raison d’etre behind his emotional flatlining – he’s being developed as a creepy, dangerous person whose motives are impossible to ascertain. That’s certainly more interesting than a conventional “and so his heart was finally unlocked” character arc, but it’s a dangerous path – I’m quite curious to see where we go with him. I don’t think there’s any question Inaho’s goal is to save Earth from destruction (though even that was cleverly undermined by reminding us of the self-interest aspect for him), but his methodology is the key – rather than simply being emotionally opaque, Inaho may in fact be genuinely amoral.
The other interesting element that’s emerging for me is the sociopolitical side of events. While Rayet’s speech to Magbaredge was a little precocious coming from an elfin 15 year-old, it certainly laid the Martian society wide-open and gutted it like a fish. They are indeed an interesting combination of futuristic technology and a genuinely archaic social structure. Social climbers who long to prove their glory in conquest and the worst kind of aristocrats who despise anyone lower than them, armed with superpowered alien weaponry and energy source? It’s a kind of perfect storm of awfulness, as if one of the Imperialist powers of 18th-Century Europe had access to nuclear weapons and the internet. Could peace every truly be negotiated with such a nation? This is a genuinely fascinating thread, but I’m quite curious to see if we’re introduced to anything remotely sympathetic on the Martian side apart from Asseylum herself (and I certainly don’t count Cruhteo).
Perhaps it was the boom-or-bust nature of this episode, riddled as it was with intriguing twists and egregious stumbles, but it feels as if we’re at a nexus point with Aldnoah.Zero. There are four episodes left in the first cour, and we’re presumably going to be taken to some sort of climax as a stopping point. I think we’re going to find out whether this show has real legs or not very soon – I don’t think there’s any doubt it will be an entertaining thrill-ride at the least, but the question is how much more it can be than just that. Where do we go from here with Slaine, with his martyrdom becoming very stale? Do we see a genuine diversity of view on the Martian side, or does this turn into a straight-out war story? Do we get a glimpse of what’s really lurking behind Inaho’s stony visage? Answers are going to have to start coming soon, and they’ll tell us a lot about Aldnoah’s long-term prospects.