Aldnoah.Zero – 08

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Remember – you can’t misspell “slain” with an extra “e” without “Slaine”.

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.

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Aldnoah - 08 -14 Aldnoah - 08 -15 Aldnoah - 08 -16
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Aldnoah - 08 -27 Aldnoah - 08 -28 Aldnoah - 08 -29
Aldnoah - 08 -30 Aldnoah - 08 -32 Aldnoah - 08 -33
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22 comments

  1. H

    "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'm wondering about that myself, each episode we see more and more just how he thinks and in many ways he comes off as thoughtless, not calculatingly cold (like, when Slaine accused him of just manipulating the princess he didn't answer, this episode made it seem like that actually stung him and he's grown attached enough to her that he's certainly not doing it consciously, although lord the show is trying to set up a love triangle there and I just do not see if happening). I stand by my comments on twitter that I'm confused why Inaho didn't drag Slaine back to the ship for multiple reasons and I think the end of the episode clears up why on one level: if he did the story would have resolved a major hurdle and not had enough to fill up the second cour. That's the only reason I can see for Cruheto's death at the end, if the knights start cooperating then the war is wrapped up before the humans can do anything/even decide what they want to do so for story purposes he had to be axed and Slaine had to fall further into, erm, hell I guess.

    I also really loved Rayet's lines there, I'm starting to wonder if she even knows she's a Martian then or if she so deeply hates the knights for killing her father that she's just repressing that as much as she can. This isn't the first time she's made a comment about Martians like that and given no indication to the viewer that she feels conflicted about being one….

  2. S

    Wait, when was it said that Rayet is a Martian now?

  3. It seems likely her family were those social climbers she referred to, lower-class Martians trying to move up by spying on Earth, but it's not officially confirmed.

  4. H

    Following occam's razor, that explanation makes more sense than "the Martians found Terrans either sympathetic enough to their cause or unhappy enough with their lives on Earth to try and assassinate a princess and move to Mars" so that's what I've been assuming.

  5. J

    To me this episode is another mark in my theory that Urobuchi has this strange fixation on depicting the ultimate triumph of the amoral and selfish character over those that operate on a sense of altruism or sense of human dignity. In this particular instance you have Inaho, this guy that seems to care for nothing whatsoever besides apparently his own survival as he states this episode who is pretty much enabled by the plot and shown to have success after success in achieving his goals, but it's not because he cares about anything in particular, seemingly quite the opposite. For this outlook he wins every battle he's been involved in, gets to back talk to and embarrass superiors, gets to spend time with "friends" who for some reason seem to enjoy interacting with him despite his utter lack of interest or care in anything around him and general unresponsiveness to any sort of human affection or interaction. Juxtapose that with the apparent selflessness of Slaine in steeling himself against yet more torture for the person he seems to care about the most and her goals of peace and for this he gets taken out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    I really don't understand Urobuchi's fixation with this sort of thing or why he insists on beating this point in so much in a lot of his works (Fate/Zero and Madoka Rebellion come to mind as totally doing this with their casts) or how it's going to serve the narrative well, but I'm all but convinced now it's present in this one too and that these ideas are coming from him even if it's someone else putting them to script now.

  6. J

    Continued From Quoted Post:

    Cruhteo to a lesser extent seems to track in this regard as well as Saazbaum in their interplay this week. First with Cruhteo, despite how preposterous it was, I can't help but notice the moment he drops the typical Martian sadism act, literally embraces Slaine and tries to do something just for once his character is immediately and unceremoniously killed off by Saazbaum. It could be sheer coincidence, or it could be that this sort of thing is a legitimate taboo in a Gen Urobuchi show and requires immediate response by the narrative and the "right kind of character" to teach him a permanent lesson for suddenly showing something resembling humanity. Then you have Saazbaum who clearly is the most amoral character of all on the Martian side who nobody ever seems to question as anything other than a paragon of whatever the hell their culture is supposed to be about. The emperor just believes everything he tells him about Slaine and starts the war up again, Cruhteo is played totally the fool by him, and guess what, his character is totally about the power and war mongering and using other people as pawns, assassinating his allies and generally just being the direct cause of pretty much all the bad things that happen so far and the narrative bends over backwards for him so many times for it.

    It's just really hard not to notice these days with Urobuchi stories and to me there's a clear effort to depict this sort of outcome here, though I'm not sure for what point or how it helps the narrative so much as make it feel incredibly contrived to serve his own apparent world view on how a person should approach a conflict if they want to come out on top. Maybe he just firmly believes in the idea of nice guys finish last, but to me it seems that if you want to live and be at the forefront of developments and have things work out for you in an Urobuchi story it helps to be the most despicable kind of Machiavellian and amoral type cause anything else is just going to get you killed or made to suffer some misfortune for it. As for why I personally don't like it and think of it as a bad thing, to me it's the sort of philosophical self affirmation that can just completely ruin story lines that call for a more evenhanded and dare I say plausible approach and it doesn't make things any more realistic so much as limits where this kind of story can go since characters development and how the plot handles them are seemingly hard-locked as an inverse to their moral fiber.

  7. You're a thorough one… From my reply at the other place:

    I don’t think there’s any question that Gen has a fixation on this theme, and while F/Z might be the most glaring example and I don’t know his VN catalogue well enough to say whether it’s uniformly there too, the only anime work I would say somewhat defies it is Gargantia. Gen in many ways seems to the ultimate consequentialist, and to take genuine pleasure from inflicting existential despair and physical torture on anyone with an altruistic streak. Why? Who knows – but it does tend to get repetitive, which may be one of the reasons why (for me at least) his series tend to sort of wear out their welcome before they get to the end.

  8. R

    To me this episode is another mark in my theory that Urobuchi has this strange fixation on depicting the ultimate triumph of the amoral and selfish character over those that operate on a sense of altruism or sense of human dignity.

    Maybe he just firmly believes in the idea of nice guys finish last, but to me it seems that if you want to live and be at the forefront of developments and have things work out for you in an Urobuchi story it helps to be the most despicable kind of Machiavellian and amoral type cause anything else is just going to get you killed or made to suffer some misfortune for it.

    I'll reserve my judgement on this one until I see how he ends Kamen Rider Gaim. Kouta Kazuraba, the protagnist there, has pretty much held to his morality considering the amount of Urobuchi torture he received (hey, the guy even had to kill his best friend in the story). Though, from the looks of it, he seems to also be bound to do a Madoka-ish self-sacrifice. But the amoral characters there have either somewhat changed their views (Takatora) or else have not been able to achieve their goals.

  9. R

    Wow! this one is certainly a lot more interesting than the previous two. Less action, but a lot more to chew on. And I must say, this is probably the most Urobuchi-esque of the post-Urobuchi episodes so far.

    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.

    I guess the whole point of that extended scene was to highlight tightly Slaine to his loyalty, no matter what kind of torture he had to go through. But yeah, a few more discretion shots whould have been more acceptable. And Cruhteoputting his gun into Slaine's mouth just goes too far. I know that the whole scene was supposed to leave a vad taste, but it leaves a bit too much.

    Now for that turnaround in Cruhteo's character, I don't know if it was you Enzo or someone else who asked what would happen if Cruhteo does indeed find out the truth of the assassination. Well, we got our answer. But it would have been better if they left out the "Forgive me, Slaine" line and instead just stopped with him asking his aides to tend to Slaine's injuries. That line just felt too similar with the issues that I had with the reveal of Mado's wedding ring in Tokyo Ghoul.

  10. R

    i mean "highlight how tightly Slaine held to his loyalty to the Princess"

  11. I think "Forgive me, Slaine!" may be destined to down as one of the all-time cheesy disastrous moments in anime.

  12. A meme in the making…

  13. m

    "Forgive me Slaine" was an absurd moment for sure, but I don't think it was necessarily out of character or bad writing, well if it wasn't intended to piss ppl off it's prob bad writing. But Chruteo, even more than other Versians, is racist, classist, and has that childish "my side good your side bad" mentality that would lead him to say something so absurd.
    Though I found that whole scene lacking in emotional impact. Maybe bc Slaine getting shit on is getting old, maybe bc animated torture (especially with no gore) lacks the impact of something live action, or maybe bc whoever is playing Slaine isn't a good enough actor to make it sound like he was actually being hurt.

  14. S

    Didn't Hayao Miyazaki recently criticized that a part of the anime industry "don't spend time watching real people"?

    I can kind of see where this is coming from, looking at the 180° turn on Crutheo's characterization within 10 seconds in this episode. (But also from the main characters in Zankyou no Terror.)

  15. Z

    Colour me unsurprised.

  16. E

    The enigmatic personality,
    That's what I like about Inaho, lol.
    Last time, the captain saluted him for his sacrifice, but you could say that he's acting for his own benefit too. What's the point of everyone entering? They are going to become sitting duck in that cavern, It's better to to bet a chance at defeating the enemy. Only that he didn't predict that the main body can fly too.

  17. s

    To be honest, I had kind of mixed feelings about this week's episode. Let's start with something positive – I'm glad that this time, it wasn't a 'Kataphrakt of the Week'-type of episode, really. After a while, that just gets boring, no matter how well the fights are animated and no matter how good the soundtrack is.

    Honestly though, I think they could have really cut back on those torture sequences. I can get along with implying them, but the more they are extended, the less likely it is that I'd enjoy the episode. And well… you already pointed out Cruteo's quick turnaround. Better not say anything about that…

    On a more or less unrelated note, could it be that the link at 'what we saw' in this post isn't working properly? At least it does not work for me.

  18. N

    Just because Cruceo is evil, does not mean that the "Forgive me Slain." should not have happened o_O It was for many episodes obvious that, as much of a bastard he was, he really was loyal to the Princess so finding out that Slain protected the Princess with such risks would naturally result in him regretting what he did to Slain. Yes, he hates the Terrans, but the same thing that makes him such a douche also makes him worship loyalty.
    I anticipated that scene for more than 5 episodes and I'd call it bad writing to not have it happen because, quite simply, it fits with his character (especially since not having it would be, quite frankly, fan-service). It is not an attempt to cause sympathy or anything, just a development that had to happen taken his character's personality into the count.

  19. m

    I don't think Inaho is necessarily heartless or selfish. There's no way to know how much of the line "I wasn't trying to save you I was fighting so I didn't die" is true. He has fought to save others when he could've escaped, but you could also argue he calculated that he had a better chance fighting then with help instead of alone later. I think he cares, but is able to make decisions based on logic instead of feelings so he appears to be cold, and probably even thinks himself cold which is why he acts so emotionless.

  20. Maybe, but the point is we have no way to know for sure. Which certainly makes Inaho interesting.

  21. S

    The levels of misfortune piled up upon Slaine have a G.R.R. Martin level of thoroughness to them. He had just clarified the situation – the plot might finally progress to some satisfying places with Chruteo being maybe an asshole, but at least an asshole on Earth's side – but no, we need to be frustrated again. Geez, talk about plot blue-balling.

  22. Z

    That's the nature of these sorts of shows in a nutshell.

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