Aldnoah.Zero – 09

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All aboard the Slaine pain train…

This was another fascinating mess of an episode that had the long reach of Urobuchi’s hand all over it, but as sometimes happens I think I really need to start at the end and work backwards, because this elephant pretty much takes up the whole room.  No, I don’t believe Asseylum is dead.  And yes, I do see that the circumstantial evidence supports it – most obvious being the shutdown of the Aldnoah drive on the Deucalion.  But it just doesn’t pass the sniff test with me – right here, right now?  I don’t think so – time will tell.

It sure would be one hell of a ballsy development, though.

Let’s start with the positives, and it’s becoming a bit of a broken record – the Martian side of the story seems to have more potential than the Terran side in many ways.  True, that’s partially because it’s been less successfully fleshed-out and has more upside to grow into, but this week Aldnoah.Zero finally got something it really needed – a Martian character who can’t be summed up in a sentence and dismissed.  Saazbaum could just be the character that brings the story to the next level.  He’s not an idiot, he’s not a cartoonishly evil genocidal maniac.  He’s an actual antagonist who takes a little figuring out.

I thought the scene where Slaine and Saazbaum share “dinner” was the best in the episode by a wide margin.  I like the fact that Saazbaum came right out and told Slaine the truth (most of it anyway).  He holds most of the cards and he knows it, so he didn’t BS around – he laid it out there for Slaine to understand.  Why he owes his father a debt. what Cruhteo was, and what he is.  Saazbaum certainly resents Earth and what he sees as the lavish lifestyle they lead, and the fact that they threw their table scraps to the Martian colonists after shuttling them off to a harsh and brutal environment.  But it’s absolutely clear that Saazbaun reserves his true hate for the Martian society and the VERS royal family, and it’s they who he blames for the death of his betrothed.  Saazbaum doesn’t spew racist propaganda and torture shotas – he does what he does for what he feels are justifiable reasons and doesn’t make a caricature of himself in the process.  And he seems to have a modicum of intelligence, too.

More than for Saazbaum himself, though, this scene works because it continues the development of what I see as the most interesting part of the story – the VERS society and what it represents.  Saazbaum mercilessly guts it and lays it wide open – it’s a backwards, feudal nation led by a royal family that rose to power by fanning hatred against the Earth.  “Enlightenment” is certainly a relative term when one takes a look at the world we live in, but irrespective of our own failures VERS represents a pre-enlightenment society – except one that’s been given technological superiority over every other.  That’s a fascinating and terrifying notion, and for me it’s at the heart of Aldnoah.Zero – that gap between where VERS is socially and where they are militarily.  And Saazbaum sits at the very epicentre of all this – not an ideologue or megalomaniac, but a man driven by personal vendettas to try and force change and one who doesn’t like to be someone else’s pawn .  He’s wrong, but he’s wrong in far more interesting ways than the other Martians are.

For me at least, most of the stuff back on the Deucalion isn’t nearly as interesting.  I’m having a hard time taking any of Lt. Marito’s storyline seriously, because it’s seems so utterly cliched.  PTSD is a very real thing, but this particular drama is completely boilerplate right down to the character designs.  And the attempts to cultivate a teen romance subplot and mine humor from it aren’t working too well – as a rule, humor hasn’t been a strong point of Aldnoah.Zero so far.  And seriously, Eddelrituo needs to just stop talking already.

But then there’s that ending.  The episode certainly does focus heavily on Rayet’s growing existential angst with her situation, and on her resentment with Asseylum for being so at peace with who she is.  That said, I never really felt things were building to what they did – actually trying to murder the Princess (with her lucky pendant) seems like a big jump from where we were 30 seconds earlier.  That aside, was it really necessary to stage that scene in the shower?  I suppose it’s the reality of anime these days that directors feel they have to try and pander in every way they can even if it doesn’t mesh with the rest of the series (and there is an art to doing so without seeming so crass about it, but Aldnoah hasn’t mastered it), but blatant attempts to appeal to prurient interests by cheap fanservice and Eddel’s constant lolicon posturing undercut the stature of the show as a whole.

In the end everything comes back to what Rayet did though, and not how she did it.  If Asseylum is indeed really dead barely a third of the way through the series, that certainly casts the remainder of Aldnoah.Zero as a very different story than it appeared to be.  And whether Asseylum’s really dead or not, things have obviously changed in a big way for Rayet.  Is her continued existence on the Deucalion even possible now?  Even if she isn’t directly linked to the crime (whether that be murder or attempted murder) it’s hard to imagine she’ll be able to stay in that environment given how close to the psychological edge she was already balancing.  If Asseylum is dead that truly scrambles Aldnoah.Zero so thoroughly that it’s nigh impossible to predict where it goes next.  But even if as I expect Asseylum survives, this still goes down as a pivotal moment that sharply changes the course of the plot.

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19 comments

  1. R

    I have some curious observations here,

    Is it me or does Yuki actually share Inaho's "amoral" or "stoic" nature? Sure, she shows a lot more in the emotional department, but she also doesn't seem to be perturbed by his cold behaviour. And she seems to be much more knowing than what she lets in. It felt like she can read Rayet and is just taunting her under the guise of all that cheerful talk about Nao's "harem"

    As for Marito, if I recalled correctly, his past visions had him holding Humeray outside of the tank. .So are those simply some sort of defense mechanism to keep him from relieving the fact that he actually killed the guy?

    That switch with Saazbaum's character did feel heavy handed. But the question is: how much of it is the truth and how much of that are just a ploy to manipulate Slaine?

    And the ending was definitely a big swerve. But I am also guessing that Asseylum is just unconscious. You really can't kill someone just by strangling her for less than a minute.

  2. Interesting observation about Yuki – could be that genes are telling, here.

    I don't feel the Saazbaum thing was a whiplash switch, because I don't think it contradicts anything we've seen from his character up to this point. He hasn't come off as especially bloodthirsty or virulently racist – more as calculating and deliberate.

  3. J

    Seems to me that Yuki was probing for information, rather than simply taunting. I agree that she may well be a character to watch.

  4. R

    @Jeb
    Her method of probing for info borders on psychological torture. It is probably no coincidence that her choice of simulation for Rayet was the one with the Nikoleras, from which Yuki herself was the one who saved the kid, and most likely know the trauma it brought. That seems to be one thing that might haved caused Rayet to snap here.

  5. J

    Saazbaum basically lead the initial charge of war with his initial big loud grandiose speech about smiting the Earthlings in the name of vengeance for Asseylum. He also seemed to be the one prolonging the conflict when things look like they might be heading towards a cease fire a couple of times now and up until this episode didn't seem like he was really more particularly nuanced than any of the other Martian characters. To me there's a lot of signs of what he talked about in this episode being a rather recent script development since he's basically been pushed now into being the major antagonist for this season with Cruhteo out of the way who I'd swear he seems to have inherited some sort of early draft role and traits from while Cruhteo became more one-dimensional from where he started off from in the early episodes in what is all but confirmed to be his final appearance now last week. Something has me feeling like initially they had planned for Cruhteo and Saazbaum to have separate juxtaposed roles in the story but recently it was decided to kill of Cruhteo and combine the characters roles into one in Saazbaum to simplify things and make it easier to fit some ideas into the time they have left without having to plan accordingly for two separate characters.

    Still it's welcome to have a more 2 dimensional antagonist, I just can't shake the feeling that Saazbaum's character was initially meant to be quite different from where he is now and that there are still some things that don't really add up with regard to the Martian side of the storyline.

  6. I still don't see how any of that behavior contradicts anything he told Slaine this week. The only difference is that we now know why he did it.

  7. t

    another explosive episode in Aldona Zero.

    I really don't know if the princess is still alive. in fact, I really think she is dead. because…that will be real irony here – the Martians (mostly Saazbaum and whoever knights/soldiers that helped him) tried to kill the princess but failed, now the Earthians are trying to prove the princess is alive and it's all a Martians' plot, but in the end she is killed in their watch… it's like killing the princess' vision of peace from both ways. besides, having the princess to just lose conscious or something seems a bit off, that's not how Urobuchi is usually doing things (as far as I remember enough).
    whatever happened to her, it's indeed gonna change the dynamic and the characters. in case she is a live, can the princess still believe in her peace vision after a second assassination (not to mention that this one was a firsthand experience)? if the opposite occurred and the princess is actually dead..what will they do?especially Eddelritsuo..I wouldn't be surprise to even see the "princess's revival" via that optic tool she had…

    whether the princess is alive or dead, both options still possible, what's interesting is what's going to happen with Rayet. after the deed it seemed like she regained consciousness and I am not sure if she is sorry about it or not. lots of things can happen whether the princess is dead or alive, and in Rayet's case it's hard to predict how she will act and what the circumstances will lead to.

    having said that, going back to Saazbaum, shows us how things aren't as that simple as they look and sound. that's how it is in society and in one's mind..it's complicated. it's really interesting to see how on the one hand he is serving as knight his kingdom and even its ideals as feudal system to expand themselves, yet on the other hand he loathe the current.."government". in a way, his will for revenge and inner voice isn't different from Rayet. I think even Slaine was a bit shocked by his firm resolve.

  8. S

    If the princess is dead, chapeau to the ballsy move (though one that aims in the same usual direction – SUFFERING FOR EVERYONE). If she isn't, I wonder if this'll have something to do with the way she survived her attempted assassination (for example, does she have regenerative powers? Clones? Can she transfer her conscience or… something something Aldnoah something?). Any "she was only unconscious" explanation won't do – if being unconscious stops Aldnoah, do they have to stop every night when she sleeps? And why wouldn't they take better care that she doesn't have an accident or even simply faints for whatever reason (like the heat in the shower) if that means plummeting straight to Earth during flight?

    The Saazbaum thing was definitely an interesting development. It also ties in properly with the way he seemed to be protecting Slaine from Cruhteo, which wouldn't have made sense if his only purpose had been to assure the safety of his plot – in that case, he should have wanted him to kill Slaine asap.

    On another note, Edellrittsuo shall henceforth be known as Racist Space Loli.

  9. G

    Most likely she choked her unconscious. She only choked her for 10 seconds at most, it can take minutes to strangle someone.

  10. m

    A third of the way through the series? I thought it was only going to be 12 eps? I'd love it if I was wrong about that, but has there been sonfirmation on a season 2 or was the 12ep listing on MAL incorrect?

  11. J

    According to interviews with the director and some of the cast, dubbing and the script for the remaining 3 episodes were finalized as of Saturday, August 30th and there's supposed to be a big climactic battle to end the cour which will almost certainly be on a cliffhanger. Ei Aoki the director says they are currently working on ideas and a concept for the 2nd cour, but nothing was stated as to when that would air and the only thing he'd throw out is that they plan to cover what the whole Zero thing in the title means with the second season though again it doesn't seem like anything with regard to the shows concept is finalized as of yet.

  12. m

    Oh ok that makes sense. I hope they go with another season bc it has always seemed like too big of a story to finish up in 1 cour, and not the kind of story that can have any acceptable resolution with things left in the air. War shows don't suit unfinalized endings the way comedies can. You can leave RomComs and Harem (almost has to be open) without complete endings, but AldnoahZero would be an awful show to end abruptly or with the war still ongoing.

  13. J

    Yeah that's the sort of thing that sunk Aniplex's last big name original mecha anime production Valvrave for me in the end…..it didn't have one. Same with the one before that Guilty Crown, but one could probably argue without too much convincing to be done that that story never had an cohesion to it in the first place. In any case you need a more conclusive ending than that had I think, but I also think there's room for some open ended stuff, leaving room for sequels and further wars still being a possibility, you just have to make sure you resolve what you already have on the table at the moment in order to not be ultimately unsatisfying.

    Hopefully despite using a lot of the same strategies they used with Valvrave when it comes to the way the show is being approached from a production standpoint Aniplex has at least learned that much since then as there sort of a precedent to overcome with regard to the companies track record in these endeavors.

  14. r

    You managed to sum up my problem with Rayet's attack beautifully: "[…] seems like a big jump from where we were 30 seconds earlier."

    This is exactly what I was struggling with—while I see the motivations being laid out in the episode, there's a pretty huge gap between being jealous of someone and trying to kill them and A/Z didn't cover that gap in a manner that we could follow. It just leapt there and trusted we would follow.

  15. Yup, pretty much. Things are happening so fast that you don't really have time to obsess over just how big that gap is, but on reflection it's a bit of a problem.

  16. s

    dont forget guys that Rayet was part of the assassination attempt of the princess; Rayet's trying to kill Asseylum is not a drastic jump from jealousy because jealousy is only a small portion of it; it's more about a crisis of her dealing with the reality of the situation that has come before due to the unexpected events she has experienced. In her eyes, the princess should have already been dead; her father and that group of people should have accomplished their mission and been done with it, but they ended up being killed by trilliam, and what's more is that the princess is still alive….so her father's death just ended up being in vain. Now she has to walk around with the princess who seems to be all rainbow and sunshine while her father's work ended up being for nought. As she watches the princess, she tries to come to terms with the fact that maybe she isnt a bad person and that there was no real good reason to try and murder her. Still, the possibility that the princess' kindness could be a ruse and her father's efforts were in vain was enough to break her. In my opinion, the issue with rayet's development and action is not because there is a gap between her jealousy (which i dont think it has much to do with jealousy) and murderous intentions, It's the fact that Rayet hasnt been portrayed as a compelling character; all her agnst has been pretty much by the books so far so there hasnt been any real substance to chew on when it comes to her. Still, i think they did a decent job setting her up as a character that will affect the story without making her feel like just a plot device so i can definitely give the story points for taking that direction..what happens next will be important on her development as a character

  17. I buy that, but only to a point. If anything, her rage has been directed towards the ones who tried to kill the Princess, because they killed her father believing full well the job had been done. Yes, Asseylum's presence is a reminder of the way her family was screwed, but I never thought we saw any buildup that she was blaming the Princess to that extent.

  18. s

    It might not even be the fact that she blames the princess for her family's death, but it's just that seeing the princess put's her mind in a state of disarray, which is why she attempted to kill her. In the end, she probably just want some piece of mind, and in her psychotic trance, that seemed to be the best solution. Rayet has to keep being reminded that Asseylum's existence is why her clan/family, who were banished from mars, had to cooperate with the whole assassination scheme just so they could restore their honor, a scheme that for all intents and purposes, should have succeeded but ultimately didnt. In Rayet's eyes, all martians are the enemy (as she stated to Inaho a few eps back) and that includes the princess, which makes Rayet's crisis all the more significant because now she is having trouble coming to terms with the fact that Asseylum may not be an enemy, a seemingly tasking mental exercise. Who knows, a part of Rayet's dilemma might be the idea that if Asseylum never existed, she'd still be all sunshine and unicorns with her family. And apparently Rayet is also a princess as well, a fallen princess apparently

  19. s

    Not to mention that Rayet has been giving the princess the stink eye for some time now, again stemming from the conflict of being around her when technically, she should be dead.

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