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.