- Yes, I believe she’s really dead this time.
- She better be, or credibility destruction is complete.
- As I said once already – Slaine shot first. Just remember that.
For the second time this week (it must be a new rule for shows I cover at RC) we got a sequel announcement right after the first season ended. It’s even less surprising here than it was with Tokyo Ghoul, given that Aoki Ei had all but announced that this show was split cour, though that was informally – and until there’s an official announcement (Aldnoah got this one right, doing it in the end card rather than 18 hours later on a Chinese website) you can never be certain. As such, as is my normal practice with split cour shows I’ll treat Aldnoah as a single series and thus save the full series review for after the end of the second cour (assuming that’s the last one).
To be honest, I think – like much of the last several episodes – that finale was a pretty big mess. In fact, it was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, but one can’t deny it those epic proportions. Aldnoah goes big, and when it needs a change-of-pace it goes bigger. Stuff doesn’t always (or often) make sense, but it’s always a spectacle. And as season-ending cliffhangers go, even if this one wasn’t especially logical it was certainly memorable (and curiosity-inducing).
We had the blockbuster battle Aoki-sensei had promised us for the final episode, though for the most part it followed the standard Aldnoah script – a Martian landing castle that seemed ridiculously overpowered, but had an obvious flaw that (along with the arrogance of the pilot) gets it defeated by Inaho (at least that last part seemed destined to change). Frankly I was hoping for better from Saazbaum, who may just have ended up as my favorite character in the cour. But he wound up being struck with the same stupid stick as all his comrades when the chips were down, and met a similar – though it’s too early to say identical – fate.
The first 18 minutes of the episode are entertaining enough, but quite straightforward – there just isn’t much to talk about until the ending, where things get really interesting (and crazy). We do get what amounts to a statement of purpose from Inaho, who declares that wars – like everything else in his worldview – are driven by practicality. We get Saazbaum pulling off a pretty interesting gettai move, though we’ve seen the flying fists approach from Kataphrakts already. Lots of shots of wounded on the Deucalion, but no one with a name seems to be dead. It’s all there, really, to set up those last four minutes.
So what do we get there? We get Saazbaum pledging that he intends to “stop the cycle of hatred”. We get Inaho using Inko as a decoy. We get Slaine arriving and being saved from Terran soldiers by a Martian, who’s promptly snuffed out as reward. Slaine rides to the rescue of Saazbaum, who’s on the verge of being killed by Inaho. Why was Slaine able to power up his Kataphrakt in the first place – was he granted the power by Asseylum and didn’t realize it? Is it somehow connected with his own bloodlines? Most of the real intrigue here in this finale surrounds Slaine, though a lot of it is never really justified or explained.
This is indeed a highly confused situation, at least on moral grounds. Inaho is a pure consequentialist, Saazbaum is declaring noble intentions intended to be carried out through assassination, mocking his own prejudices while acting on them. And Slaine is a complete mess, certainly from a narrative standpoint. I could almost see Slaine having some sentimental regard for Saazbaum, who’d at least saved him from Cruhteo and freed him to choose his own fate. But this is the man whose professed and practiced intent was to kill the girl Slaine is in love with, so to say Slaine’s actions at the end are confusing is perhaps generous. Charitably, I think the interpretation would be that they’re the confused actions of a confused young man.
Being Slaine is certainly suffering, of that we can be sure. He finally sees Asseylum again, but as she’s ministering to the wounded Inaho in an unnervingly tender manner. Then he sees her shot by Saazbaum, who he’s just saved – first through the chest, and then in the head (so congrats on causing Asseylum’s death there, Slaine). Slaine shoots Saazbaum repeatedly, but before he can deliver the head-shot Saazbaum is asking for, Inaho crawls from his cockpit and stops him. He drags himself towards Asseylum’s body, a strange little smile on his face, but Slains stops him and points a gun at his head. Naturally Inaho pulls out a gun of his own, and Slaine kills him. The end, for now.
Status check, then, shows Inaho and Asseylum dead, Saazbaum possibly close to death, and Slaine… what, exactly? In the first place if Inaho and Asseylum aren’t actually dead, that’s going to amount to a serious breach of faith with the audience. If indeed they are, where does that leave us for the second cour? This ending frankly doesn’t make sense to me – it plays as if it was set up for dramatic purposes with no regard for logic or character consistency – but it does leave some fascinating questions hanging over Slaine. What did he do with Asseylum’s body (please, let it not be some kind of Aldnoah-based resurrection – or improper activities. Anything else I can live with). Does he step in as the new MC? Does he become the new top boss, driven over the edge by what’s happened? Does he continue to stand on the precipice between the world of his birth and the world of his upbringing, everything riding on him? Obviously no one can say for certain, but it feels to me as if Slaine has thrown his lot in with the Martians by his actions here, which favors the “big bad” option. And I smell a fairly lengthy timeskip looming, too, though that’s strictly a guess on my part.
I for one don’t think anyone can argue that the first cour of Aldnoah.Zero wasn’t well-produced, great to look at and listen to. And I think most would agree that it was entertaining on a superficial level. But it would probably therefore be fair to ask – what separates this series from the likes of Guilty Crown, which its detractors have compared it to from the beginning? It’s not all that easy to refute that charge, honestly, based on just how scattershot things got over the last few episodes. I think for me the difference is that Aldnoah.Zero has a core of interesting characters and a sound premise, whereas once you got past the frosting on Guilty Crown I don’t think there was any cake. Things may have degraded substantially in terms of logic and believability, but enough of a foundation was laid that I never lost my buy-in (at least not totally). If you never have that buy-in to begin with, stuff like we saw in these recent weeks is pretty much a deal-breaker.
Even if I do have major issues with the way Aldnoah.Zero developed, I’ll still look forward to the second cour with a good deal of interest. I’m banking on Saazbaum being alive, since even when you’re dead in this series you’re not necessarily dead, and we never saw him die (in fact he pointedly didn’t die). As Saazbaum and Slaine are considerably more interesting than anyone on the Terran side, that might be a good sign for the second season. I have no idea if Gen Urobuchi will be involved in writing the second cour – I would guess minimally at-best – and for all his faults and the fact that Aldnoah followed the usual Gen pattern of shows that falter near the end, I do think his touch was missed once he ceded creative direction to the rest of the staff. It’s pretty much a crapshoot at this stage trying to predict what might happen, but there’s a certain appeal to that. I think the only things we can with certainty are that Aldnoah.Zero will be a spectacle and that Slaine will suffer.
Fade to Black: