Let me start out by saying I really didn’t this this was a bad finale. Technically it was solid, the action sequences were (as ever) terrific, and the pacing was fine. It was coherent and easy to follow, and didn’t leave much in the way of loose ends. So in sum, not terrible by any means. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me feeling… Well – not much of anything, really. And that’s a disappointment.
It’s finale week for the bulk of series that are ending this season, of course, so it’s impossible not to compare and contrast a little. This was a sort of antithesis to the Tokyo Ghoul final episode in a sense – predictable, conventional, plot-driven and emotionally hollow where that one was an impressionist painting, a canvas of pure feeling which told its story largely in silence. But it’s Death Parade which most springs to mind for me as the A.Z credits roll, because it was clear when that show ended that everything had happened for a reason. Here, the question that demands to be asked is, what was the point of all that?
I don’t have any single grievous complaint with how Takayama Katsuhiko (a very good writer) chose to end the story. Probably the biggest gripe I’ve heard is Asseylum marrying Cruhteo Jr., but that makes sense to me – she acted like a leader, not an anime character. Princesses don’t get to choose their husbands, and in the act of trying to wrest control of her nation away from a despot and usurper and stop a war, she did what had to be done. Slaine paid a price for his almost limitless misdeeds, and Inaho was spared a Valvrave-esque personal demise. In the big picture, it was basically (here’s that word again) “fine”.
But again, somehow this all feels very pointless to me. There was no poetry to this ending, nothing epic or Shakespearean in the final bishoudown that’s been teased for two seasons. We had Slaine finally making what seemed like a reasonable decision – ordering his troops to surrender and destroying the moonbase to keep it out of enemy hands.. But his Orbital Knights decided, out of loyalty to the boy who’d led them and their world to the brink of ruin, to throw away their own lives in a pointless suicide mission. Then you had Slaine try and enter into a murder-suicide with Inaho, who was offering him the opportunity to live. It sort of makes sense in that Slaine is smart enough to realize the future that awaits him if he lives is pretty bleak, but it just offers no closure or satisfaction.
Maybe it’s wrong that after all this, nobody dies (though it seems somehow fitting given Aldnoah’s history). Maybe Slaine’s death would have given the ending greater pathos, though that doesn’t feel like the problem to me – I think again it comes down to the issue of there seeming to be no larger purpose behind all this. And at least there was a good reason why Inaho inexplicably bent over backwards to spare Slaine’s life – he was asked to by Asseylum. And in the end, Inaho certainly proves to be the better man in this matchup.
I think a lack of a deeper character arc for Inaho was definitely a problem that undercut the impact of the finale. I like Inaho and I found his reverse-Pinocchio situation in the second season interesting, but he didn’t get much in the way of backstory or emotional catharsis. That all went to Slaine, and he was so uniformly a dickhead in the second season that there was really no doubt as to how his arc would or should end up – live or die, he had to suffer a serious downfall. From the Greeks onward great tragedies have been built not around suspense, but on knowing such a downfall was going to happen and watching it unfold, so structure isn’t the problem here. If Slaine’s ending lacked poetry and power (which I would argue it did) execution was the issue.
In the end, I think it was really Asseylum that seized events by the throat and changed the game – which is certainly unexpected given the first 22 episodes. At least Slaine had the grace to admit he’d underestimated her – “I didn’t think she was capable of it” – but you know, I almost would rather have seen Slaine go all-in on the megalomania and fight like a cornered wolverine right down to the end. He was really beyond redemption anyway, so seeing him go down with a whimper – while it was the logical course for him – doesn’t bring much emotional pop. He was neither redeemed or destroyed in a blaze of glory, and that’s not a satisfying result from a dramatic standpoint.
I guess, for Slaine, one has to ask if Asseylum really did him any favors by begging Inaho to spare his life. The world thinks he’s dead, he’s in solitary confinement, and has to suffer the pity of Inaho and Asseylum for the rest of his life. I suppose the smile we see from him at the end is supposed to indicate that he’s glad Asseylum still had feeling for him in her heart, but his lot is pretty grim by any standard. In the larger picture Asseylum has certainly carried the day – peace has broken out, Aldnoah is being shared, and only a few occupying Orbital Knights seem to be holdouts. As for Inaho, he’s taken out his prosthetic eye-engine (is that murder?) and as always, reveals little of what he’s really feeling. But it’s safe to say he’s resigned to having lost the love of his life to a greater cause, and his history suggests the response is going to be to make sure he never allows himself to be that vulnerable again. Once more, a perfectly feasible and logical endpoint – but one that doesn’t offer much closure or emotional catharsis.
I would still say that, on the whole, the second season of Aldnoah.Zero was better than the first – it was certainly more coherent and consistent. But the rather flat conclusion leads me to wonder if the series wouldn’t have been better off pursuing the Valvrave route after all – balls-to-the-wall insanity and illogic everywhere you turn. Even if was sometimes frustration or irritation, at least it would have left the audience feeling something – and maybe that’s better than what we ended up with. If you’re going to play it straight, in order to be a really good series there has to have been a larger point to everything that happened. Otherwise, you end up with Aldnoah.Zero – a collection of perfectly good parts that somehow add up to less than they should.