Aldnoah.Zero – 24 (End) and Series Review

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Fair or not, anime are always graded on a curve.  And it’s a tough week for Aldnoah.Zero.

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.

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  1. p

    Spot on review.

    I felt the first 18 minutes or so where terrific. It seemed like everyone got their chance to shine. I thought it was great for the series to end with Yuki, Marito, Rayet to get to be badasses at the end. Particulary when you compare them to how helpless they where in those first episodes. Even the martian forces got their chance to shine as well. I enjoyed the fight between Slaine and Inaho, brief as it was. I even liked the call back to last season with Slaine pointing at his head.

    For me where the episode fell apart was after the time skip to when everything is suddenly peaceful. I really thought they where setting up for a 3rd cour for most of the episode. When they just suddenly wrapped everything up at the end like that, it just felt, unsatisfying.

  2. D

    i honestly thought the ending was terrible made no fucking sense.. the girls just goes off and marries some random ass dude.. ?!?! thats kinda gay and yes the lack of emotion and deaths and they half assed it totally

  3. M

    Great review. It conveyed a lot of what I felt about the episode and show. The only thing I'd add is the lack of character deaths. There was the Vers suicide squad, but I'm talking about the UFE characters. First of all it felt strange that the tide turned so overwhelmingly in the UFE's favor so quickly. There wasn't a single UFE character of note that was killed or even injured. And that's not just this episode. That is both seasons. It really doesn't sell the war very well. It's especially weird since the UFE forces were so outgunned almost all the time (barring Inaho). It's not that I wanted any particular character to die, but it undermined the story in my opinion.

  4. I don't disagree with any of that. It did seem as if things went from VERS domination to total Slaine capitulation way too quickly, and it defies credulity that none of the named UFErs died since that kid in the second or third ep.

  5. M

    Ah crap I forgot about that one kid. I guess there was one UFE death of note (kinda).

  6. c

    yes great review: i thought they rushed that second part of this episode and the lack of emotion was a bit disappointing………….after all they had been building this up for the whole second season and it sort of just deflated like a baloon…………too bad………..

  7. s

    yea with finales coming left and right you really cant help but grade them on a curve. Yea i kept hoping to get something out of Aldnoah zero. What started as a good action show with potential to be better sort of became stark and predictable during the second half of the first season and that hollowness carried over to the second season. Sigh, welp on to the next a-1 pictures anime which is…..mahou shoujo lyrical nonoha vivid..muahahahahaaaa yea no..maybe gunslinger stratos tho. By the way, out of curiosity what has been your favorite finale enzo and commentors; like the finale that impacted you the most even if you felt like the series wasnt as cohesive (as of now i would say tokyo ghoul root a for me)

  8. At this moment it would be hard not to say Root A, though I'm sure I'll remember others now you've brought it up.

  9. s

    Yea with the winter season coming to a close, i figured it'd be nice to see what finales have effected ppl the most: the ones they loved the most or despised the most or the ones that made them feel lukewarm. Im sure the results would be quite interesting

  10. J

    Of this season, sonic? It's a good question because the best series I've seen this season wrapped things up in a fashion before their last episodes so their finales, while necessary and great in their own right didn't have such a large impact on me.

    Still yet to watch a few endings (most notably Yowapeda but also Maria, DRRR!!, Root A) so for now I'd say Death Parade. But it wasn't flawless so I'm hoping that come tomorrow evening my mind has been changed.

  11. s

    Yes sorry if that was confusing i meant of this winter season

  12. C

    Holy shit are you kidding me? You call THAT "saving" Slaine? So he was scapegoated for the entire war, locked up for life in some sex dungeon and he's so miserable that his entire life is just one huge failure after another he's starving himself in order to die? What the hell, Inaho you should have just put him out of his misery!

    And there I was hoping that Slaine would become Kotomine… but he was closer to Kiritsugu all along (Wanting to bring justice and peace through a harsh way, constantly suffering, his plan ends in failure)

    Also my other peeve is how Hime is basically asking for Versian society to fall apart now that she's been granting Aldnoah rights to Earthlings, the ONLY thing Vers had which is the backbone of their kingdom/social order.

  13. E

    So Slaine is the only one paying the price for the Vers war when it was most of the empire at fault… Thats kind of sad I guess. Great review, I agree completely that the finale was lacking in investment. Doesn't help that most of the Earth people are quite boring, where is Lemrina btw?I thought Inaho's eye was being built up for something, feels like they didn't go far enough either way for both Slaine and Inaho. Still, the show is one of the best looking shows these few seasons, those character designs and backgrounds make for a great combination. Overall it was a decent package, but I don't think it will be remembered for long…

  14. J

    > where is Lemrina btw?I

    I think she died. She had been sent out in the ship with Slaine's right-hand man to bring her to "safety". But then that ship turned around and rejoined the battle, and I don't think there was a chance to transfer her to another ship. So presuming she was killed when that ship was destroyed.

  15. G

    For me, personally, I pretty much only watched this show for the Vers side. This is because I found Inaho deeply, deeply uninteresting throughout the entirety of the series and the robotic eye plotline did little to alleviate that. His past was never explored and his behavior was never explained. Some folks liked this series just to see Inaho effortlessly destroying everything, I was just not one of them – I actually started skipping the earth parts toward the latter end of the series because I knew exactly how they'd end, and I'd always be right.

    Slaine was the most interesting character for me because, right or wrong, he actually developed and did something more than take part in predictable fights every episode. Turning him into some sort of an anti-villain intrigued me in season 2 until they just decided to pretty much chuck away all that internal conflict in episode 9 I believe (when the princess pulled a gun on him) and he went just straight on villain. That's where I dropped the show because I just stopped ultimately caring that much about what was going to happen and relied on blog posts to see how it ultimately turned out.

    It seems the payoff was as unsatisfying as I expected.

  16. P

    If you liked your bishoudowns in this series do yourself a favor and go watch Legend of the Galactic heroes. It's this series done right. It's every space opera done right.

    Not that Aldnoah didn't have it's moments. The battles were glorious. But everything else pales in comparison. 🙁

  17. A

    Seconding this. LoGH is a true classic, pretty much the quintessential anime space opera. I hope we get some news on the new anime project soon, it's been over a year since the announcement…

  18. H

    Code Geass is Aldnoah.Zero done right.^^;
    LoGH is incomparable.

  19. M

    Looks like I'm not the only one who felt that Slaine's death is more satisfying and poetic ending rather than this.

    But what I don't understand is why the Vers Empire, namely Asseylum and Klancain, blamed the whole war on Slaine. Yes he is guilty of continuing the war, but he isn't involved at all in starting the war and the assassination attempts. They could have blamed Count Saazbaum for that and as Slaine is his son, it will give a plausible explanation that Slaine continues the war for his father. It seems like they are just scapegoating him just to say 'hey, so it isn't actually any of our counts' fault, it's actually a Terran boy!' just to gain favor with Earth. Honestly that leaves a bad taste on my mouth, because it means somehow even Slaine got blamed for all the wrongdoings and genocide acts committed by the counts in Season 1 when he was merely a helpless boy and suffered greatly just to save the princess.

    Simply put they could have achieved the same ending back in Season 1 if they defeated Saazbaum, but somehow the writers felt like it would be fun to make another cour to force Slaine as a villain but in the end it doesn't even matter what Slaine did, it's all pointless. 'We're back to zero,' indeed.

  20. It's true, Slaine isn't to blame for starting the war. But to be fair, he is to blame for an awful lot – there's enough to go around. If the other warmongers in VERS get off scot-free yes, that would be pretty unfair – but it doesn't exonerate Slaine in any way.

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