Monday, September 22, 2014

Anime Review: Aldnoah.Zero

In the past I determined that 12 shows is about the max I can watch in one season and this summer season seemed to prove that, I didn't even watch 12 shows every week and my weekends were still too full! On Saturday's two shows primarily competed for my attention, Captain Earth and this one and they were both a bit uneven, I can't actually remember any weeks where they were both strong, and in the end this was the more uneven, and ultimately weaker, of the two which is the exact opposite of what I would have predicted!


In 1972 astronauts discovered not just rocks and craters on the moon but an interstellar hypergate which let people settle on Mars. But relations between the two worlds has been rocky, Earth says that the Martians cut themselves off and the Martians complain that they were abandoned by their home world. Ten years ago these tense relations escalated into all out war and the heavy use of the hypergate caused it to explode and thus the moon fell from the heavens and huge swaths of the Earth was destroyed and the Martians were cut off from their home. Since then an uneasy truce has existed as the heir to the Martian throne has come to Earth to try and improve those relations.....

To get a large detail out of the way first, yes Gen Urobotchi worked on this show but only the first three episodes and general overall idea, he is neither the main writer nor the main director for the show and has apparently said online that the ending was not his idea/he would have done it differently. So for everyone going "oh but you should have expected SUFFERING because it's a Butcher show" no it sounds like even he's unhappy about that but I will discuss that later, in a spoiler footnote. I also saw some people saying "as soon as he started writing it it got worse!" which I will disagree with, I felt like the first three episodes were very cautious with how the story was being set-up and I felt like the story really hit it's stride around the fifth episode and then stayed on a fairly even keel until about the 8th episode. After that however it went downhill and it's amazing how it was only the last third of the show but just how much that soured my view on it.

Back to the show, there are some shows where I feel like I need to very throughly start describing the setting before I can even begin to talk about the characters or plot and this obviously one of these shows, yet the setting here is very poorly constructed. Way back in my Summer 2014 Anime Round-UP I mentioned and some other people were able to accept the idea aliens left strange, war-mongering technology on Mars but that the idea that people would being to hate their home world and return to a feudalistic society in under 30 years, never mind the fact that obviously everyone over 30 would remember what Earth was like to start with, was stretching its credibility too much and it only got worse. About halfway through the show the Martians suddenly start talking about how terrible life on Mars was and how all of their food was basic and how much they resented Earth (which explained my terraforming question) and about two-thirds of the way through the show the Martians made this their raison d-etre for going after the royal family, that it was a weird form of resentment for making their lives like that and that they would invade Earth anyway to have that bounty. Except that there is nothing outside of their words to support this, the Terrans never mention anything about why the Martians isolated themselves (their reactions were a combination of "I really don't know why/The farther they stay away the better because look at what happened last time") and on Vers there's a confusing combination that they clearly had the resources and materials to build great cities, mechs, and clothe a giant army but even a modest meal by Earth's standards is amazing for the royals. It really felt like the writers had a cool idea for the premise of a setting and then absolutely no idea what drives a society.

So if the writers have proved that they don't understand how society works, do they understand how individuals work? Not really, most of the characters in the show felt like they kept being constrained by what the plot needed them to do, instead of doing things that shaped the plot. Only two characters stood out as having any nuance to me and those there Saazbaum (mostly because he was a more 3D villain than the previous guy and his hatred of what the royal family had turned Mars into at least began to explain his crusade) and Rayet. Rayet was an actually interesting character and her conflict at trying to figure out which side she should even be on in the war was more interesting than watching Slaine and Seylum run around without apparently questioning this and her moments of PTSD were much more believable than Lt Mario's "I'm going to pilot this mech and help!" ends up having flashbacks even though he's been in the army and managed to function for 15 years struggle. But even she has what felt like an out of character moment which some fans think was to introduce a plot point for the second half, again take a look at that spoilerly footnote down below. Regardless, neither of these characters are the leads and the three actual main characters bored me. It seemed as if the story was doing everything it could to keep Slaine from interacting with the plot, they had no idea how to give Asselyum anything to do other than "I want to reopen diplomatic channels!" and as a result literally seemed more like an object to be protected than a real character, and while I think they were going for "has very low-key emotions but they ultimately push him to make logical choices in order to protect those around him" for Inaho comes off as having emotions maybe 4 times in 12 episodes, and at least once his sister had to point them out! 

Mentioning his sister reminded me of also just how much the story had to work to make it that Inaho was always the one to save the day, here we have a story where a large part of the background cast are actually military characters, some with experience from the war 15 years earlier, and yet the story always reverts back to Inaho saving the day. In the earlier episodes when it's a very small group of people then it makes sense, almost no one else has any training and Inaho's character plays to his strengths by not getting ruffled in fast paced, high stakes circumstances but after that it felt like an indulgence. I've seen other people point out that Lelouche of Code Geass, who was another very successful chess master in a resistance, lost more than once and yet Inaho never does, in CG it was able to work since there were other characters with plans and in some ways the story had a larger scope so if one thing failed the characters weren't doomed. Here though the character's have written themselves into a corner, which I'm going to bring back up in the Captain Earth review in a few weeks, that if Inaho loses he's protecting so much that essentially the Earth looses.

At this point I am going to say that if anyone wants my, very spoilerly, thoughts on the ending that they can look down in this footnote, I also have a few theories in there (mine and others) about how this is going to be dealt with*. For everyone else, to the next paragraph!

Regardless, I will admit that I really did like the visuals and the music for the show, more or less. I find it hard to articulate why I like some action scenes but not others and most of the action scenes here just did not grab me. I liked how different the Earth and Martian mech designs were and thought that some of Inaho's plans were genuinely clever but the fights themselves just looked boring. The music was great, I loved the tracks they played at the height of those scenes, and I also really liked the character designs but we've already established that I really like Takako Shimura's art. Actually, I read in one place that she wasn't just in charge of the character designs but also their overall arcs which would be interesting, especially in light of how this season ended. The translation was a bit strange so I'm not so sure how accurate it was especially since the characters didn't really have arcs here, Asseylum is unsure of herself and apologies for things that she really shouldn't (no it's not your fault people decided to assassinate you simply for being royal, no no no), Inaho didn't change at all, and "Slaine is tormented emotionally and physically" does not count as any kind of development. So when it comes down to it, will I watch the second half in the winter? I'm not sure, right now I'm pretty grumpy about this whole show so mostly likely I'll wait and see what other people's reactions are first before I decide. For those who want to give this first half a shot, it is licensed by Aniplex of American and can be found on hulu and crunchyroll (as well as probably Daisuki if you're desperate).

*Here is my biggest problem with the ending of this first season, as I've pointed out above, even when the show has all the right elements to make a good story it still can't pull them together consistently, it seems to get stuck in a rut. But the show is pretty clear on who it's main characters are and just how important they are to the overall story, some of the higher ups have even said this is the story of how the three leads try to prevent the war so clearly the story needs them to continue. 

So the ending kills Inaho and Asseylum and I have no clue whatsoever it plans on doing in this second half. Am I to believe that with two leads dead and the last one suddenly having a very strange questioning of his own morales that the Earth will somehow fight off the last of these attacks anyway? Will this turn into a tragedy and just 12 episodes of the Earth getting curbstomped? Or will they turn out to be alive after all and this was just another "gotcha!" twist? I've seen an interesting, and pretty through, theory over here of what actually happened. I see one major problem with it (namely, that Asseylum's father is in fact dead as a doornail) but I have to admit that it has a certain style to it that would fit with the rest of the writing. I had my own theory why Slaine was suddenly able to use the mech (that it was the result of his father's research on the Aldnoah, especially since it's been mentioned but never stated what he actually did) but I'll admit that this other theory covers more details than mine does. There's a difference between "compelling cliffhanger" and "you just eliminated the core of the show, how do you intend to make this work?" and A.Z is very firmly on one side of that line.


  1. 12 episodes of the Earth getting curbstomped without Inaho to guard it and because they have nowhere else to go with the plot?

    I'd watch that! Teach the Earth's military leaders what happens when you entrust the fate of the entire world to a teenage kid obsessed with eggs!

    1. Oh so you're volunteering to be my guine pig for this? EXCELLENT, I expect a full report come January!

  2. I doubt those two are dead. If they are that'd actually be pretty amazing.

    1. I suspect that's what sparked the theorizing, as I said it's not only unusual to kill off your main cast like that but it's HARD to write a good story after that, as much as it would make me unhappy I certainly wouldn't be surprised if they were brought back one way or another to keep the story going.