Fifteen years after Heaven’s Fall, Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia visits Earth as a sign of goodwill between the empire of Vers and the remnants of Earth civilization. Her assassination sparks a war between the Earth and the Orbital Knights, warrior nobles of Vers who descend upon the Earth in their castles to lay siege to the planet. Fighting for Earth is Inaho Kaizuka, a high school student with a knack for strategy, and his myriad of classmates. Opposite him is Slaine Troyard, the son of a Terran scientist who was sent to Vers to study the Aldnoah Drives, the devices that give the Versian empire its power. Slaine is searching for the truth behind the princess’s assassination and whether she is truly dead at all.
We start in a room lit from the floor. Princess Asseylum asks her servant Slaine Troyard about Earth because it is his birthplace. At the end of their conversation, another servant retrieves the princess so she may get some rest before her descent to Earth the next day. This second servant does not acknowledge Slaine except to glare at him. Slaine is resigned to this as if this has been his treatment all his life. When he is alone, Slaine looks at his feet which the viewer now sees is a window looking at the Earth from orbit. The camera zooms out to reveal the whole previous scene took place on a space ship. This is not a surprising revelation given the conversation topic between Slaine and Princess Asseylum, but it is still a really cool effect.
There is a lot I like about Aldnoah.Zero: main characters, pacing, the music. The characters break out of their tropes just enough to keep you invested in them, though the main trio take most of the narrative’s attention. The plot in the first season is nicely paced but then loses itself in the second season. I am a huge fan of the music despite similar phrasing in other soundtracks this composer did.
There are three central characters. Inaho Kaizuka is a high school student with a knack for battle strategy. His practical personality contributes to his stoic expressions, but we see his heart shine through in his actions. His sister writes a good luck message on a post-it and puts it in his Kataphrankt, and he keeps it throughout the series, which I found endearing. Princess Asseylum Allusia Vers (spoiler alert) misses her assassination attempt due to illness. I love how she is meant to be portrayed as the pure-hearted, naive princess, but she is many ways not. She hides her identity through most of the first season and plots ways to move against her Orbital Knights. My favorite is Slaine Troyard, son of a Terran scientist and the dirge of the princess’s entourage. Having no contact with the princess for most of the first season, he sneaks and kills to both uncover the who and why behind the assassination attempt and then to keep her secret from the rest of the empire.
I do enjoy the secondary characters. For the most part, they break from normal mecha stereotypes. Inaho’s older sister is a Kataphrankt pilot and leader of their small band of soldiers. Rayet was under-utilized. Her father was a Versian spy who was murdered to keep his secrets secret, so despite her Versian heritage Rayet fights with the Earth forces. Koichiro Marito is is the lone survivor of a Versian attack immediately before Heaven’s Fall. Now a lieutenant, Marito suffers from PTSD and drinks a lot. These characters add color to the cast which is otherwise a standard cast for a mecha show. The secondary characters lack males, particularly for Earth forces. There are rarely any females seen in the Versian military.
In terms of plot, the first season is nicely paced. Our main character does not get into a mecha until the fifth episode or so. And then it takes several more episodes to get the Super Awesome Spaceship that is the ship seen in promotional art. My only issue with the first season is the Enemy-of-the-Week feel that happens. There is always another Orbital Knight with another specialized kataphrankt that gives it a unique fighting style that will undoubtedly be exploited until its destruction. After a couple of these bad guys, it got a little boring. Thankfully, by the time I noticed a pattern, the ending happened. The end of the first season is dramatic and everything I wanted it to be. Someone is maimed, someone else is missing, and the moral foundations of a third character crumble into tiny pieces. It is fantastic.
The second season, sadly, does not deliver. It is too focused on developing Inaho and Slaine as mortal enemies which was the easy move. Slaine’s characterization takes a nosedive as soon as his boss kicked it in battle. Although he had been gaining power among the Orbital Knights until that point, that battle was a turning point from which is character could never recover. My issue is his lack of motivation. He never explains why he continues to climb in power. I could see his downfall more than five episodes away. Because of Slaine’s poor characterization, his final battle with Inaho lacked catharsis.
Finally, the music. The composer for Aldnoah.Zero is Hiroyuki Sawano, who also did the scores for Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill. I have noticed similar phrasing in songs between the Aldnoah.Zero and Attack on Titan soundtracks. However, I am willing to overlook this because the music serves its purpose in building up dramatic scenes and then adding vocal tracks to the more intense battles. Vocal tracks in musical scores always get to me.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed Aldnoah.Zero and would recommend it to science fiction fans, especially if they also enjoy giant robots. Aldnoah.Zero is currently available for streaming on Crunchyroll.
Critic Rating: 4/5 shots of strong whiskey
Crunchyroll Rating: 4.5/5 bouquets of blue roses