Aldnoah.Zero takes the common archetypes of the Gundam franchise–teenaged mecha pilots, a military ship transporting civilians/refugees, indestructible giant mecha, and (my personal favorite) aristocracy in space–and makes them into something new with the help of the world building. This is not the year 2014 we know, though it shows as many similarities as it does differences. There are smartphones and internet and regular Japanese high schools, but there is also a hostile space empire literally hovering over everyone’s heads somewhere around the destroyed Moon. Therefore, it is plausible that the United Earth mandated military training for all high school students, which in turn informs why a group of teenagers can pilot a couple giant war machines and the military is totally okay with this.
Anime Central is this weekend! This will be my first time attending, and I am super excited. In preparation, I decided to exclusively watch anime the month and a half prior. Here is a list of all the shows I watched and a super-brief impression on each. Longer discussions about each will come out when I get around to it.
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
I started a few shows this week, but before I finish them, allow me to give you my initial impressions for the sake of content.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I watched the first four episodes and the entire time I felt “meh.” The characters besides Kimmy did not have the depth of character to break free of their stereotypes. Titus feels like the writers threw together a bunch of Making-It-In-New-York roommate archetypes in the hopes that would make him a rounded character, but it falls flat. I hope the best for Jacqueline, Kimmy’s boss, because her life is such a crap shoot and her character shows the most potential for development. I do not understand what her step daughter hopes to do with Kimmy’s background. The two best parts of this show are Kimmy’s undying optimism and the opening theme song.
Overall, I intend to finish this show if only because the entirety of pop culture seems to be talking about it. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can be found on Netflix.
This show fires on all cylinders for me. First, there is mecha, and while it does have a faint “big boss of the week” feel, this is overshadowed by the good writing. Secondly, the main and secondary characters have separate motivations that often pits them against each other, regardless of whether they fight the same enemy or not. Thirdly, the main character, a high school student named Inaho Kaizuka, is special because of his brain, specifically his tactical genius. Lastly, the series does not pull punches when it comes to PTSD and killing characters. My one beef would be the show’s use of deus ex machina, often used at the end of episodes.
Overall, this is one I will finish in about a week. The final episode airs March 28th. Aldnoah.Zero can be found on Crunchyroll.