“I will show you where I have made my home while preparing to bring justice. Then I will break you.” —Bane, The Dark Knight Rises
We’re now roughly a quarter of the way into Aldnoah.Zero’s twenty-four episodes, and thus far, it’s safe to say that anything less than twenty four simply wouldn’t be able to sufficiently build things up. Compared to the scant bit of information about this series that was attained from the previews, we know now that the Martians mentioned are in fact a branch of humanity that discovered the Aldnoah drive on Mars after the Apollo 17 mission discovered “hyper gates” on the moon. Thus, the Vers Empire was founded: the Aldnoah drive only recognises those of the Vers bloodline, since Rayregalia Vers Rayvers, the present emperor of the Vers Empire, was the first to come into contact with the technology. Years later, in 1999, tensions between the Earth Federation and Vers Empire resulted in a war that decimated the moon, and at present, under the cover of Princess Asseylum’s assassination, the Orbital Knights have convinced their emperor to conduct a holy war on Earth, with the intent of wiping out the old remnants of humanity and claim the planet as their own.
- Slaine Troyard and Princess Asseylum share a conversation in the opening episode’s first moments, talking about what mechanism makes the sky and ocean blue on earth; Slaine misidentifies the mechanism as diffraction where it is, in actuality, Rayleigh scattering. The former is an Earthnoid who serves Lord Cruhteo, while the latter is the grand-daughter to Emperor Rayregalia Vers Rayvers. As of January 17, 2015, I’ve got a talk for my impressions at the true halfway point here.
- To the left is Inaho Kaizuka, an earthnoid high school student with a quiet demeanor, and Calm Craftman is to the right; the latter is generally cheerful and excitable, despite his name. I’ll continue introducing characters as the need arises, although insofar, I’ve taken a greater interest in the big picture, rather than the individual characters, technical details or even political structuring in the Vers Empire. The page quote, seemingly unrelated to Aldnoah.Zero, comes from The Dark Knight Rises, and I feel that this is the sense that the anime emanates when the Vers’ intents are illustrated.
- The notion of a nation clandestinely aiding third parties, or allowing them to proceed, in terrorist activity is a popular component of conspiracy theories, where a nation stands to gain a defensible justification for conducting warfare or implementing draconian policies in the name of national security. This was featured in Gundam Unicorn, where the Laplace Station’s destruction gave the Earth Sphere Federation the excuse it needed to exclude the Spacenoids from politics, eventually leading to the One-Year War. Back in Aldnoah.Zero, terrorists stage an assassination on Asseylum with the intent of being recognised as Orbital Knights. The attack itself was staged by some of the Knights, who have been itching for a fight with the Earth Federation.
- Shortly after Asseylum’s “assassination”, the Orbital Knights begin landing their castles on earth, inflicting vast casualties on the planet’s populace. Like the aliens in Independence Day, they start by wiping out the human communication networks. However, the Orbital Knights commit the same mistake as do most fictional beings that attack the Earth: rather than striking our power facilities, they immediately begin by occupying our cities. Sun Tzu’s Art of War states that engaging in sieges against cities should only be conducted if no other alternatives exist, and with their resources, the Vers Empire looks like it is more than capable of crippling our power grid.
- Count Trillram resembles Gundam 00‘s Arba Lindt, and Fractale‘s Barrot: this design is said to intentionally invoke a sense of irritation or even disgust in viewers to enforce the idea that the character is despicable. To further reinforce this, Trillram delights in combat and does not hesitate to murder Earthnoids and people from the Vers Empire alike. His Kataphrakt (the Aldnoah.Zero equivalent of a mobile suit) is equipped with a shield that absorbs all matter it comes into contact with.
- After the Heaven’s Fall, the Earth Federation developed its own Kataphrakts in response to the Vers designs. Despite their intended role to replace the main battle tank, human Kataphrakts are much more militaristic, practical and less stylised compared to the Vers Kataphrakts. Slower, less maneuverable and dependent on kinetic weapons, they are wiped out quickly by Vers Kataphrakts during the war’s initial stages.
- Yuki Kaizuka is Inaho’s older sister. Serving as a Warrant Officer in the United Forces of Earth, she is an instructor at the academy and is also a competent Kataphrakt pilot, helping her squad hold off Trillram long enough for the civilians to evacuate the area.
- Trainer Kataphrakts are coloured with a distinct orange coat and have reduced specifications compared to combat variants. To aid in defending the evacuees, Inaho and his friend, Nina Klein, make use of these trainers to hold off Trillram, in the process, demonstrating a high level of proficiency that surpasses those of most of the soldiers. This trend is quite common in anime, for youth to excel where the adults find more difficulty, and although it is not particularly realistic, one could probably forgive this once the combat sequences are seen.
- As part of Inaho’s plan, Asseylum makes use of an MGL derivative to fire smoke rounds and confuse Trillram’s Kataphrakt, whose cameras are somehow located in the air. The ruse is successful, and Trillram is thrown into disarray when his technology fails him. The MGL makes an appearance in Battlefield 4, and though it does not show up in the first mission, it can be picked up in gadget crates in later campaign missions. It’s a rather amusing weapon to use, capable of decimating infantry with ease and inflicting serious damage against most vehicles.
- By observing Trillram’s Kataphrakt, Inaho is able to determine where its weaknesses are and promptly comes up with a countermeasure on the spot. He joins Miho “Miporin” Nishizumi as one of those anime characters who thrive during chaos and excel in using lateral thinking to solve problems.
In what is one of this season’s more intriguing science-fiction stories, Aldnoah.Zero is turning out to be a thrill to watch, keeping anticipating high by closing off episodes right as things heat up. What makes Aldnoah.Zero worth watching insofar is the unique combination of exposition from the antagonists, and their combat sequences with the Earth Federation forces. Even though the Orbital Knights are not unified by any common cause beyond a mutual dislike and disrespect for the Terrans (Earthnoids), their tendencies make them a very difficult enemy to sympathise with. Equipped with technology well beyond anything that the Earthnoids have, the Vers Empire regards the Earth Federation as little more than a nuisance and effortlessly mops floor with the human Kataphrakts (mobile suits); three episodes in, the Vers Empire decides to conduct an orbital bombardment, illustrating their total disregard for the Earthnoids. The whole notion of elevating the kill count, named characters or civilians, is generally supposed to rile the viewers and illustrate just what the protagonists are up against. However, this also results in an antagonist that viewers will doubtlessly enjoy watching the demise of. Similarly, while the protagonists (especially Inaho and his friends) are painted as courageous individuals willing to step into the line of fire to protect humanity, they also lack the sort of background that allows viewers to sympathise with them. Inaho’s tactical capabilities, though impressive, do not give any insight into how he is as a person: since this is an anime and not a space marine shooter, one does expect the protagonist to have a little more development. As he is now, a stoic, unyielding character who’s quite dull. These limitations, however, must be tempered by the fact that there are twenty-four episodes: we’re just a quarter of the way into Aldnoah.Zero and as such, there’s still plenty of time for the protagonists to be fleshed out. The two characters that do feel organic are Slaine, the descendent of a scientist who presumably helped Rayvers with the Aldnoah drive, and Princess Asseylum, who is Rayver’s daughter. The former finds himself out of place in Vers society as a Terran and is oftentimes bullied by Cruhteo, one of the Orbital Knights, while the latter truly desires peace and finds herself with the refuges after escaping an assassination on her body double. How these two come into play in Aldnoah.Zero will likely be intriguing, to say the least.
- The unique combination of Trillram’s obnoxiousness and Inaho’s strategic capability allows him to disable the former’s Kataphrakt, being one of the earliest moments in the series where the Federation scores a victory over the Vers empire.
- One of the things that should happen in the future episodes is a greater exposition into Inaho’s past; at present, his lack of emotion is a deficiency that takes away from his presence as the protagonist. This stoic tendency, far from making him a more impressive character, raises many questions. However, we are still in the series’ beginning, there is time yet to explore his character in greater depth.
- Nina Klein and Inko Ami are two of Inaho’s friends and classmates: the former is from the same nation as Calm, while the latter has known Inaho since their childhood and also serves on the Student Council.
- Shortly after arriving at port, another Orbital Knight, Vlad, appears in a Katapharkt specialising in close-quarters engagement by means of a massive plasma sword, which generates enough thermal energy to defeat Federation armour and stop ammunition used against it. Inaho decides to make use of the cargo containers to distract it, damaging its sensors and forcing Vlad to retreat.
- Five years ago, Asseylum saved Slaine and his father; this scene was the cause of much speculation in the preview, until it was revealed in the following episode that it was just her giving him CPR to save him. Since then, Slaine has been quite close to Asseylum.
- Things like the Leidenfrost effect are mentioned, and that the ocean-borne vessels Inaho and company board are referred to as amphibious assault carriers rather than aircraft carriers, illustrating how Aldnoah.Zero does make the effort to keep things real. While the scientific phenomenon and human technology is well-rationalised, the Vers field equipment that is powered by means so far ahead of modern humanity that it is fundamentally indistinguishable from magic.
- The leadership on Vers follows an monarchy, with Rayregalia Vers Rayvers as the emperor. He is served by the Orbital Knights, who are granted access to the Aldnoah in exchange for unquestioned loyalty to him. However, in practise, Rayvers is easily manipulated by the Orbital Knights, and shortly after declaring a ceasefire, is deceived into believing that Asseylum was assassinated, and promptly resumes the conflict, leading to total war.
- Regardless of station, origins, background or upbringing, it seems that the classic anime pouty-face can be worn by almost any female character. Here, Asseylum reacts to Inaho’s response regarding Slaine’s explanation of why the Earth’s sky and oceans are predominantly blue. I realise that I haven’t had an even distribution of images here, but twenty images over six episodes mean I invariably wind up choosing images that lead to something I can say.
- After total war is declared in episode six, another Kataphrakt appears, equipped with funnels. I’ve done my best not to compare Gundam Unicorn to Aldnoah.Zero, and since we’re nearing the end of this post, I will simply say that both series are meant to be different takes on conflict. Gundam might be the pinnacle of mecha for some, but that does not mean Aldnoah.Zero is intended to “beat” Gundam. Instead, the way I see it, Aldnoah.Zero manages to stand out and present a different, enjoyable addition to the mecha genre.
- Discussions in other corners of the internet are incredibly varied, ranging from talks about the justifiability of war, conspiracy theories, moral implications behind Vers’ actions, to which girl Inaho will end up with, and mechanical details. For me, I’ve opted to go with a very generalised, big-picture discussion of the whole series, touching on a bit of everything here and there, so readers can decide whether or not Aldnoah.Zero is either worth picking up (for those who are still hanging back) or worth continuing with (if, like me, they’ve been watching it since it began airing). Quite personally, I’m going to keep watching this one.
I’ve chosen to keep my discussion relatively short: elsewhere, in places I won’t go, I hear that viewers are disappointed that, for a work that Gen Urobuchi is involved in, there is not more intellectually stimulating content. When I started watching Aldnoah.Zero, I myself was wondering if Aldnoah.Zero would bring to the table the sort of moral ambiguity and nature of warfare that was previously seen in Gundam Unicorn, or even thematic elements from Urobuchi’s previous work, Puella Magi Madoka Magica. After six episodes, the answer to that appears to be no; the antagonists are hell-bent on an extermination effort, which means that their motives are purely selfish, driven by hatred and desire, rather than the sort of conviction Gundam Unicorn’s Full Frontal had towards building a future for the Spacenoids. However, despite the decidedly clear-cut sides, Aldnoah.Zero is nonetheless a solid anime. The combat sequences and artwork are fluid and of a high quality. Each episode is written in such a way so that it gives enough background to let the viewers know what is going on, but also builds up anticipation for each subsequent episode. Thus, when I think of Aldnoah.Zero, I think of an anime that is quite fun to watch: there’s enough of a plot to drive conversation and keep things rolling, and at the same time, it is remarkably satisfying to watch an Orbital Knight get wrecked because they were too dependent on their Kataphrakts’ technology.