“I love intricate plotting and exciting twists, but I realize more that people enjoy a good story in a simple, focused way.” —Evan Daugherty
Aldnoah.Zero‘s second season has been done for a week now, and since the halfway point, the series has seen more plot twists than a Calabi–Yau manifold as Slaine seizes power and embarks on a campaign to capture Earth. Meanwhile, the Federation embarks on a series of offensives against Vers, and as the campaign progresses, find that their own experiences and Inaho’s augmentations allow them to enjoy a greater degree of successes against Vers’ mobile suits. This culminates with the Deucalion mounting a final assualt on the moon base, and a final confrontation between Slaine and Inhao that results in the former’s incarceration. With Slaine out of the equation, Asseylum and Klancain marry and declare control over Vers: thier first act is to end hostilities and open trade with the Federation. So ends what is perhaps one of the more polarising anime of Winter 2015, and like its predecessor, Aldnoah.Zero 2 manages to evade most attempts at an analysis. This is not a testament to the quality of the story in Aldnoah.Zero 2, instead, being indicative of the inordinate use of plot twists to build anticipation. Every week, a series of events ultimately becomes inconsequential as game-changers are presented, and while this ordinarily is quite effective, these are sufficiently frequent in Aldnoah.Zero 2 that the story loses its focus: Slaine’s motives are non sequitur in almost every regard, and the Federation’s cause never seems to impart a greater sense of humanity in the characters who fight to prevent humanity from falling.
Thus, when we reach the ending, the conclusion suggests that the entirety of Aldnoah.Zero was quite unnecessary given Asseylum’s relative ease of reaching an agreement with the Federation. By the second season’s second half, any casualties can be directly and indirectly tied to Slaine, who is responsible for unnecessarily prolonging the war. However, without any motivation on Slaine’s part, his actions ultimately wind up being ill-judged and eventually costs him everything he’s gained. While this may seem clichéd, John Dalberg-Acton’s remark that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” would certainly hold true as far as Slaine goes. Once he’s acquired a fair degree of control over the Orbital Knights, he wields his power with the aim of capturing Earth, but perhaps sidetracked by Asseylum’s return, he begins a descent into madness that clouds his judgement. If this is what Aldnoah.Zero 2 had been trying to capture with Slaine, then they were modestly successful, although the end result is that Slaine’s actions ultimately seem inconsequential in the long term. At the other end of the spectrum is Inaho, whose received surprisingly little characterisation beyond his dependency on a so-called Analytical Engine and its detrimental impact on his health. While this could be a warning about the reliance on high technology, Inaho’s lack of development and growth leaves audiences unable to relate to his situation.
Screenshots and Commentary
- There are a lot of moments in Aldnoah.Zero‘s second season’s second half that merit discussion, but in the interest of brevity, I’ve only got twenty images, and as such, I won’t be talking about every single aspect that’s happened within Aldnoah.Zero. As readers might have noticed, I’m more of a big-picture person and prefer not to get caught up in minutiae that seems to be the basis for most discussions elsewhere.
- If I had to choose a single favourite character, it’d probably be Yuki, since she’s quite easy going when out of combat, but is also quite capable. Unfortunately, I continue to get her mixed up with Inko whenever the Federation forces step into battle. Admittedly, something quite similar happened back during Gundam 00, but I was able to acclimatise quite quickly to differentiate between the different characters.
- It’s actually quite surprising to learn that I’ve never actually included an image of Lemrina’s quarters throughout the course of my past several reviews of Aldnoah.Zero‘s second season. Considering that Vers is resource-deprived, their elites probably have access to lavish accommodations and other luxuries that standard citizens lack, and are unable to procure owing to the strong hierarchies within Vers.
- Inaho’s overuse of his Analytical Engine places a great deal of strain on his mind, and despite both the other’s concern for him and his own reassurances that he’ll be able to handle things, the limited characterisation (and correspondingly little extent that audiences can really get behind the characters) means that it’s difficult to see Inaho as a case study for the dangers associated with placing trust in cutting edge technologies and AI.
- Following Asseylum’s recovery, Slaine decides to keep her recovery quite secret: while I frequently speculated that Slaine possesses feelings towards Asseylum, his actions throughout the second season meant that this could not be readily verified.
- Upon seeing her locket, Asseylum experiences a trauma trigger that leads her to recall the events she’d previously forgotten. Aldnoah.Zero‘s first season dealt with PTSD with Koichirou Marito, and by the second season, he’s turned this fear into something to propel him into survival during battle. Subsequently, he is able to maintain a cool head when dealing with the overwhelming power of Martian Kataphrakts, and lends his skill towards completing his assignments.
- The battles throughout Aldnoah.Zero 2 remain quite thrilling to watch, and it is rewarding to see everyone else play a role in defeating Martian Kataphrakts, even if each battle follows a very rigidly-defined structure; while the story was unpredictable, the outcome of every single skirmish between a Martian Kataphrakt and Inaho’s company ends with a victory for the latter, with a probability value defined as P(A) = 1.
- The most pivotal plot twist in Aldnoah.Zero would probably be Asseylum standing up for what she believes in, choosing peace over Slaine. It’s ultimately Asseylum’s resolve to achieve a peaceful co-existence with the Federation that ultimately leads her to play a far larger role than Slaine, Inaho or any of the Vers Counts in bringing the war to an end, illustrating that she is quite capable of fulfilling her role as a leader when given the appropriate opportunity to do so.
- I wonder how the UFE Deucalion or the Martian Landing Castles would fare against something like the UNSC Infinity: even a dimensional barrier is probably unable to absorb upwards of 65 gigatons of energy that MACs can deliver downstream.
- I’ve seen numerous discussions cite Aldnoah.Zero as following the Shakespearean tragedy in terms of structuring, with Slaine occupying the role of the noble protagonist whose flaws and an unfortunate encounter with a difficult situation that eventually leads to their demise. However, because Slaine’s many faults remain ambiguous, one cannot reasonably ascertain whether or not it is these faults, or simply the consequence of absolute power, that lead to his downfall.
- Thus, while Slaine may share some of the characteristics with the protagonist from a Shakespearean tragedy, it is not appropriate to consider Aldnoah.Zero as such a work: Slaine would have needed a much larger background so viewers would be able to determine what motivates him: these insights into a protagonist allows audiences to follow a character’s descent into ruin to appreciate their tragic fate, and without this background, Slaine’s downfall is not as moving.
- The worst that happens to Inaho is losing consciousness briefly while on a black ops mission to stop the Federation’s assassination of Asseylum. Any dangers associated with the Analytical Engine are offset when Inaho recovers and decides to participate in the final operation.
- While it’s clear that Lemrina envies Asseylum and holds feelings for Slaine, Slaine never seems to be aware of or reciprocates. In the battle’s final hour, Slaine orders his subordinates to abandon the Moon Base, realising that the battle is lost with Asseylum’s open declaration that she’s assumed supreme control over Vers. The battle is decided by this point, and the remaining combatants are eliminated by the Deucalion.
- Despite possessing more advanced weaponry, and the Federation having only made limited upgrades to their Kataphrakts, Vers’ performance during the second season becomes something that eventually tips the war in the Federation’s favour: the latter’s possession of the Deucalion, and kinetic weapons proves to be a sufficient combination for inflicting damage against unshielded Martian Kataphrakts.
- With nothing more to lose, Slaine boards the Tharsis and engages Inaho in single combat. Between Slaine’s superior technology and Inaho’s skill as a pilot, neither are able to gain the upper hand, and the duel’s emotional tenor remains quite limited despite all of the dialogue. Slaine proclaims that he’s got no need for a future, suggesting that he’s given in to the same sort of despair that births witches in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
- Following through on Asseylum’s wish for Slaine to be saved, Inaho uses his Katapharkt as a drag chute of sorts, citing both machine’s armour as sufficient for surviving re-entry. Inaho’s actions subsequently act to challenge not only Slaine’s beliefs, but the entire notion of Nihilism altogether. Thus, even if Inaho himself has limited characterisation, his character gains a modicum of respectability here: recall that I view Nihilism as an expression of irresponsibility.
- Some time after the war ends, Asseylum grants activation rights to Aldnoah drives for Earth, and there is mention that research is going into the technology so that activation rights won’t be necessary. This is likely what Asseylum had intended to do since season one, but a series of unfortunate events ultimately culminated in a war that was quite pointless. I had maintained the hope, right up until the end, that the Aldnoah Drives themselves would be given a bit of exposition like the Halo Rings. This never materialised, and as such, Aldnoah itself becomes a MacGuffin, having little narrative explanation and merely acting as a tool for driving things forwards.
- Aldnoah.Zero is seen as presenting a story about what would happen if “the antagonists had Gundams” in some cases, but I would argue that this is false, being a misconception conjured by those who’ve not seen Gundam. In Gundam, the development of the eponymous war machines is necessitated by the fact that some enemy faction (such as Zeon) already possessed an immensely effective weapon, and that even a single prototype, for its effectiveness, cannot turn the tide of a war by itself and that there will always be some sort of human impact.
- I’ll stop to make a quip about Inaho being Aldnoah.Zero‘s Nick Fury before returning to the main discussion: saying that Aldnoah.Zero is a twist on Gundam is quite illogical, since Gundam is characterised by an emphasis on human combatants and the effect war has on them. Amuro Ray and Banagher Links, for instance, are horrified at what happens in war and gradually develop the resolve to fight in order to protect those they care about. However, Aldnoah.Zero is more similar to Independence Day, where humanity is pitted against a technologically superior foe, except unlike Independence Day, the foe’s objects are quite varied.
- In the end, far from having “smart characters, a well thought-out world…a story that’s not afraid to break some of popular fiction’s most common rules [and] one heck of a dark story”, Aldnoah.Zero isn’t really something that gets the viewers thinking about the morality of warfare. While the viewers looking for something thought-provoking are sure to be disappointed, Aldnoah.Zero winds up being a summer blockbuster-type anime, best enjoyed at face value for fun.
The faults in the characters mean that Aldnoah.Zero 2 ultimately does very little to speak about the impact of warfare on people. With distant characters and a minimal emphasis on the human aspect, the conflict between Vers and the Federation becomes an abstraction: overall, the ending implies that the entire war could have been averted in its entirety, in turn conveying the message that, for their incredible cost in human lives, warfare in general is a foolish endeavour. While I may not necessarily agree with this black-and-white view, this does appear to be the theme that Aldnoah.Zero is aiming to present to viewers. To audiences who were looking for good character development, Aldnoah.Zero is not the anime for them, but like a Michael Bay movie, Aldnoah.Zero‘s high production values, generally fantastic fight scenes and a first-rate soundtrack from Gundam Unicorn‘s Hiroyuki Sawano means that, if an inconsistent plot and distant characters are not a main issue, this anime could nonetheless prove to be something that’s worth watching. The intellectual and philosophical elements are completely underwhelming as per most viewer’s expectations; while Aldnoah.Zero does not even come close to holding a candle against something like Gundam Unicorn for provoking interesting discussion, Aldnoah.Zero nonetheless earns a recommendation owing to its above-average entertainment value.