Aldnoah.Zero – What was once merely stupid is now even worse
January 20, 2015 Leave a comment
It’s hard to describe how utterly ridiculous, ludicrous, stupid, and often downright insulting Aldnoah.Zero is. As a series it has a lot of promise, with elements of the narrative, plot, characters, and setting lending themselves to an interesting story that explores themes of envy, social and cultural isolation, and a sense of superiority instilled in a population in order by the ruling elite to maintain their control. Other series such as Aquarion Evol, Yamato 2199, and to a lesser extent Rinne no Lagrange have all dealt with similar themes and they have all been entertaining, with well rounded characters, and a story that doesn’t lurch from one bizarre and unnecessary reveal to another.
Aldnoah’s setting is far from unique, but the conflict between Earth and Mars offers the possibility to explore attitudes of ethnic and cultural identities, and how they can be changed, or in this case warped over a very short period of time. The gap between 1972, and the destruction of the moon in 1999 isn’t especially large, but attitudes towards earth within the Vers Empire have clearly been radicalised through the elite instilling a sense of cultural superiority, alongside a bitter, all-consuming envy towards a planet and its population who appear to take the luxuries at their disposal for granted. As a concept this one has a lot of potential, especially if we as the audience were given a closer look at the Vers Empire in a similar way to Yamato 2199’ portrayal of the Gamilas Empire and its rulers attitude towards those they conquered. Furthermore, the accusation that earths inhabitants take their resources, and world as a whole for granted is also a particularly interesting theme, and one that rings true in large sections of society. We take the earths resources, its plants, animals, and other wildlife for granted, or in the case of some companies, and even countries, simply ignore that aspect of the planet in favour of economic growth and the use of natural resources. As such, claims that the earths inhabitants do not deserve their planet, as they no longer understand what it means to have everything when other people have either nothing, or very little are particularly interesting.
The introduction of the main cast also raises certain issues that are still being debated within contemporary Japanese society, namely the younger generations having to support the ageing population in order to rebuild Japan. Like a significant number of anime the central cast are all in high school, and should therefore be focussing on their studies in order to enter a good university, and by extension a good company. However, we first see them undertaking military training in order to use the Kataphracts that are Aldnoah.Zero’s main weapons. They are therefore being taught to takeover from those who have failed to fully protect their country and world, and will ultimately be forced to pick up the mantle of past generations and fight rather than focussing on other aspects of youth that we may all take for granted. When the central cast of Inaho, Slaine, Asseylum, Inko, Rayet, and everyone else is forced to fight for their lives, we see how little past generations have accomplished. The central cast, despite their youth are forced to take on the responsibilities of the older generation, and come up with a solution to the current situation. As such their youth has been robbed by the inability of past generations to find a solution to their current problems, and settle their differences. While other anime deal with the pressures put on high school and junior high students to succeed and become a good and hardworking member of society, the central cast of Aldnoah have to mature and become adults before their time. Their youth has been robbed due to the wars and destruction brought by those who came before them.
Then we have the militaristic society of the Vers Empire and its assumption of superiority and ideas of social purity that form the basis for its attempts to conquer the Earth. As an idea, the militaristic society with attitudes of superiority and purity is hardly new – Gundam has used it before, so has Aquarion Evol, Macross, even Yamato 2199 – the list is endless. Despite its familiarity, even overuse within anime, it still presents an interesting theme for exploration when we are looking at the sorts of conflicts found in Aldnoah. These themes create tensions within the cast, both internally and externally that help to form demonstrate how foolish and destructive such ideas are, whilst also revealing their insidious nature, and how easily people can believe such propaganda. It is also possible to explore the damage that such propaganda can create, especially when those in power preach the superiority of one group, alongside the notion that conquering Earth will somehow bring prosperity to all.
Unfortunately, none of these themes and the potential they have, are ever really explored within Aldnoah.Zero, and instead we are presented with a series that bounces from one ‘reveal’ to another, seemingly at random. The setting, while interesting, is never truly explored – both sides in this conflict are largely faceless masses, without any real emotion besides anger and occasional sadness. A faceless menace can work very well to create tension and drama – when one side isn’t entirely sure what they are fighting and whether they even have the possibility of succeeding, that can create real tension, and even a sense of hopelessness against such overwhelming odds. The Vers Empire however is faceless to the point of not existing, other than a few select individuals in their overpowered robots we know very little about the society. What little we have been shown presents a fragmented society of bickering nobles who use their overwhelming power to get what they want, as such the faceless menace lacks real power, and we are instead presented with a series of selfish individuals with too much power. In a similar vein, the earth forces lack any real humanity, as with the Vers Empire they lack character and human feelings. Rather than a clash between two groups who are only separated by a couple of generations in a giant battle for control over Earth and its resources, Aldnoah.Zero provides us with a fight between two disparate groups of individuals with little at stake.
Furthermore, there are significant issues with the series narrative, with nineteen months between series one and two, where it seems nothing happened. We are led to believe that the earth is facing a fight against overwhelming odds, which is further enhanced by the Vers technological advantage over everything (other than Inaho) the earth forces have. As such it is assumed that unless something drastic changes earth will be conquered. And yet, after a single battle with one orbital fortress the entire Vers Empire army seems to have retreated from earth and based themselves on the moon and earths new asteroid belt. This shift from immanent destruction to a possible attack makes little sense, especially when it is clear the Vers Empire had more than enough forces to take on anything earth could throw at them. The tension within this second half is therefore highly artificial, created to suit a particularly situation that shouldn’t really exist given the events of season one. The plot them appears to be creating a clash between Slaine and Inaho – whether it is final is to be seen – and any continuity, or narrative twists used in previous episodes seem to be ignored in favour of such a confrontation.
The characters are also poorly fleshed out, with an entire supporting cast coming across as one-dimensional and unimportant to the series narrative. In terms of main characters Inaho has a lot of potential – he is a resourceful individual who can think through problems quickly and come up with the best solution. Unfortunately the rest of the cast’s inability to see through the Vers empires technology, or even come up with their own vaguely useful plans that Inaho comes across as perfect, almost like a machine. In a way he is, and his impersonal nature, coupled with his ability to find the weak points in every Vers Kataphract he has encountered reinforce the image of a perfect superhuman. On the other end of the spectrum we have Slaine, a pretty useless character who flounders when presented with complicated issues. His focus on Asseylum would be commendable if his character was more interesting – he could also conceivably be the counterpoint to Inaho, a very emotional character that is also good at problem solving. Unfortunately he is about as one-dimensional as the supporting cast, and although his character is being fleshed out in this second series, it has taken a long time for that to happen.
And finally we come to Asseylum, another character with potential, but one that seems become a classic Damsel-in-Distress. During the first season she was actually quite interesting; a character that was willing to sacrifice others to achieve her goals, and who had decided to go against popular attitudes within the Vers Empire despite her status. Furthermore, her precarious position, and the willingness of various Orbital Knights to use her existence, and even her death for their own ends helped to reinforce the notion of a figurehead with ideals, but without any real power. Unfortunately none of this ever really amounts to anything, and at various points during the first series she went from potentially important to a background character who watched as Inaho destroyed various Vers Kataphracts, only after they had wiped out a significant number of soldiers. It is very hard to care for a character, especially one as important as Asseylum is supposed to be when they don’t appear to have any real bearing on the outcome of an engagement, or an entire war. Her attempted assassination, coupled with her choice to ally with Earth could, or rather, should have been an important part of Aldnoah’s narrative. But, despite her absolute importance to the plot, she ultimately seemed to have very little influence on what happened. It is very hard to care for a character that is now in suspended animation, when she didn’t have much characterisation or influence on the plot to begin with.
Aldnoah.Zero is a series that has misused its setting, taking potentially fascinating ideas and themes and either ignoring, or mishandling them. We are dumped into a war between Earth and Mars, but there is no real tension, with the ‘invisible enemy’ lacking many of the qualities that could make it far more dangerous, and worrying. The characters are generally one-dimensional, and when they are more fleshed out in the case of Inaho, Slaine, and to a lesser extent Asseylum, they just seem out of place when next to the supporting cast. Inaho is especially out of place, and while his character is an interesting one, he comes across as far too perfect, even machine like because the story, and supporting cast are so poor and don’t work with such a character. And now we have lots of fighting in space with characters talking about wind messing with their shots, and all sorts of weird, and even stupid things happening that add nothing to the story, and largely dispel any tension that may be created.
We also have Slaine as a possible antagonist, but it is hard to se how he could be, as alongside Inaho he seems fairly one-dimensional. Admittedly, for many, Slaine’s character isn’t as important as who they want to ship him with, which at the moment seems to be anyone except Inaho. Then there is the new princess, a selfish, jealous individual, who resents her status, and the love her sister Asseylum has gained over the course of her life. she is quite willing to go along with Saazubaum’s plans, understanding that in order to steal everything from her sister she needs to be obedient to those around her when necessary. Introducing new characters is perfectly fine, but the story and existing cast need to be strong enough for it to work, which in the cast of Aldnoah.Zero they are not. It’s reliance on silly reveals, used almost constantly in an attempt to shock, or even mildly surprise the audience demonstrate how week its story is. Ultimately this is an utterly ridiculous series with pretty bad writing, and fairly boring characters that doesn’t really understand it’s setting, or how best to use the resources at its disposal. It is a stupid series, with elements that remind me of Valvrave, and even Code Geass, but without the really fun elements and willingness to go completely over the top. It reminds me of Hollywood blockbusters – full of big explosions, jumps, and reveals – the audience is bombarded with ‘things’, almost like the writers are afraid that they will get bored, and need to add everything they can to keep the audiences attention until the very end.