I suppose I have to be honest going into this review: I don’t like Aldnoah.Zero [A-1 Pictures + TROYCA, 2014] very much and, aside from a few episodes in the middle of the show, I never did. So, although the finale had me spitting venom and wanting to blackball the show, that’s merely an enhanced version of my overall opinion of the show. So, for annoyance, misery, good graphics and soundtrack, Inko’s cool name, and everything else, I’m giving Aldnoah.Zero a 4/10 (Ranking).
Let me begin with a clarification on a 4/10 is in my system: no net gain or loss. In other words, at the end of the day I’m totally apathetic about Aldnoah.Zero, a series that simultaneously tried to do far too much and not enough. If I had to summarize, I would generally say that Aldnoah.Zero‘s problems were essentially: 1) spent far too much time on action scenes, 2) because of that, none of the character beats worked for me, and 3) because I couldn’t care about the characters, the actions scenes were boring. It’s an unfortunate cycle that wound up in me struggling to take anything that happened in the show seriously and unable to emotionally connect like I wanted to.
For someone normally very willing to dive into suspension of disbelief, Aldnoah.Zero was a stunningly tour de force in willfully ejecting me from the realm of believability into a general distaste for everything the show was trying to do. I spent a whole lot of time with this show just being bored as protagonist Inaho danced around in his orange trainer’s mecha utilizing scientific concepts that meant nothing to me to defeat enemies way more powerful than he was. I spent even more time watching the screen expressionlessly as ungrounded character drama played out in front of my eyes—and pretty much no one was exempt from this.
For all the explosions and hot-blooded emotions running around Aldnoah.Zero, the core of this anime felt cold. And this really does go beyond Inaho’s blank-faced battle plans and emotionless reactions to everything going on around him. This isn’t a happy show; it’s one seemingly designed around two pillars—action and misery. Which is great. If you like stuff like that. And if it’s done well. But Aldnoah.Zero doesn’t really do either one well, at least not consistently. There were definitely some battles that I enjoyed (the crane fight in the fourth episode was my favorite by far), and a scattering of emotional appeals that rang true, but by and large I was just watching some people and some robots move across my screen.
Both sides (the action and the drama) suffer because Aldnoah.Zero never really made a commitment to either one. I’m not saying that the show needed to choose between being an action flick and a darker drama, but both elements cycle through and often seem at tonal odds with each other. For example, my favorite episode of the show, the aforementioned episode 4, was my favorite because it was pretty much committed to being a lighter-toned action episode. It was then that I thought, “Oh, so this is what the show is going to be. I can relax now.” But Aldnoah.Zero continually violated expectations, jerking us between heavy character interactions and almost what became silly action sequences. Without choosing one, the show ended up failing to reconcile its two halves together or to make either half truly engaging.
I also don’t take well to endings that feel like a giant middle finger to the audience, and that’s pretty much exactly what the final scene of Aldnoah.Zero is. With plot contrivances piled on plot contrivances to achieve a “shocking” ending, the end of this show’s first cour left me angry. It was manipulative, designed to produce a pretty specific emotional reaction in the audiences. And while all media is more or less an exercise in manipulation of audience, you have to cover your tracks, hide the strings for it to work. Aldnoah.Zero failed to do so, both in the ending and in other climactic emotional moments in the show.
On the positive side, there are some good moments visually and the soundtrack seems to be pretty well regarded (“I say cryyyyyy!”). There are certainly a lot of ideas mixed into Aldnoah.Zero, although few of them are truly realized in a coherent fashion. It’s really a shame that such a potentially interesting show ended up being so brainless for so much of the time. And while I have my issues with the cast (Inaho, Rayet’s arc, the Princess’ stereotypical hyper-responsibility, many of the Orbital Knights), I found a number of them to be fun and likable. Inko, Inaho’s sister, and Captain Magbaredge were all nice side-characters that added a bit of color to an show otherwise painted in dull tones.
Don’t bother. If you want an action series, there’s better stuff out there. If you want a dark drama, there’s better stuff out there. At the very end of the show, I was left wondering, “What’s the point?” And here now, I’ve concluded: I don’t think there was one.
Reasons to Watch:
- Slaine’s a reasonably interesting and sympathetic character. When he has screentime.
- Nice character designs (especially the princess).
- If you like protagonists like Inaho (emotionless, competent), you might find parts of Aldnoah.Zero awesome.