Aldnoah.Zero (Season 1) Review

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).

Aldnoah.Zero

Nope. Not really.

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.

Aldnoah.Zero

2deep4me, you teen.

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.

Aldnoah.Zero

Logic in Aldnoah.Zero: “I will break the cycle of hatred through revenge by killing many.”

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.

Aldnoah.Zero

How many Martian soldiers does it take to stop a lolimaid? At least seven.

RECOMMENDATION:

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.

14 thoughts on “Aldnoah.Zero (Season 1) Review

  1. Well written review, but despite all of that thought, i am still rather curious about the 2nd half, thought i won’t have high expectation of it.

    I kinda in the minority here, but i like Inaho, well his early characterization during first and second episode at least. In those episode he wasn’t potrayed as emotionless or cold, but rather emotionally distant( the way he only focus on egg sale during parade and casually saying there’s a missile like it was something ordinary and also he casually still at home cooking when EVERYBODY ELSE IS EVACUATING) even during the third and fourth episode he team up with his friends rather nicely(third definitely my favorite because it actually look like a military operation, props to you Urobuchi). Sadly later on he became a spock archetype that can do it all.

    (p.s. it’s really creepy the way they paint Inaho cpr to the princess as somewhat “romantic” experience for him. Or it’s they’re weird way to say that he’s still a teenager by the end of it)

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    • Inaho definitely was more intriguing, at least, in the early episodes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those were the episodes Gen Urobuchi was actually writing.

      & yeah, the CPR moment in the flashback was…weird. We got absolutely no indication of any sort of emotional beat like that during the actual scene. I saw someone say that the way it appeared in his flashback was “emotionally revisionist,” which is a really apt description of what they did with that.

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      • As far as the CPR scene, and all of the flashback scenes we saw for that matter, seemed to be from Inaho’s perspective as opposed to the general objective perspective we saw earlier. I think it was trying to humanize Inaho, or something to that effect. Not that it worked particularly well.

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        • You are kidding right? There were clues Inaho had felt something for the princess since episode 2. Like wise the princess her self started having interest in Inaho. At the end of episode 12 the princess was right there beside Inaho to help him. Seemingly dying right before his eyes shocked him and he realized he actually did have feelings for her. By the way the flash back wasn’t of just the CPR but of her in general. Anyways sorry for my ramble but let me put my two cents out on season 2 based off of season 1and hypothetical thinking added. Episode 1 where it showed the supposed fake princess getting blown up having showed only the double’s back. What if that wasn’t a double? If so that would mean 1 thing and that is that the princess is close to impossible to kill. Lets face it Inaho , the master of analyzing , seemed suspicious of there being a double. During the shower seen where Rayet choked her and killed her , the brain can’t live to long without oxygen or it will die , Inaho probably revived her 3-4 minutes. Episode 11 where the ship crashes in the orbital castle everyone was injured or dead. Why is it she wasn’t dead or injured but her pilot was dead? Inaho most have some notion as to why she is so tough and seemingly invincible. Then we have the end of episode 12 with the princess seemingly dying again. We have Inaho stumbling after her then being stopped by Slaine. ( While on the subject of Slaine his torture injuries healed pretty damn fast didn’t they?) Slaine points his gun at Inaho. Inaho pulls off a confident looking smile a smile saying ,” Hey , you really think you can kill me?” What I am getting at is the possible “fact” the princess just bestowed self regenerative powers to Inaho and Slaine. I’m sure Inaho realized the princess coudln’t die and lets face it Inaho moved pretty damn fast when he turned and pointed his gun.

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  2. Can’t really say I disagree with anything in your review, though you’re a lot harsher on the final rating than I would have been. I’d still give it a 6, -maybe- a 7, because I found enough to like in it to feel it wasn’t a complete waste of my time.

    I didn’t really have a problem with Inaho’s character. I actually liked his dry analytical perspective on things! The Kirk to his Spock was Slaine, but I feel they exaggerated his emotional side too comically as the story advanced, and his weekly routine of fail and punishment got old fast. Asseylum wasn’t too bad… a little clichéd, but still a charming and sweet character, and an interesting pivot for the Inaho/Slaine seesaw. Rayet’s actions seemed too forced and I think she would have been much better with more character background work instead of all that pointless angsty sulking… we didn’t get a feel for how she felt or thought until her arc was at its very end. And Marito (my favorite) was almost forgotten, which is sad because he had more depth than some of the -main- characters… I really would have liked to see more of him overcoming his PTSD.

    I enjoyed the earlier fight scenes, but the finale with Saazbaum just became… silly. Captain Earth–I mean Saazbaum’s two minute transformation scene, Inaho throwing his gun away to go mano-a-mano and actually winning, Slaine going all out to get Cruhteo’s supposedly powered down mech just to use it as a battering ram, and then everyone crashing through a wall that just conveniently happened to be where the Aldnoah drive and the rest of the cast was at… it was all WAY too contrived and felt rushed, even sloppy. And the big tragic finale felt… a little hollow. Maybe if they hadn’t killed Asseylum off every other week it would have meant something more.

    Still, I’ll give season 2 a shot when it airs. I just don’t expect much. Right now a lot of the story for season 2 just feels predictable, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it all before in one mech series or another.

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    • I found Inaho interesting through the first few episodes, but as soon as Urobuchi stopped writing he started to feel really bland/annoying to me. Slaine didn’t really have enough agency to get to do anything to capitalize on his character depth. I actually liked Asseylum a lot, except for all her self-blaming. That…is something that always drives me nuts in anime. Rayet never worked for me.

      & yup! The whole ending of the cour was a bunch of contrivances just to make sure we got a “shocking” ending. In other words (from my viewpoint), excuses for mindless, pointless violence. After all that, to kill Asseylum…it was just like, really?

      I’ll probably just listen out when season 2 airs and see who lived and who died. If they are actually gutsy enough to dump Inaho, I might have to come back just to see where they go from there.

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  3. I didn’t mind Aldnoah.Zero, but I’ll be honest – I started watching mostly because Urobuchi Gen, but I kept watching mostly because Pretty. Other than Zankyou no Terror it was probably the best-looking show of the season; I did really like the character designs, and there was some lovely animation going on there. (And while this has little to do with the anime as a whole, I also loved the OP track. Kalafina does gorgeous work, as always.) In general though, I find myself in agreement with everything you touch on in this post. I couldn’t get attached to any of the characters in the end – the ones I could have didn’t get much screen time, and the others just left me cold.

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    • Yeah, I loved the character designs. Made it hurt that much more when such cute characters were brutally murdered by the scriptwriters. I was also a huge fan of the OP, although I’m not quite as hyped about it as I was earlier in the season.

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  4. I really wanted to like this show, and I’ll probably take it up again in January, but the characters just don’t seem like people, like creatures with their own agency. They’re marionettes being moved in service to a plot that does not warrant such pretty puppets.

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