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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Aldnoah.Zero


The first of several anime reviews this week, let's look at popular swimming anime:


Aldnoah.Zero



I actually nearly did this as an ongoing. The stars weren't quite right for it, I fear. They might align for the second course, who knows.

This was an eagerly awaited series for a lot of people: Gen Urobuchi was behind the show's concept and several episode scripts (although people kept assuming he wrote the entire thing. He did not), Katsuhiko Takayama did the majority of the scripts, Ei Aoki was directing and the ever beloved Hiroyuki Sawano was doing the OST. It was pretty much guaranteed to be an instant popular success.

As for me, it had my attention from the end of the first episode, because it's hard not to be enraptured with an anime that does this:

Written as kind of a response to other mecha anime, Aldnoah.Zero is set in a world where Mars was colonised after an ancient hypergate was discovered on the Moon. Now an 'empire' with access to alien technology, Mars' princess Asseylum descends to Earth on a peace trip, only to be abruptly assassinated by her own people as a pretext for war. As war breaks out, with the Martians vastly outmatching the Terrans, a high school boy finds himself pulled into the war, and called upon to use his scientific knowledge and tactical thinking to survive.

Well, and his mates. 

So, this is an interesting one, seeking to combine the super robot genre with the real robot genre, while at the same time setting up a rather Gundam inspired plot about colonists versus Earth and alien princesses and the like. That last is rather to be expected: While Takayama is behind most of the scripts, the basic concept is Urobuchi's, and his fondness for pastiche genre pieces is, between magical girl drama Madoka Magica and blatantly film noir inspired cyberpunk that borrows heavily from from Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein Psycho-Pass, well established.

It's also a series for which fan expectations were high, not least because of some rather lofty remarks from Aoki. Did it meet them? Well. It met my expectations. Others, I know, were less enamoured with it, although I've yet to encounter an anime that people haven't loved to pile complaints onto.

If it was intending to subvert the standard formula of mecha dramas, then it failed, but it does provide an interesting twist on them, with our protagonist placed in the vastly inferior mook mecha and going up against the various sleek, powerful super mechas of the Martians. The series has some interesting messages to impart on the nature of war, culture, and politics, but it ultimately does work best if you take it as an explodey funtimes action series with occasional twists and turns.

(Speaking of twists and turns: That twelfth episode, man.)

This is a beautiful robot and I will fight you if you disagree.

It fulfils that role pretty well. It has an interesting cast of characters, some excellent action, some great mecha designs, and an amazing soundtrack to go with the beautiful animation. People who were primed by Aoki's comments and Urobuchi's involvement to expect the mecha equivalent of Psycho-Pass are going to be disappointed – although the lack of lengthy discussions on paperbacks vs e-books is much appreciated – though, because it's a fun series, but it's not very deep. The protagonists are, by and large, chirpy and optimistic people, with the exception of dour veteran Lieutenant Marito, and the villains are all moustache-twirling wrong'uns, with the possible exception of slightly more sympathetic (although still rather cackling-tying-maidens-to-train-tracks-I-would-have-gotten-away-with-it-if-it-hadn't-been-for-you-meddling-kids Vaudeville antagonist) main villain Saazbaum. The human cost of war is mentioned from time to time, then hastily stowed away in time for the next fight scene.

I admit, I also derived a certain joy from what I'll rather misleadingly call The Bleach Effect, in which I was waiting with baited breath to see what the different abilities of all the different Martian robots were. It was a bit of a shame that only about six showed up properly in series (nine if you include brief cameos) – but there's another twelve episodes due soon, so I'm sure enough four to six will appear then.

I especially want the three who appeared as cameos to show up. At least one of those looked really cool.

"It's not what it looks like!" But it is. It is what it looks like.

It feels like the biggest and most gaping problem with this series, however, is length. There's a lot of information, themes, and giant robot battles that they tried to cram into twelve episodes here, and I suspect the next twelve episodes will be much the same – and it isn't helped by the fact that there are a few episodes where the pace lags a fair bit. The series might have been better served by being fifty episodes, with the split being a twenty-five/twenty-five divide. Double the length, more time to hack out an interesting plot, more space to take breathers without badly impacting the pacing for your entire series.

(I'm sure that, had they the opportunity, they would have made it fifty episodes. Alas, time, money and scheduling blocks are nobody's friend.)

The role of scheduling blocks will here be played by Evil Count Saazbaum.

I've been watching a lot of anime this season – more than I watched during the Spring season, that's for sure, and probably more than I'll be watching in the Autumn season – but Aldnoah.Zero is definitely one of my favourites, even if it is an imperfect work. It's my Nobunaga the Fool of this anime season: Flawed, but beloved nonetheless, and I can't wait to see its twelve episode continuation come January.

I just wish it was, you know. Sooner.


I mean, seriously, what the hell. That ending. What the bloody hell. I am an alarmed Murphy.

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