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Monday, 30 March 2015

Aldnoah.Zero (Second Course)

(Second Course).

(Contains spoilers.)

I'd really enjoyed the first course of Aldnoah.Zero, even though it was an imperfect product, so I was very much looking forward to the second course which, with an entire season of anime in between, felt a long time coming.

Picking up over a year after the first course finale, which saw both main character Inaho and Martian princess Asseylum shot, the second course finds former tutor and punching bag Slaine as a knight to Count Saazbaum, using Asseylum's sister Lemrina as a puppet ruler while keeping Asseylum herself in a medical stasis. Meanwhile, on Earth, Inaho returns to battle after a long recovery, sporting a robotic eye that doubles as a powerful analytical engine.

There was a lot I liked about the second course, but it got off to a rough start and finish, and for that reason I think it's important to talk about how ridiculous that set-up is. Firstly, if you have two characters shot in the head and you've left their fates a mystery, I am granting you one 'but they actually recovered' token before I call bull. Either you can keep Asseylum or Inaho alive after that, but not both - because if you keep both alive, then you've instantly killed any tension. You've very aptly demonstrated that you won't kill off any of your cast, and, sure enough, when characters were talking about how they'll definitely all survive the final battle, my thoughts in response were 'Yes, you probably will.'

The best designed robot in the show.

(And yes, they all did.)

The other big problem with the start of the second course is Princess Lemrina. As a character, I do actually like her, but she's introduced out of nowhere and treated like she's always been there, and the addition of her character reeks of a certain laziness, that the plot required a puppet princess to work, but wanted to avoid having it be Asseylum (whether that be to avoid having her to do anything 'bad' or because they'd already put her in a medical stasis tank thingy and didn't want to let that plot point drop). Lemrina ends up being a character who, while quite interesting, lacks any sort of agency, and who the plot practically forgets about towards the end.

Would it not have been a more interesting route to have it be Asseylum filling Lemrina's role? Being shot in the head is known to not only cause memory loss but also to alter people's personalities, and having the series pick up with an Asseylum who acts bizarrely out of character and pushes for an invasion of Earth, because she's still suffering the effects of a bullet to the head, would grant several boons. Firstly, it'd be more shocking for an audience; secondly, it'd keep an already massive cast down; and thirdly, it'd make Slaine's motivation of 'I want to do this for Asseylum' ring true, whereas as the series stands it seems like an absurd excuse. 

Pictured: Princess Should-Not-Be-Appearing-In-This-Anime. That's, er,
that's a very clumsy Monty Python reference in case, um, in case you
didn't know.

For the most part, though, I did enjoy the rest of the course. It had some very strong mecha battles, with quite a few of them getting away from the annoying 'only Inaho can do anything' trope, and even had a battle between Martian Kataphrakts. It also gave us more of a look at the Martians and their politicking, and those Game of Vers sections were some of the most interesting in the show, providing advancement of the plot while the Terrans were mostly taking part in clearly defined episodic plots.

It also did a good job of raising the stakes. While the first course allowed the stakes to drop a little as Inaho defeats Martian after Martian with very little difficulty, this second course has the Martians actually using some strategy, such as attacking when vulnerable and working in groups and footsoldiers. More, I think, could have been made of the Stygis squadrons.

The animation is sharp and colourful, the soundtrack by Hiroyuki Sawano is excellent, and the series is just generally very good technically.

Mecha duel.

Problems did start to raise their heads again with the finale, though. The course had set up several plot threads that needed to be resolved - Inaho's analytical engine slowly taking over his brain; Asseylum becoming Empress of Vers; Lemrina's everything - and for the most part it doesn't follow through on them. Inaho's analytical engine eye is simply removed off screen, making all the foreshadowing of it causing problems and potentially killing him lead absolutely nowhere; Asseylum's announcement of becoming empress is followed by her doing pretty much nothing; and Lemrina is put on a ship and then never seen again, as the show seems to more or less forget about her.

That's poor writing. In the case of Inaho's eye in particular, that's pretty terrible writing. You've spent an entire course telling us something terrible has happened to him, and then it literally never happens, writers.

Aldnoah.Zero hasn't had any second series confirmed, and given that it's relatively self-contained, it probably won't be getting one. While it has some pretty glaring flaws, it was a fun romp, and I would definitely recommend it to people. 

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