Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Blu-Ray - Set 2 [Limited Edition]
As the war between Earth and Mars heats up, Inaho and his friends find themselves on the frontlines. The chance discovery of a ship with an aldnoah drive brings the princess out of hiding, but that may not be as fortuitous as any of them think as the Martians grow increasingly aggressive. With lives and loyalties on the line, reasons for battle seem ever more flimsy as the battle comes to its tragic conclusion.
What is the point of fighting in a war to avenge people who died fighting in a war? This is the question that Aldnoah.Zero never quite comes out and asks, and yet it seems to be at the heart of the second half of this first season of the show. It's actually a little surprising that the question isn't outright stated, because in these final six episodes the dialogue grows ever more overwrought, relying on elaborate and overdone statements and blatant parallels to tell its story, so it perhaps is in its favor that this central conundrum never actually gets voiced. On the other hand, it's pretty much the only major concept that isn't spelled out.
Intentionally or not, Aldnoah.Zero's first season finale and the build up to it are essentially the anime embodiment of Buffy Sainte Marie's 1960s protest song ”The Universal Soldier,” with a touch of Peter, Paul, and Mary's ”Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, a commentary on the futility and redundancy of war, to say nothing of its cost in lives. The blind hatred that leads to the fighting is perhaps best shown in the foil figures of Slaine and Inaho, the high school age boys who are both, essentially, fighting to protect the princess. While there is clearly more at stake than just that, it is this commonality that ought to, and in fact briefly does, bring them together, which highlights the tragedy of the ending and the senselessness of the entire battle. Slaine best embodies the internal conflicts of the Mars/Earth war, not only by suffering from a serious martyr complex, but also in the fact that he plays not only the foil to the stoic (emotionless?) Inaho, but also by standing as a parallel to Marito, the teacher suffering from PTSD as a result of his actions during the War of Heaven's Fall in 1999. We see this carried out in Slaine's complex relationship with Saazbaum, particularly in the last episode. Unfortunately all of this parallelism between Slaine and other characters does take away from his own development a bit, although not to the point where he doesn't have a clear personality – it's more that the writers are so busy using him to highlight other characters' actions and motivations that he begins to feel like the show's punching bag, with his entire existence based around his suffering.
On the plus side, Slaine has believable emotions, which both his English and Japanese voices show very well. Inaho's lack thereof (his English voice continues to provide a bit more in the way of emotions than his Japanese) and Asseylum's constantly emotional state feel much more one-note comparatively, and we could argue that Slaine appears to come out of the show's ending with a little more going for him. That is not to say that Inaho's lack of strong reactions completely hamper the character – he deserves credit for being one of the few anime or manga characters to give CPR complete with mouth-to-mouth without fluttering around about “kissing;” in fact, that life-saving scene is one of the strongest in the set. Asseylum still feels like the weakest of the main trio, an over-simplified portrait of innocence with her pale blonde hair and purity gown of white that has her 99% covered. Her pattern of apparent death and revival is also a heavy-handed use of the character, depicting the fact that Hope Springs Eternal. It's good to remember, yes, especially in a heavy show like this one, but it is not a message that needs to be applied with a sledgehammer.
Despite its character and subtlety issues, Aldnoah.Zero deserves praise for the way it handles issues like survivor's guilt and PTSD, never downplaying the seriousness of their effect on someone's life. The music is also excellent and works well with the action scenes. Animation feels like it takes some shortcuts in those action scenes, relying on lots of smoke and lights to obscure movements, although some of the mecha are frightening enough all on their own. There is surprisingly little blood depicted, which increases the shock value when we do see it, which was a very good choice. Both dub and sub tracks are good, with my only strong preference being for Inori Minase's Edelritte over Sandy Fox's as the story went on. For mecha fans, the included extra booklet of I-IV is a major plus, as it contains detailed drawings, commentary, and other interesting notes.
Aldnoah.Zero's first season ends effectively and hauntingly. Hope is apparently lost in the howling winds of the arctic, and there is no hero. It isn't clear if anyone has triumphed, and the emptiness of the ending brings us back to Buffy Sainte Marie and her Universal Soldiers – everyone has been fighting to stop the war and to avenge the last one, but in the end, that is not the way to put an end to war...it only kills people whose loved ones will begin the next cycle.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A-
+ Effective ending, good treatment of serious issues like CPR, PTSD, and survivor's guilt. Great music and some good details of the physical tolls of battle.
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