by Theron Martin,
For the last couple of episodes I have been wondering if Aldnoah.Zero wasn't angling for a third season rather than trying to wrap things up in two. This episode shows quite conclusively that such was never, apparently, the intent. However, to pull off that conclusion, things had to be rushed. The result is a finale which does, indeed, have a clear sense of finality but feels like it would have played out more smoothly with even an extra five minutes of running time - and that despite dumping the opener for the second episode in a row.
The key to making everything happen in one episode is Slaine's reaction to Asseylum's declaration at the end of episode 23. Some of the other Knights did, indeed, question how Asseylum seemed to be contradicting what she had said earlier, but since the prejudice against Slaine for being Terran-born still lingers despite him being their commander, some of the Knights just assumed that Slaine had pulled some dastardly trick to temporarily win Asseylum's confidence. The writing does not explicitly show that Slaine would anticipate this reaction, and thus would realize that trying to discredit Asseylum's proclamation would fail, but given that he has long experience with such prejudice, it is reasonable. That it would factor into his conclusion that he has lost in his gambit is also reasonable, although the bigger part of that is, of course, that openly opposing Asseylum would defeat the purpose of what he was doing both in a practical sense an in terms of his own feelings. He had gambled everything on the house of cards he had set up and it collapsed on him. Given the magnitude of what he had done to get to that point, he felt that the only remaining option was to take himself out of the equation. That meant ordering his forces to surrender, self-destructing the moon base, and then trying to go out in a blaze of glory fighting chief adversary Inaho directly. What he didn't count on was the unshakable loyalty he had fostered in a few others, who likewise decided that they preferred to go down fighting.
That sets the stage for several minutes of spectacularly-animated mecha space battles, scenes that are probably at least the equal of anything done in anime to date. It isn't just the fluid animation or wealth of back-and-forth detail; it is the inventiveness of the fights, too. These are not sequences which merely rehash earlier fights but show characters having learned lessons for past battles and getting creative even without Inaho's help; a scene where Marito uses the Deucalion's catapult arm to launch an attack is a great example of this. It also shows in the combat package that Inaho has on his Kataphrakt, which includes blade-loaders somewhat akin to those used in Attack on Titan. (Inaho deserves his criticism for being annoyingly over-competent, but damn, he has some fine toys to play with.) The centerpiece is, of course, the Inaho/Slaine fight, with both sides losing their predictive capabilities and thus coming down to an old-fashioned tussle that also eventually involves atmospheric reentry and, in the spirit of episode 23, an inversion of episode 12's final confrontation, too. As the epilogue shows, though, it plays out differently this time. (An additional symbolic inversion goes back to episode one, where the two children who saw a “shooting star” and did not realize that it was the sign of the war's beginning now witness the “shooting star” that is Inaho and Slaine falling to Earth and do not realize that it marks the end to the war.)
Whereas Slaine is still secretly alive at the end (that's essentially what Asseylum was telling Inaho's eye back at the end of episode 22), Lemrina's fate is less certain. She is shown being sent away by Slaine despite her earnest entreaties to stay with him, and nothing in the animated content shows anything happening to her transport, but no mention is made of her in the epilogue, either. She has gone back into the obscurity in which she dwelled before her episode 13 debut despite the effort put into her character development. The epilogue does point out that not everything has gone entirely smoothly, as some of the Knights have not given up the land claimed around their Landing Castles, but the production of Aldnoah generators for Earth does offer a possible solution for the vexing problem of economic depression in the Vers Empire.
Overall, the end of Aldnoah.Zero is only modestly satisfying, but the same could be said for the series as a whole. It has all of the action it needs, the musical score does a fine job, and it capably reconnect to earlier events in the series, but it suffers from the characterizations seeming unfulfilled and the full storytelling promise demonstrated by the first episode never being achieved. There is a better series laying somewhere amongst this content than what we actually got.
Episode Rating: B
Season Rating: B-
Aldnoah.Zero is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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