Warning there will be spoilers for Aldnoah Zero in this post, if you have not seen the show in question you may not want to read this review. Aldnoah Zero is a bit messy for me. On the one hand I’m generally not a mecha fan so finding a mecha show I thought was pretty good means Aldnoah Zero was doing something right. But Aldnoah Zero has a bunch of problems as well, especially in season 2. So let’s start with the setting and go from there.
Aldnoah Zero is set in a modern day Earth after much of it has been ruined during a war with the Vers Empire, the humans who inhabit Mars. Ever since the two human planets have held to a tenuous peace and the Martian Princess Asseylum is coming to visit Earth as a show of goodwill. Then her car on Earth is blown up and the Martian knights begin a second war on Earth. And blah blah blah… Anyway what do I like about the setting? Well I like the division between Mars and Earth, given a lot of the details about the founding of the Vers Empire and the Aldnoah. I like how Vers is ruled by a monarchy. However I do have to question a feudal society. If the Vers empire was founded in the late 20th century then an autocracy is fine, we still have plenty of those running around. A monarchy is also fine, we still have those after all. But feudal society died out a long time ago, even in monarchies and autocracies. I get the idea that those awarded Aldnoah by the Vers royal family are special, but they could just as easily have given them high ranking military posts and/or positions as influential government officials. We, as in the human race, got rid of feudalism a while ago because it diffuses the power of the central government and encourages internal power struggles. It makes no sense to try and divide a planet medieval style, especially since feudalism was dependent on farming and land to work properly and Mars distinctly lacks lots of arable land. I’m not saying Saazbaum’s plot against the royal family should have gone away or that the warlike tendencies of the Martian knights shouldn’t have been a thing. All I ask is that mecha wielding scifi empire have the decency to organize itself a little better. So is Earth in any better shape?
Well, yes and no. On the one hand Earth behaves in a more unified manner than it would today but it has to fight space invaders and we haven’t had to do that yet so I can buy that. I like how military training looks like it’s now a mandatory part of the high school curriculum, that was a decent touch and it at least gives our high school heroes some justification for being good at fighting. What bothers me most about Earth is how few competent people seem to inhabit it. I’m not going to go bash Inaho, I actually like him more than a lot of people, however I do have to question how no one else is able to get good results in battle. Inhao isn’t winning because he has killer technology to fight the Martians, at least not until season 2, he wins via good tactics. And while I don’t think lots of soldiers and officers necessarily have to be good at tactics, I have a hard time the rest of the human race has all but forgotten them. This is alleviated somewhat in season 2 where we see several episodes of Earthlings being competent but it was sorely missing in season 1. In a similar vein a lot of soldiers not only fight without tactics they barely move in battle. That shouldn’t be happening, we condition people in the military to act in the face of incoming danger not freeze up when they see it. This should actually be one of the things that makes Earth harder for the Martians to take. With the exception of the Martian knights and their private soldiers, the Vers armies should be largely unprofessional conscripts drafted into the war effort, that is after all what happens in feudal societies. If the Vers Empire was a dictatorship then this wouldn’t be an issue because then the state would control all the standing armies but whatever. Earth’s soldiers by comparison should be mostly professional and even if they are at a technological disadvantage, they should be performing decently well. Remember plenty of armies have overcome technological disadvantages before. The Earthlings have almost every tactical advantage in their favor. Their soldiery is more professional, they know the lay of the land and even if the Martian knights are worth a whole platoon of soldiers then Earth outnumbers their total fighting force on the ground. Plus there are ways to beat technology. Guerrilla warfare, EMP bombs, and low tech traps, all of these have been able to defeat more advanced armies and tech before in our world. Why does no one but Inaho make use of such tools? Anyway how do the characters fare?
For the most part I like the characters. Very few of them bother me though very few them impress me either. They’re mostly just kind of average and acceptable, which is fine. At least the main characters aren’t winning their mecha battles with the power of friendship, I hate it when that happens. So let’s start with the characters that I both care about and can sum up the fastest. This should be a pretty short list. Rayet was a character I really liked and wanted to see shine more. Her backstory was one of the more interesting ones in the story and her motivations were the most justified. I also just thought her place in the story was interesting, the position she took posed a number of implicit questions about both sides in the story. Asseylum is good throughout the series but for large swathes of the story she is either comatose or can’t act for fear of attracting the people who targeted her in the first place. Lemrina was sort of an odd character. On the one hand I understand some of her spite and frustration and I accept that allowing herself to be used by Slaine to get what she wants is something she would do. However I don’t understand why she would stay devoted to Slaine after she realizes/accepts that she’s just a substitute for Asseylum, that seems out of character. I would have expected her to betray or blackmail Slaine after that realization not stay his tool for the most part. Now let’s get to Slaine.
Slaine is one of my least favorite characters in the show. He was really good for almost all of season 1 and then he shits the bed in episode twelve, only to go full supervillain for season 2. So in episode 12 of season 1 Slaine is able to activate one of the Aldnoah, because the princess kissed him once and that gave him the power to activate Aldnoah. That in and of itself is stupid but whatever. Anyway once he gets in his Aldnoah, Slaine is presented with a split-second choice, attack Inaho and put Asseylum in danger or let Inaho kill Saazbaum. And despite the fact his loyalty this whole time has been to Asseylum he chooses the former, for some reason. Anyway then Asseylum gets shot and Inaho gets shot and Saazbaum gets shot a bunch of times while Slaine gets really upset even though this was all his fault. Then nobody dies and we get to season 2. Now Slaine has decided that as long as humans are split between Martians and Earthlings there will always be conflict and resolves to kill the Earthlings to bring about the peace Asseylum, who’s now in a coma, wanted, even though she was encouraging coexistence. He also kills Saazbaum during the course of season 2 which kind of puts into question why he saved Saazbaum in season 1. Like if you were going to kill Saabaum for harming the princess why didn’t you just let Inaho kill him to stop him from harming the princess? Anyway Slaine tries to be a kind of tragic anti-hero type and ends up as a villain and then is spared after he loses, even though I’m pretty sure the political heads of both sides or at least Earth would have demanded his death, not to mention how the common people on both sides felt. Thus ends the tale of Slaine and now it’s Inaho’s turn.
My beef with Inaho is twofold, one that mechanical eye is overpowered as shit, and two, we need more information about why and how he acts the way he does. I’m not particularly bothered by the fact Inaho is a nearly emotionless machine of a fifteen year old, nor that he’s a good tactician. His unnatural calmness encourages better observation and tactics in battle, it also explains why he doesn’t freeze up because he isn’t panicking. My problem is that while I can think of some reasons for Inaho to be the way he is, the creators never explained it to us. I have decent reasons why Inaho is emotionless, like notice how he has no parents, did they die during Heaven’s Fall and maybe this turned him into an emotionless robot? But it’s all speculation. This is why I don’t blame Inaho haters for being Inaho haters, he isn’t developed properly in an explicit manner. We have no real answers to go on and that is a weakness in the character even if I can find reasons to explain his behavior and overlook it during the action. As for the mechanical eye, that thing was ridiculous. It was so good that it leaves me with two questions. One, if the AI in Inaho’s mechanical eye is so powerful and useful in combat why don’t there seem to be any other Earth AI producing similar results? Is Inaho’s some experimental AI that’s exponentially more powerful than standard gear? We have no idea. And two, if Earth is capable of equipping soldiers with powerful technological enhancements for battle why isn’t that more widespread? The Martians are capable of dropping meteors and moon fragments on Earth, you can’t tell me that given those dire circumstances Earth militaries would hesitate to find any kind of advantage they could and expect me to believe you.
Anyway the way I see it Aldnoah Zero is an above average mecha show with decent action made more interesting by Inaho’s tactical prowess. As detailed above there is still plenty of bullshit you have to put up with so I wouldn’t call this a great series nor even really good. But I found myself enjoying it for the most part and most of the time that’s all that matters. That about wraps this review up. Thank you all for reading and I hope to see you in the next one.