Spoiler Warning: This review will spoil specific plot points in certain episodes in order to provide examples of why Aldnoah.Zero writing fails for a number of reasons. While I attempted to keep spoilers to a minimum, it’s best recommended to avoid reading this for those who have an interest in checking out Aldnoah.Zero and don’t want anything to be spoiled. In a nutshell, Aldnoah.Zero has the aesthetic for a great series, but no substance to support it not offering anything in between all the eye candy. If you plan to continue reading past this point you have been warned.
“Fiat justitia ruat caelum” is a Latin phrase that means justice must be achieved no matter the consequences. Its usage varies depending on who uses the phrase, especially those among writers in any media, but it has significant value in history prevalent in important court cases where a judge reflects on the duty of the Court. Why do I bring this quote up? This is Aldnoah.Zero tagline that is shown alongside the anime logo in the opening animation. Except it’s translated to “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall” in English. Not only is it a misuse of the quote because of A.) Politics don’t exist in Aldnoah.Zero, B.) Heroes aren’t in any danger because of it’s lead character, C.) villains don’t face the consequences despite going against direct orders from their superiors, and finally it’s a one sided conflict that’s black and white with no significant meaning tied to it. Aldnaoh.Zero is a plain and simple a mecha anime about good versus evil. Yet even with that much simplicity no amount of eye candy is able to disguise the poor writing of the anime.
Unredeemable: Nonsensical Story
Aldnoah.Zero takes place in the futuristic year of 2014. Basically last year at the time of posting this review. I double checked around the internet and some local newspapers just to make sure this anime wasn’t based around any true events. If they were based on true events than this anime would have played out differently with some level of logic. The anime follows main character Inaho who is thrust into a world of conflict when a peace mission goes disastrously wrong. Everything about it first episode is a mess in writing. It’s bad in establishing the setting, introducing characters, and creating a central conflict that have a sense of weight to it. What exactly it was trying to achieve in its first episode is unfathomable.
Within this first episode characters provide a quick summarization of a war that occurred in the past in some unnatural exposition. Apparently Vers and Terrans aren’t really all that different since both race when boil down are basically humans. It is also explained that Princess Asseylum is attempting to ease the tension between Vers and the Terrans who I’ll refer to as Earthicans. As soon as something bad happened to Princess Asseylum the Vers Empire immediately launches a military invasion on Earth. A race of species that is more technologically advance than Earthicans apparently doesn’t know how politics function. This one moment becomes further questionable when shown a sick emperor in bed and told he has authority over the Orbital Knights (basically Vers military). The Vers Emperor didn’t issue an attack on Earth to start a war, yet he does nothing to punish those who killed possibly millions. He even goes as far as calling a ceasefire with Earthicans to negotiate peace which goes nowhere near a brain cell in the story. Orbital Knights can do whatever they want without repercussions. In episode 8, Saazbaum, a high ranking Orbital Knight kills another high ranking Orbital Knight and this is never brought up again, nor is the fact he kidnapped a prisoner who was being tortured for information mentioned to him.
For the central characters, they are never in any danger because of leading character Inaho is the solution for any battle. The other characters don’t get the opportunity to contribute in a battle lessening the group dynamic and eliminating the purpose of teamwork. Inaho plans always work out due to luck or plot conveniences. Usually his plans have smart setup to them. Like in episode 3, Inaho uses a toy plane in order to determine what kind of camera a specific Vers mech is using and how it functions in recording its surrounding. Then the actual plan itself throws away logic in order to write a scenario that best suited to make an action scene around. Opting for escapism over intensity which fails due to how it was set up only to be ruined by good luck in execution.
Still on episode 3, it’s established that a mech uses drones in order for its pilot to see the area around him. In a later episode it shows the Vers empire have developed some sort of teleportation device for communication. So by this anime logic; something difficult like teleportation is achievable for this race, but apparently not allowing it’s own pilot to control its own camera drones from within their own robot is not. No matter how often the anime claims the Vers Empire has the superior technology oversights like these show up regularly which can’t be forgiven. Escapism itself is broken when down the line another plot point will either break that immersion by what it reveals or create more nonsense. The thought of how these Martians who have superior technology, yet act so stupid never leaves the mind.
One major problem as a whole in the anime is the lack of weight that comes from a worldwide invasion. It never gets across that this war between the Earthicans and Vers Empire is a global issue. Only focusing on a single group never bringing up how other parts of the world are holding up. With a self-contained mindset this central conflict feels less like a major catastrophe by the way it chose to depict it. A small scale approached backfires when the central characters are static when introduced all the way to the end. Supporting characters do change somewhat, but they aren’t the focus feeling free to just leave their storylines dangling in the finale.
Episode 1 shows a Vers mech using lasers, but other robots Inaho and his group fights against use practical weapon like swords or projectile arms. Despite in several battles Inaho proves with limited training he’s able to overcome any opponent that uses a practical weapons. Vers never change up their tactics, even when it has a success rate of zero percent. Vers strategy comes down to only sending down a single one of their mech pilot to fight against large numbers of Earthicans mech pilots. Not once in this season do the Vers Orbital Knights ever mention perhaps sending two experienced pilots to fight against Inaho since he poses a major obstacle for them. Another issue regarding the weaponry are the soldiers of Vers do have guns, but for unexplained reasons gun type weapons aren’t made for their mechs and if they are not implemented in battles.
The anime also explains what kind of power source the Vers Empire uses for their technology. Once this plot point gets explained it further questions the villain’s motive. Basically, if the only two people who are able to provide power die Vers is as good as dead. Now from the villain’s perspective it makes no sense to eliminate the only source of power for your own species. The villain claims he wants to help the masses, but still goes with his plan to kill the royal family, even though they are the key to supplying their planet with energy.
The final episode of Aldnoah.Zero first season is awful and unfulfilling in every sense. At this point, none of the central cast are developed to care about and the one supporting character who has potential is pushed to the sideline in the finale. Like in previous episodes, there is no sense of suspense on the character’s livelihood as they already have victory in their hands by plot convenience and enemy pilot stupidity. Inaho doesn’t struggle much to fight against a pilot whose mech is a combination of mechs that he already fought. With that alone, it guarantees his victory because at this point it proves Vers aren’t intelligent despite the writing claims that they are. How it ends is weak and purely for shock value. Narratively it’s a horrible ending because it forgets to inform the viewer status of Earth, which is at war with Vers. Only offering a narration of what happened to the characters it focused on. Leaving the fate of its central characters ambiguous isn’t bad, but in this case when the characters are one dimensional who really cares what happens to them.
Unredeemable: Shallow, inconsistent characters, and miss opportunities
Inaho Kaizuka is a young teenager of average height, short tousled black hair, and our lead character. He’s stoic and despite what his sister claims about him being human in episode 10, Inaho never actually shows human emotion. When he does show emotion it’s out of character; in episode 1 Inaho expresses his interest in buying eggs that are on sale. Within the same episode, a couple minutes later Inaho sees Princess Asseylum of Mars killed in front him, remaining stoic at the sight of it. Showing no concern despite the clear consequences of the assassination he has just witnessed. Later on in the series the anime attempts to ship Inaho with Princess Asseylum which simply does not work because of this one moment. So any affection Inaho shows to his “love interest” is as artificial as the robot he uses. Expecting you to believe he developed emotion for his “love interest” when he showed no reaction when he saw her presumably die in the first episode.
As a leading character events magically have a way working out for Inaho even though it’s establish in episode one he’s a trainee of the military. Somehow, with minimal training, he surpasses Martian pilots who have had more experience under their belt in actual combat. It’s not because he smart that he wins. It’s either due to plot convenience, his enemy being stupid, or a mixture of both. Another skill Inaho has over his far more experience comrades is the ability to move out of the way of attacks. This godly power can’t be obtain by the other pilots. All of which are usually standing around in front of an enemy attack until they get killed. Granted evasion should be obligatory in basic combat training, but if allowed so Inaho wouldn’t be the overpowered self insert lead that he is.
In episode ten, Inaho claims that anyone that fights against the same enemy on his side he considers an ally. A statement that is completely proven false in episode seven when he shoots the plane of a Vers pilot that helped him fight for an entire episode. These inconsistencies further weaken the anime when Inaho has no consistent traits let alone a consistent philosophy to believe in. Inaho becomes as much of a plot device as everyone else he interacts with. Finally, Inaho is the character that delivers a speech about how war is used to gain something and ends until the objective is met or the cost outweighs the gain. Not a bad position to take when voicing your thoughts on war, except this character has never shown sympathy when killing his enemy nor ever mentally coped with taking someone’s life. He says within the same speech here cares for no such emotion to gain anything in war. So this whole war speech in the final episodes coming from a lead who said he himself “I care for no emotions” is forced to sound deep and makes Inaho full of himself.
Another major character is Princess Asseylum (who I refer to as Princess Ass since she doesn’t give a shit) is the embodiment of Aldnoah.Zero problems. Easy on the eyes and pleasing, but shallow with no identity of her own. The anime only gives her positive traits like acting like a child when she’s learning about Earth with Inaho and desiring doing the right thing. She looks nice on the surface, but that’s all. In actuality she’s a terrible character. Asseylum has been friends with another major character, Slaine Troyard, for five years showing no concern for him throughout her near death experiences. When reversed, Inaho proved in about a week’s time showing no emotion he’s able to capture Princess Asseylum’s heart. In context, the anime wanting to ship Inaho and Asseylum makes no sense given how little time they’ve known each other. It’s also brought up in a episode she knew someone was trying to kill her, and doesn’t bother to take extra security just to be cautious in case anything happens. Then again, the Earthicans don’t bother giving her protection when they attempt to keep her safe so I shouldn’t be surprised.
Slaine Troyard (not the only pointless reference to Greek mythology) is another poorly written character. His conflict of wanting to be accepted by the Vers Empire is worth investing on paper. Having to overcome the racist mindset of his superior officers and being treated like scum. In execution it’s the opposite, creating scenarios forced to make the viewer care for him. There’s an entire episode dedicated to Slaine being tortured, which doesn’t since in the same episode, it shows Princess Asseylum without care enjoying the day. This episode’s impact is lessened when the entire Vers race is one dimensional and not given any redeeming values to perceive them as actual people.
Supporting characters, just like the main three, that receive tons of screen time are merely plot devices. There was potential with the character Marito to create a satisfying subplot. His back story is compelling, has likable traits by being himself, and has a strong personal turmoil that he can’t immediately overcome. Seeing Marito struggle and trying his best to improve himself provides the best moments in the anime. Unfortunately, by the finale his subplot is left unresolved.
Another wasted opportunity is with character Yuki Kaizuka (Inaho’s sister). Like Marito, Yuki carries a permanent scar from war with her. Unlike Marito conflict, Yuki war scar is resolved quickly and has no important use afterwards. The thought of her brother being an expressionless killing machine never bothers her either. When one of Inaho friends asks Yuki why Inaho is expressionless. She answers by saying yes, he does. A wasted opportunity to develop Inaho beyond a stoic lead, and a miss opportunity to explore what kind of life, Yuki had with Inaho since the status of their parents’ livelihood is never brought up. Other minor supporting characters serve a single purpose. There’s one created to simply die, there’s one that created to be simply racist against Earthicans, there’s one simply created to be sick so the Vers can have power, and so on.
Rayet Areash the worst of the supporting cast being given a position in the anime similar to that of Gavrilo Princip. The anime attempts to paint her in a sympathetic light, except for the fact that it was her fault as well that millions of people got killed. Forgetting this fact, it dedicates an entire scene in episode 10 where she blames Princess Asseylum for something out of her control. Somehow she’s able to make Princess Asseylum feel guilty. This is the equivalent of making Archduke Franz Ferdinand the villain and making him apologize for being assassinated. It doesn’t work that way, even in fictional context when the entire starting point for the story’s existence is because she helped in the assassination. For unexplained reasons, she’s also allowed to do whatever she wants on a military base.
Then there’s the villain Saazbaum who is about as well thought out as the writing in the anime. This character personifies how nonsensical the writing is in physical form. For starter, his motive contradicts his goal. He hates the royal family for manipulating the masses, but the first episode the emperor sends his daughter to Earth for a peace mission. He also initiates an attack on Earth without consulting the emperor. Despite his intentions to help the masses, he fully should grasp the consequences of his own action by attempting to eliminate the only source of power for the Vers Empire. These two points don’t add up; just like the Vers technology and their actual intelligence. The writing never treats the characters it creates as actual characters. They’re a means as story devices and nothing more.
Good: Production side of the anime is generally good
The animation is a joint effort between A-1 Pictures and Troyca. Together they create an anime that all around looks great. It clearly has a high budget incorporating both 2D animation with nice looking 3D robot models that aren’t distracting. Environments in general tend to come across as being large and empty. Since our heroes are on the move battles, mostly take place in environments where nothing much is happening in the background. In some cases, it is put into good use to keep an action scene moving in an large environment as well as showing some environmental destruction. In one action scene, the size of an environment is use to its advantage when Inaho has to stop an attack from a Vers mech on an ship he’s on.
However, the biggest drawback is there’s no visual scale growth in the battles. One of the few memorable scenes in Aldnoah.Zero is in the first episode where an explosion has a similar impact to that of an atomic bomb hitting Earth. Buildings crumbles, cars are blown away by a gust of wind, onlooker to the site are in shock, and it’s large scale destruction implants what a serious threat the Vers Empire is. Everything else, past this moment feels smaller in comparison. There isn’t another scene that visually comes close to matching the mass destruction in episode one. All the characters have appealing looking design no matter the situation. Especially Slaine, who even when being tortured looks good! Particle effects are in no short supply to adding more visual flair to the battles.
One questionable decision in the animation would be the mechs even when stationary are still in 3D. It makes sense in a action scene to use 3D since the thirdimension offer more maneuverability than a 2D plane, but it comes across lazy when mechs are stationed and simply there to show off its high budget. The downside to the animation is the awful staging of the action scenes. Going more for visuals splendor than actual staging. So in most battles there will be multiple mech stationed in one position accepting their death or shooting to hold off an enemy attack. Without a single creative battle that avoid doing these things action scenes are a one time deal for entertainment.
Voice acting is serviceable. The writing didn’t offer much in anything so the voice cast are stuck with what they are given. Natsuki Hanae plays protagonist Inaho and he’s stoic throughout the series. His vocals, mostly stay in emotionless delivery range sounding uninterested in anything. It’s not a compelling performance because there’s no range, but he does portray how the character was written properly. Then there’s Kensho Ono, who plays Slaine, who has a slightly more open role. He gets to scream in pain when his character is tortured, sound serious, concerned, and in the finale near hysterical when he goes insane. Ono role is similar to Hanae where in both performance they have to repeat themselves. Sora Amamiya plays princess Asseylum. It’s passable in general. When Amamiya portrays the more innocent and childlike side of Asseylum she’s convincing as Asseylum, but when in a dramatically heavy scene she falls short. She’s sounds like she’s on autopilot delivering most of her dramatic material with little variation no matter the context of a scene.
The supporting cast in general suffer from the same handicap that Natsuki Hanae is given in which they mostly portrayed a single character trait. This is especially true for voice actors that get casted as Vers Martians. Show Hayami who plays Cruhte only yells for his time on screen. Only having one tone voice in the series. Inori Minase plays Edderlrittuo and sounds like a little girl. It’s an appropriate performance getting across Eddelrittuo sisterly love towards Princess Asseylum.
Tooru Ookawa plays Saazbaum and unlike Hayami who’s allowed a single scene to change up his act Ookawa isn’t as fortunate. His performance isn’t bad, but it’s a single note role where one line delivery is no different from line another delivery. Takahiro Sakurai plays Trillram and thanks to his more expressive character taking delight in killing people. He’s the most enjoyable screen presence out of all the pilots that Inaho fight against. Yuki Kaida plays Femieanne, Hiroki Yasumoto plays Vlad, and Mamiko Noto, who plays Orlane aren’t as lucky in playing interesting villains. They lack the proper screen time to make something out of their role being forgettable once off screen. Sachika Misawa plays Rayet Areash. While the character is full of herself Misawa performance is fine since she does her best to make her character sympathetic despite what she did. There is a scene in episode 10 where she’s allowed to express her dislike for the Vers empire and it’s a highlight for her performance.
Any Japanese voice actor playing an Earthican gets sideline eventually into the background. Unlike the voice actors that play a Vers. Earthicans voice actors don’t have a single episode where they’re given a highlight moment to show off their acting chops. They get stuck in a single note sometime delivering the same lines of dialogue word for word in different episodes. Ai Kayano who plays Darzana Magbaredge and Yuu Shimamura who plays Kaoru Mizusaki have this problem. Whenever they share a scene together, it plays out the same getting repetitive over time.
The best voice actor in the cast regardless of what race he portrays is Kazuya Nakai and that’s because he plays Kouichirou Marito. His character suffers mental turmoil while on the outside, he shows a free caring personality. Nakai is allowed the freedom to vocalize different sides of a single character more so than anyone in the cast. When he mentally breaks down it’s believable through his delivery. His performance is the most interesting because he’s funny, likable, and a compelling actor in the role. It’s a shame that his character isn’t fully use to his full potential in order to create a good character.
The soundtrack is composed by Hiroyuki Sawano mixing ambient and techno music with aggressive synthesizers, beats, even some 8-bit and a few thunderous orchestral compositions thrown in with Japanese singers singing German lyrics. The music is all around a great fit for the anime and when used correctly in its placement creates some stellar scenes. In episode 1, the musical piece “aLIEz” sung by mizuki is played during a scene of mass destruction is instantly memorable. It’s not as demoralizing seeing an atomic bomb like explosion at the sight of a more technically advance race, wiping out humans with ease, but it’s a cool scene none the less. As great as the music might be there tracks that get reused frequently. In particular the track “BRE@THLESS” sung by mizuki is used in a number of action scenes. Preferably when there’s a chase scene this track will likely play. Losing what made them exciting musical pieces in the first place.
The anime has a single theme song that’s also used as the ending theme in episode 1 is titled “Heavenly Blue” by Kalafina. Despite the less than stellar opening animation “Heavenly Blue” manages to create a strong atmosphere with orchestral composition along with a catchy chorus. It does feel slightly phoned in since there’s not an extra push or power to the track that really demands your attention. The following tracks are sung by mizuki are “aLIEz” used as an ending theme in episode 4, 7-8, 10-11 and “A/Z” in 2-3, 5-6, 9. “aLIEz” loses some of its impact since it’s used frequently in the series failing to rekindle the same feeling when hearing it for the first time. While the usage in the anime distracts from its impact over time the track is a great listen. “A/Z” is more of a techno side with 8-bit beats that’s more optimistic in general. In both tracks mizuki vocals add to the songs; in “aLIEz” her vocals are on a level of opera singing those high notes beautifully sounding as epic as the instrumentals. In “A/Z” she sounds almost robotic like which is fitting for the track. Sawano score is fantastic, but how it’s used in the anime tends to undermine it.
Personal Enjoyment: It killed some brain cells
Usually the first time I ever see an anime I don’t go in them with a critical mindset. Although, fleshed out characters and a story that have working elements is part of the requirement for an anime to be enjoyable for me. However, the first episode did so many things poorly that I couldn’t simply see it without critical thinking. What flipped the switch in my brain was the scene where Inaho showed more emotion for a sale for eggs more so than he does the princess of another planet trying to bring peace to both race when killed in front of him. From then on it’s been nothing, but an infuriating experience how little of the anime was fully thought out. I was so infuriated by Aldnoah.Zero I didn’t bother waiting for any news regarding an English dub. I went into writing out a review for it. Not even the action scenes for as pretty as they look were awfully staged and required very little to no strategy on the characters part. Aside from hearing Hiroyuki Sawano score there wasn’t any other good reason the anime provided to keep me watching. If it ain’t evident with a review consisting of over 4000 words that I think very poorly of Aldnoah.Zero first season I don’t know what will convince you.
Personal Enjoyment: 0/1
Aldnoah.Zero is nothing more than eye candy and takes pride in that. It’ll excuse logic and good characters if it means it’ll get to show off nice looking action scenes. Understanding what type audience, it wants to appeal to, but mere action spectacles aren’t enough to make an anime worth viewing. It takes itself too seriously unable to be dumb fun, it’s too idiotic to touch on the topic of war maturely, and paints each side in black and white dumbing down the premise to be approachable sacrificing depths along with it. Its central lead wins through a series of plot convenience and luck that remove the suspense of battles. It’s all aesthetics and without substance, it guarantee its own expiration date in a short amount of time. Once you’ve seen the explosions and action there’s nothing left to Aldnoah.Zero.