Oh Aldnoah Zero. Anytime you’re given a chance for greatness, you shoot it out of the sky. And unlike the first time, you left in a wimper.
Remember how the first season laid the groundwork for possible stories only to tear it apart for the sake of a twist? That’s the fuel this series depended on for quite some time: sacrificing coherence for the sake of unpredictability. But after destroying so many possible plot-lines, it became clear that at some point it had to stick to a direction. And you know what? I was cool with that, so long as we got some closure and payoff. I wanted them to actually escalate a conflict rather than bomb every route in site. I wanted action scenes with actual stakes, hammering in the conditions at both earth and Vers. I wanted character motivations that actually mattered in the long run, explanations for all the martian bullshit we’ve been hinted with, a fitting end to the main rivalry and a resolution that either tied things neatly or left an impact.
Instead what we got were the writers standing up from their desks, raising their hands up in the air, twirling around like idiots, then bowing down to the audience blatantly stating they ran out of ideas. Sure they picked a route to focus on, but any chance to raise tension or provide relevant answers is dropped for the sake of wrapping things up faster. It’s like they introduced all these changes at the start only to drop back to square one. Not only are subplots either finished without build-up or left completely ignored, but there’s virtually no stakes during this final battle. We never get a clear picture of how the Earth or Vers populace is doing during this entire battle, nor do we get a sense that either side is taking this fight seriously. Not to mention there are several important questions from season one left unanswered. Notice that we STILL don’t know what ancient civilization created Aldnoah, how the moon blew up aside from a gate malfunction, what the earth forces had to deal with during constant fear of invasion, or what the heck Aldnoah is aside from an alternate fuel source?
The worst blunder though is something Aldnoah Zero never managed to fix: its characters. Apart from Inaho, Slaine, Saazbaum and Asseylum, none of the characters in the 1st season served an important purpose in the story. And even with new characters introduced, their subplots or backstories served as nothing more than wasted space. If you thought Marito’s PTSD or Rayet’s betrayal was pointless in the 1st season, wait till you get to Lemrina’s romantic subplot or Slaine’s rise to power that get absolutely nowhere. And this time the show seems aware of how useless its cast is, so it discards most of them like dusty tools while randomly grabbing others(new or old). Asseylum comes back to life AGAIN only to be used as the plot device she already was, Crutheo’s son comes out of nowhere only to work as an instant solution to war, and Harklight is only meant to be the loyal servant dying for a losing leader. And don’t even get started on the earth forces, because their only purpose is to serve as Inaho’s pawns/fans.
That being said, sidelining most of these characters actually made them less annoying. Eddelrittuo stops yapping about her princess’s righteousness, Calm stops acting like a fool while working, Rayet learns to embrace her humanity, Yuki eventually stops holding Inaho back, Marito doesn’t let PTSD hinder his combat, and several others focus on making the best of their situation. I still hate Asseylum for claiming to be an envoy of peace when she doesn’t even understand her own people, but witnessing her grandpa’s death finally gave her a moment of development: convincing her to save Slaine by destroying his ambition. Speaking of which, the one aspect that got proper closure was the rivalry between Slaine and Inaho. Even if Slaine’s rise to power ended pathetically, his evolution into a cold, deceptive killer was made even more tragic by the fact he regained his humanity when all was lost. And despite initially coming off as an emotionless robot, Inaho has proven through multiple displays of trust and loyalty this season that he’s more human than anyone else in the franchise. Seeing these two collide leads to two things: a final action scene so good it rivals that of Knights of Sidonia, and the one good part of the ending. Slaine is blamed for everything about the war and held in captivity, with Inaho being his only visitor. He’s lost all his followers and Asseylum has married Crutheo’s son. During one of these visits, Slaine asks Inaho why he keeps him alive, especially after killing him once. Inaho’s answer is what makes Slaine feel alive again and what ultimately made Inaho so endearing to me: it was his last promise to Asseylum.
But aside from that battle and exchange, the ending feels way too convenient. You expect us to believe that blaming one man for an entire war along with setting a political marriage could calm down two races recently at war, with one practically living off the hope for conquest and the other having most of their world destroyed? Remember when I said that no matter how bad this show got, it was at least a better imitation of gundam than Valvrave? While quality-wise I still agree with this statement, there’s no denying that Valvrave had the more memorable conclusion. The destruction towards the end was rampant and vile, but i’d argue that it was a natural progression from a story constantly stacking chaotic events. It’s like comparing a blimp losing steam to a plane crashing into an enemy anti-aircraft base. While the latter probably left you horrified or angered by the rampant destruction, the former just leaves you disappointed at the pathetic state it became. That’s the biggest problem with this sequel; it sucks out any intrigue it had previously until the entire experience becomes forgettable. And for a series that practically bathed in hype, the result couldn’t be any worse.
In fact that’s something I could sum this entire show by: it occasionally spiked above mediocrity, but it never reached high enough or low enough to be memorable. What started as one of the most controversial series of last year ended up as one of the most disappointing. It’s a shame because I don’t even hate the show. Aldnoah Zero never struck me as something deserving of hype, but small moments throughout made me hope that this could be good. And even when it failed(which it often did), I could just sit back and enjoy watching the chaos ensue, thanks to a truckload of writing blunders, good production values, comical attempts at grabbing emotion, and a fanbase ready to tear each other apart at the slightest disagreement. But neither the show nor its fans seem to care anymore, and any long-running value to this mess has dried up faster than the surface of Vers. I hope to see Aoki direct a better script, A-1 pictures improve their CG, TROYCA find more work in the future, Sawano lend his talents to better shows, and Urobuchi stick to a project longer than its start.