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Aldnoah.Zero – Review

by Anthony Sulwer

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Set in an alternate timeline, Aldnoah.Zero is an exceptionally well-told story in the mecha anime genre. Directed by Ei Aoki of the wonderful and critically acclaimed Fate/Zero, and written by Katsuhiko Takayama (Tokyo ESP, Future Diary), Aldnoah.Zero hits all the high points of a great series without succumbing to many of the clichés that can plague the genre.

Setting the stage for the series is the discovery in 1972 of an ancient hypergate on the Earth’s moon. Utilizing the advanced technology humans began migrating to Mars. When the original settlers of Mars discover even more advanced alien technologies they end up removing themselves completely from the tethers of Earth. This new civilization creates the Vers Empire, claiming Mars with all of its secrets for themselves and declaring war on Earth.

More than twenty years after the discovery, in 1999, a battle destroyed the hypergate and exploded a significant portion of the Earth’s moon. The scattered remains now float in a belt of debris surrounding the Earth and effectively cutting it off from Mars. Vers insurgents who had been left behind established massive orbital space stations within the belt and a ceasefire between Earth and Mars was established.

Aldnoah.Zero’s first episode, “Princess of Vers,” picks up fifteen years after the ceasefire. Now, in 2014, the Princess of Vers, Asseylum Vers Allusia – or Seylum for short – is very curious about Earth and wants to visit. Upon her visit to the planet her motorcade is attacked by what appears to be terrorists of Earth determined to kill the princess of Mars. This attack leads the leader of Vers – Asseylum’s father – to declare an all out war on Earth for their treachery. Thus begins the central storyline for Aldnoah.Zero.

In the second episode, “Beyond the Horizon,” the audience quickly learns the assassination attempt actually failed and killed a double instead of the princess herself. Not only that, but we learn it was Vers Loyalists who actually planned the attack on the princess, ultimately giving certain players in the Vers Empire the catalyst they need to invade Earth.

The rest of the first season of twelve episodes (a second season has already been confirmed) plays out in an increasingly complex series of political and strategic maneuvering by both the Vers Empire and the United Forces of Earth. Alliances and allegiances on both sides are tested throughout the first season, leading to surprising twists and unexpected betrayals on both sides.

While Aldnoah.Zero examines the intricate nuances of personal stories set against the backdrop of a galactic battle set to culminate on Earth, it is also – at its heart – a mecha anime series.

In many of the early and mid-season episodes the Vers Empire sends singular, incredibly advanced mech warriors to Earth. It is vaguely reminiscent of the old Voltron episodes when a robeast was sent to job to the 5-Lion-Force-of-Good. At first, the advanced technology of the Vers seems too much for the United Forces of Earth. A single Vers mech wreaks havoc on the Earth’s forces. While the UFE has its own army of mechanized, giant robots, they prove no match for the lone Vers mech.

As the leaders of Earth scramble to form a plan of attack a young pilot, Inaho Kaizuka, comes forward. No matter what the Vers send to Earth, Inaho proves to be a master strategist. Inaho is, by all accounts, the main character of the first season of Aldnoah.Zero. He appears to be quite stoic in his conduct, lacking in any emotion at all, and always leans toward the strategy with the highest odds of success.

Aside from the princess, the main character from the Vers Empire side of things is a young, Terran born (Earth born) man named Slaine Troyard. Slaine has a fierce loyalty to the princess – who also happens to be her close friend. While he attempts to navigate the volatile atmosphere of the Empire he serves, he is never accepted by any Vers other than the princess. His attempts to help the princess after he discovers she is alive make for the most interesting and entertaining scenes in the middle of the season. The interaction between Slaine and Inaho as they struggle with their duty and their sense of what is right is some of the best character progression I’ve personally seen in a long time, in any medium.

There are a great deal more characters than those listed above throughout the show’s freshman season. What Aldnoah.Zero does differently than most anime series, however, is their supporting cast all serve a real, actual purpose to the story. The side plots and the players involved are not filler. In much of today’s anime, side stories are there to simply fill some of the time in the allotted episodes. This is not the case in Aldnoah.Zero. Almost every nuance of the entire first season appears to be planned out with painstaking detail with the largest scope possible. Every scene is designed to drive the story to its unexpected, exhilarating season finale.

The actual battles between the mechs are also executed with the highest level of skill and devotion to the genre. Designed by Kenji Teraoka, (the mechanical designer for Ghost in the Shell S.A.C Sold State Society 3D, Stand Alone Complex, and Spider Riders) the battle sequences are epic in scale with the attention to detail fans of the genre would expect.

An engrossing story well told throughout twelve episodes that kept me interested from start to finish. Aldnoah.Zero might just set the standard for a new generation of mecha anime. Personally, I’m highly looking forward to the second season when it debuts early next year.

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Author: Anthony Sulwer

A freelance writer living in Denver, Colorado, Anthony fell in love with anime while working part time jobs at video stores in the 90s. Nights off were spent watching Akira, Ninja Scroll, Fist of the North Star, and anything else to appear in the small "Specialty" section of the large chain stores.

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