A world where power resides with those in control of emerging technologies, a world where human-made Kataphrats dictate modern warfare, a world where relations among planets hang in the balance on the fire power of the opposing military. This is a world far from our own, yet the deep exploration into the human condition and warfare make it closer than it seems.
Aldnoah Zero, a highly anticipated series from the summer 2014 anime season, has quite the controversy around its title. The loyal faction of Gundam fans from the community call the show an abomination and disgrace while other otakus argue in favor for it. Because Aldnoah Zero was my first official dive into the mech genre, I come from a non-biased perspective, and offer my opinions based upon my past storytelling experiences. From what I saw of both seasons, Aldnoah Zero was the very definition of a bipolar anime. It did so many things right, and did so many more things wrong. So with that in mind, let’s jump straight into my thoughts and review for the show!
The story begins when a group of scientists from Earth decide to expand mankind into space by colonizing the planet Mars through a teleportation hypergate on the Moon. When they arrived there, however, they discovered something even better than they had hoped for: a lost technology from an advanced civilization that had once lived there thousands of years before. Named “Aldnoah” by the scientists that researched it, the Vers Empire was centered around this energy source, and allowed the new inhabitants to flourish in colonies on Mars.
Over time there was much hatred towards the people down on Earth, also called Terrans, who had “selfishly hoarded their abundant resources”, and war was declared between the two planets on the Moon. The battles resulted in the death of many on both sides, and when the hypergate was destroyed in the chaos a temporary peace was forged, creating a cease-fire. Fast forward fifteen years later, the princess of the Vers Empire has come down to Earth for arrangements of permanent peace when suddenly she is assassinated, sparking war that causes the long-avoided turmoil.
We as the audience are given a unique perspective of the war between Earth and Mars by explaining the thoughts, feelings, and actions of two boys from each side. This type of structure allows the show to not fall into the common trap where the viewers only know about the conflict from a biased opinion, and it adds an extra layer of depth. Not only that, but this opposition between our Earth and Mars protagonists, Inaho and Slaine, shows comparisons and contrasts among them, and this is highlighted throughout the series. This furthers the plot and shows the audience more than they could have without the boys.
One aspect of the story that makes it enjoyable for the viewer is how unpredictable it is. Some may see this as a negative, but personally I was drawn even more to Aldnoah Zero and was always kept at the edge of my seat. With all of the twists and turns that made the show almost feel like an episodic drama, I was mentally incomplete when I couldn’t get more of the incredible plot, and I feel that this is one of the anime’s strong suits.
As mentioned above, the war between Earth and Mars is explored in greater detail by the use of characters, and both our main protagonists allow this to happen smoothly.
Growing up in a high school that trained him in preparation for war against Mars, Inaho has extensive knowledge on how to successfully operate Kataphrats, human-looking mechs that are used for combat. This helps him once conflicts arise due to the death of Princess Asseylum because he is forced into several life or death situations, and he is able to rise to the occasion. Inaho seems to have a mind of his own, and is brilliant in regards to his intelligence.
Inaho Kaizuka can be described simply as a “blank slate” throughout the course of Aldnoah Zero. No matter how many close calls to death that he has gotten to and despite the emotional trauma that comes from warfare, he has changed little to none at all. This fact alone has been the biggest reason why anime fans have turned their head away from Aldnoah Zero and never consider it again. However, there are many fan theories to Inaho’s personality that explain he might have high-processing autism or aspergers, which would explain his social disconnect to his friends and emotionless attitude. If this happened to be true, Aldnoah Zero actually striked a goldmine of genius when it comes to character development, and tricked every otaku that left the series unsatisfied.
Slaine Troyard is the son of a famous Aldnoah scientist that came to Mars to help analyze and explore the secrets behind the new technology. Crash landing inside of the royal palace, Slaine and his father are brought back to good health and live peacefully with the Martians despite their Earth heritage. However, once Dr. Troyard passes away, his son is treated with much discrimination and is given to Count Cruteo, a loyal supporter of Princess Asseylum, to keep under close watch.
Unlike Inaho Kaizuka, Slaine has tremendous character development and struggles during the war. Most of the turmoil he feels at first is because he has a guilty conscious by going against his own morality to do what he thinks is right. For Slaine, the safety of Princess Asseylum is everything and to murder someone in cold blood to protect her is completely justified. This messed up rational leads to some complicated situations and these are explored under close scruntiny in season two, especially how he deals with the web of lies that he has created. For many, including myself, Slaine Troyard is the sole reason why I decided to watch Alnoah Zero, and he is definitely worth seeing even if you have to sift through annoying parts of Inaho.
The final character that has a tremendous impact to Aldnoah Zero is Princess Asseylum, future heir to the Mars throne. What’s most interesting about her is that she is almost solely the avenue in which we see the war from the perspective of Earth and Mars because she stays close beside Inaho and Slaine during season one and two respectively. Her role from the beginning is to bridge the peace between the two conflicted nations, but the way in which she achieves those goals is what changes at the end. Other characters of great note but with smaller influences would be Inko, Rayet, Marito, and many others.
Aldnoah Zero, for being only a year old, still holds up to many newly produced anime that have come out recently. The animation was done by A-1 Pictures, who have been behind the work for Sword Art Online, ERASED, and Your Lie In April, and this gives the series much repubillity in the community. Bright, warm, colorful palettes in addition to dark, gloomy shades are used when appropriate, and give a strong indication to the mood at any given time. The animators did a great job at this and created such an incredible contrast that displays the arsenal of humes that can be used.
I personally enjoyed the scenes that were shot in space, and it’s easy to see how much detail Aldnoah Zero decided to place in these to make them as “realistic” as possible. Other great scenery that made the show just beautiful to look at are wide open expanses of sparkling oceans, barren waste lands destroyed by warfare, and much more.
Although I have no professional music ear by any means, I do have a strong inclination towards the soundtrack for the anime. Most of the songs, likewise to the colors used from the animation, work to openly reveal the mood or tone, which only benefits the show. However, one piece in particular that had the greatest impact on me was MKAlieZ, the cover to the second ending “aLIEz” (I did a song analysis of the lyrics to “aLIEz” that can be accessed here). This song was used whenever a major battle was fought against the Orbital Knights or powerful enemy, and it really excited me for the action that was to unfold! The opera, instruments, and everything else gave this feeling that at least one person would die fighting, and it kept my heart beating the entire way through!
Common faults that most people will claim that Aldoah Zero has would be Inaho Kaizuka’s changeless personality, but if you subscribe to the fan theories regarding his possible high-processing autism or aspergers then this distaste is quickly put out. Again, Inaho could be viewed as a major asset to the series instead of a hinderence.
Something that I personally had issues with was that the anime tried to two different genres at once, which really messed up the plot building and pacing. For example, the first season focuses on the battles with the Mars’s Orbital Knights and highlights their unique powers that bend the elements. Some can manipulate gravity, others can control the electrical current in the air, and one can even multiply themselves using holograms. I applaud Aldnoah Zero for cleverly implementing actual scientific thought into the powers of each machine, but it came to a point where it was felt like I was watching a shonen anime instead of a mech. And it made matters worse when the drama aspect of the show was the center of season two, and at that point I didn’t exactly understand what I was watching.
One other problem that I found was that certain characters that were essential to the show’s ending only had one or two episodes of screen time, which made no logical sense at all. I won’t say their names to avoid spoilers, but these certain individuals had huge contributions near the end of the plot and to see them merely thrown in at the last second to barely satisfy a successful ending was disheartening.
Most importantly, the ending to Aldnoah Zero bothered me most of all. The show attempts to wrap up the plot in an abrupt manner that just doesn’t fit the pacing of the rest of the series. So when the ending came to pass, I only knew that it was present from the episode count on Netflix, which really speaks loud about how ill-constructed the ending was. Plus when certain marriages among characters make almost no apparent sense and certain shipping is never taken to any final destination at the resolution you are typically left desiring more.
Aldnoah Zero, like all content created by humans, are crafted from the perspective of a person that bears the image of God, so it is no mere assumption to say that there are dozens of Biblical connections that can be found in the anime. Love, self-sacrifice, courage, and other universal themes can picked out easily by the nature of warfare, and come naturally among humans. However, one idea that is so radical that it takes strong roots from Jesus’s teachings would be loving your enemies, and I believe that Princess Asseylum displays this the best.
As I mentioned before, Princess Asseylum came down to Earth to bridge a peace between Earth and Mars, but was easily caught in an assassination attempt. By a miracle she survived the sniper shots with not even a scratch and was forced to travel with the Terran military while her own soldiers were barading the Earth with gunfire. With no communication to her people and no means of escape to space, Princess Asseylum was forced to commune with the Terrans and this is where she shone the same radical love that Jesus Christ spoke about in the Bible. Here she was, right among her literal enemies, not just the people that discriminate but also desire to kill her, and she treats them with the utmost respect, keeping her goal of ultimate peace between the two nations at the forefront of her mind at all times.
Christians should do likewise when encountering the people that hate them, despise them, hurt them, and murder them. Holding heaven as our aim and bringing showing the hope we have through our love is a great way to witness. Jesus talks about this in the book of Matthew.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)
Now many may think that loving another person is something that all people of all religions can do and I can totally agree with that, but loving the people that hate you is a whole different concept. It sounds so radical, so farfetched, yet it is what Jesus calls His followers to do. Princess Asseylum understood this and even when her enemies were right before her eyes she showed them unconditional love. This is all speaking in how her attitude was in general terms, but specifically a young girl aboard their vessel named Rayet planned and almost succeeded in murdering her while she was collecting her thoughts in the shower. Having her heart restarted by Inaho, Princess Aseylum never had hate towards the person that moments ago had stopped her heart, but instead forgives her on the spot. This scene was especially powerful for me on a personal level, and inspires me to love others in the same way, the way that Christ loved us by dying for us on the cross.
Taking into account everything mentioned in this essay, from the characters and plot to the animation and soundtrack, I can say with confidence that Aldnoah Zero was a very enjoyable show from a reviewer’s standpoint. Even more so as a Christian can I give the anime a stamp of approval for including powerful examples of Godly love between two planets locked in deadly warfare.