First Look: Aldnoah.Zero

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Alternative titles: Aldnoah Zero without the Stupid Period in the Middle
Anime Original by A-1 Pictures
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

In 1972, the Apollo 17 mission led to the discovery of long lost technology on the moon in the form of a hypergate, eventually leading to the colonization of Mars. Not long after, the Vers Empire, a coalition of the humans who left for Mars, return claiming the technology as their own, leading to conflict between Earth and its distant brethren.

Gee’s verdict: All Systems Nominal

Okay let’s just get this out of the way. Aldnoah.Zero is literally the original Mobile Suit Gundam with a prettier paint job, a couple of things lifted from newer mecha anime, and better music. It’s not even trying to hide the fact. The Vers Empire are Zeon, they literally start off the war by dropping colonies on Earth. Then you have your idealistic pacifist princess, unassuming teenage protagonist, hyper-advanced lost technology, and space racists. It’s like Urobuchi had a checklist of mecha tropes he missed in Gargantia and wanted to get to them with this one. The only thing missing, which actually makes me extremely happy, is the current absence of any super prototypes for our bland protagonist to pilot. I have a feeling that will change with all the talk of long lost technology, so I’m sure the inevitable mysterious prototype will show up soon enough. And I’m almost certain it’ll look shittier than the amazingly designed grunt mechs.

Yes, I’m going to devote an entire paragraph to them. The KG-6 Sleipner is a beautifully designed robot. The orange/white “creamsicle” color combo is a joy to look at and the ergonomics and industrial design of it are stellar. Throw in its usage of ballistic weaponry instead of lasers bullshit, and you have a giant robot after my own heart. It’s a beautiful looking robot and between this and Argevollen’s similarly superb grunt mech designs, this is the season of the grunt unit. I can only hope that even after they’re inevitably outclassed by the special prototype robot, these beauties will be sticking around for a while.

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Overall, while it sounds like I’m being pretty harsh on Aldnoah.Zero, it’s done an admirable job of grabbing my interest, at least better than Argevollen, the other “highlight” mecha anime of this season. While the expository dialogue was laid a little thick, I do appreciate them setting up the scene for us so quickly, compared to say, Captain Earth, which decided to lets its world building meander to the point where I gave up on it entirely. In addition, sure it might be Gundam with a new paint job, but it’s a great looking paint job. Presentation goes a long way and Aldnoah.Zero’s was top notch. Sure the characters and plot developments are the kind of predictable things I’ve seen a million times in just about every other mecha anime before this one, but it’s done with the kind of flair that I can appreciate. Like sure, colony drops have been done before, but when they fucking incinerate all of New Orleans just like that? I had the biggest grin on my face. Talk about a crowdpleaser.

Similar to Argevollen, Aldnoah.Zero doesn’t have a single unique bone in its body. However, unlike the other mecha anime starting with the letter “A”, Aldnoah.Zero proves you can retread old ground if you do it with style. Between the great designs, the predictably excellent Hiroyuki Sawano soundtrack, and its adequate execution, Aldnoah.Zero has done an admirable job of grabbing my interest for the time being.

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Marlin’s verdict: A Mecha By Any Other Name

It’s pretty easy to make the comparisons between this ‘original’ venture and the classic Gundam franchise. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does really show how much harder it is to justify a Gundam style storyline in this day and age. For one, in a world where interplanetary travel is cost effective, the idea that trade problems would arise seems highly suspect. The entire concept of having a giant robot army becomes sillier and sillier as the advancement of drone technology marches ever onward. Such complaints are unimportant in the long run, as total realism has never been the mecha genre’s forte anyway.

I was really disappointed with the exposition. Sure, I know that this is from Gen “Talking in Circles” Urobuchi, but it got obtuse very quickly. There could have been much better ways of explaining the relationship between the martians and the earthlings than having high schoolers talk about politics as if they were reciting it straight out of a history book. As a political story, I see the potential for some pretty cool things as long. Usually I wouldn’t believe that a named character would really be dead so quickly, but with this writer I can never tell. The possibilities for who the terrorists were and where their ultimate connections are could create a good intrigue story. Definitely not on the top of my list, but the show has earned enough faith for me to continue on.

Life’s verdict: Exciting

Big explosions and a fantastical music score set Aldnoah.Zero up as one of the best first episodes of the new season. I love the cinematic presentation of this first episode. Sure there are genre cliches, but I see potential for interesting things in this setting and its characters. It was refreshing for me to see that none of the characters are dumb as fuck hot blooded morons. I can tolerate that kind of thing in a less serious show, but not in something that wants to be taken this seriously. I assume we are going to get a war between the Martians competing over earth. I’m curious to see how our characters will deal with their invaders. The little bits we learned about them in this premier gives me hope for something intelligent. I want to see this turn into a game of playing the enemies against one another. It’s hard to say how it will pan out, but this premise was excellent. I can’t wait for more.

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Zigg’s verdict: Universal Appeal

Aldnoah.Zero has some really interesting stuff going for it. I’m always a fan of the mecha genre applying itself to dense political stories and that’s exactly what we seem to have here. Although ‘ancient aliens’ has become something of a worn trope at this point, the idea of a battle between estranged branches of humanity has real potential for some nice dark commentary. I’m also suitably intrigued by the weird warring-states relationship the Martian invaders seem to have and there’s room for a lot of juicy political intrigue as they battle each other as well as our earthbound heroes. Though exposition is occasionally dumped inelegantly (an Urobuchi trademark) for the most part it’s interesting enough to be forgivable.

The downside of this focus on the big picture is that we don’t get much character stuff to chew on. Our protagonist is as bland as bland can be, and hails from one of my least favourite pools of anime character, the “emotionless to the point of comedy” hero. The circle of friends show flashes of charm but really we don’t get enough of anyone to really latch onto, which is disappointing. By far the most compelling story to be told here is the three way dance between the Princess, her obviously-crushing boyservant and their haughty oversser. It adds an emotional, human connection that the rest of the episode notably lacks. Still, that can come through later, and with big ambition and slick production values there’s definitely a sense Aldnoah.Zero could go to really big places

Aqua’s verdict: Beautifully Engineered

When Gen Urobuchi isn’t busy tearing the hopes and dreams of tokusatsu and magical girl fans to shreds, he likes to write up (or rather, outsource writing up) his own take on his favourite franchises and genres on the side. Fate/Zero made Fate/Stay Night live up to its outstanding premise, Psycho-Pass was essentially Minority Report, and now the man is allegedly trying to rewrite what has to be one of his greatest inspirations: Yoshiyuki Tomino’s Mobile Suit Gundam. Whether you have seen the original Gundam or not, like me, a well-written story remains a rarity in anime, no matter if it’s particularly original or not, and with Fate/Zero‘s Ei Aoki in the directing chair, Hiroyuki Sawano composing and Wandering Son‘s Takako Shimura designing the characters, Aldnoah.Zero manages to live up to its ambitions. With an explosive cliffhanger and enthralling setting, it makes up for a rather exposition-heavy and character-less first episode, yet the majestic scale and tense politics make Aldnoah.Zero into the most exciting anime we’ve seen yet this season.

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We’ve already talked about Urobuchi’s trouble with writing characters at great length here on The Glorio Blog, so the prospect of another writer committing his ideas to screen is actually quite interesting. Sadly, Katsuhiko Takayama fails to translate Urobuchi’s concepts into human beings of flesh and blood, however, and his dialogue writing isn’t as iconic as the Butcher’s either. Given the man’s abysmal track record (including Baka and Test, Sasami@Unmotivated and, I kid you not, Boku no Pico), it remains to be seen whether Takayama will be the weakest link in the Aldnoah.Zero crew. Nevertheless, the dynamic between Slain and the princess (Sora Amemiya once again voicing a girl too good for this sinful universe) made me wish for her survival, and even though our generic crew of high-schoolers seems to have walked straight off the set of the next best light novel adaptation, there was enough meat in their little conversation about the state of the world and their hopes for the future it got me pining for more. If I remember correctly, the first few episodes of Kamen Rider Gaim suffered from this exact same issue, and look how far that show’s come, huh?

Aldnoah.Zero won’t change the world, but like anything Urobuchi, Aoki, Shimura and Sawano have had their hands in, it’s a labour of love, which in these times of cynical cash grabs, animated advertisements and run-of-the-mill dregs is enough to get me pumped. With splendid production values, gorgeous music, incessant tension and dense storytelling, it is a show that will do anything to draw you in. In spite of its flaws, I think we owe it that fair chance and we might be pleasantly surprised. If anything, what other show are we going to give it to?

5 thoughts on “First Look: Aldnoah.Zero

  1. Can never have enough invading space colonies. Butcher apparently has some beef with New Orleans. Anyway I’m strapped in, hopefully it’ll be worth it cause Aoki and Sawano are in this as well, but then I see Takayama. While he has worked on some good anime all I can think is well…Boku no Pico, nuff said xD

    Hope he doesn’t screw up both this and Tokyo ESP. Should be an interesting watch.

  2. This is only my 4th mecha anime. I have never touched anything with the name Gundam in it, and my favourite remains Code Geass. I have high hopes that Urobuchi will succeed in his second try at a mecha anime.

    He seems to work best with constrants though. With Kinoko Nasu on Fate/Zero and Shinbou Akiyuki for Madoka Magica. I wonder who is the contrarian on the set this time?

    • Talking with others, I’ve come to realize that for those who aren’t already deeply entrenched in the genre, Aldnoah.Zero does a decent job of setting up an interesting conflict…assuming you haven’t seen that conflict set up in almost the exact same way a dozen times already. So in this regard, I will admit I’m a little jaded from my own experience.

      • Conflict setup is pretty familiar. I have seen it repeated through more or less anything to do with warfare (sans giant mecha) to write a TVTrope entry if I wanted to.

        Spoilers, Amamiya Sora will be alive. Because, it’s to be expected. I am just looking for some good old intrigue that may catch me offguard and question the nature of .

  3. I’m a few episodes in and ya call a pig by any other name…..But still it’s very well done. And yes no UBER mecha. At least not now.
    Loved the ingenuity shown by the characters once you hit ep03. Keep it up.

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