Management: This is a comprehensive review of own devising, where I go over a pro and con analysis of the material in an attempt to convince people to watch the show-in-review. Hopefully, in encouraging people in general to watch things I think are interesting, they’ll at least somewhat know what to expect while watching. For clarity’s sake, I’ll emphasize this: the review isn’t meant to be so much holistic as it is coverage of what I believe is of core importance to the show.
“Honorable” is a word in the human vernacular that carry a bit of controversy in its historical and even current usage. It and its variants have often been used as praise for action, person, system, and idea. For instance, that soldier sacrificed his life in order to saved his platoon from a stray enemy grenade… That was an honorable action. He did an honorable action without regard for anyone but the lives of his comrades… He must be an honorable man. The system that produced such an honorable man to commit … It must be an honorable system. That system must have been produced by an idea of some kind… It must be an honorable idea.
Now apply “honorable” to a suicide bomber. Some of you, many of you, or most of you reading this review (I hope) will outright reject or at least question the mere notion of juxtaposing “honorable” and “suicide bomber” together in the same sentence as something that goes beyond an oxymoron, but there are people who believe suicide bombing can be honorable. Even more people believe in “honor killings,” where a person or a group of people murder or massacre another person or group of people, respectively, because they feel he or she or they sullied their social, spiritual, and/or personal standing. The most infamous cases involve “righteous” men killing “deviant” women, though “honor killings” have been used to excuse violence against ethnic, religious, and national groups.
We may condemn it as not being “civilized,” but “civilized” has been used to justify numerous travesties on one group to another because of “civilized” folk believing they’re superior to everyone else which, thus, gives license for them to do and take what they will them. Even “civilized” individuals who honestly believe they are well-meaning, imperialists, missionaries, and Social Darwinists, believe their impositions on others that aren’t them are benefiting mankind. What about “just?” What about “justice?”
“Fiat justitia ruat caelum…”
“…let justice be done though the heavens fall.”
As to what that means, Aldnoah.Zero attempts to explain.
On Earth, Princess Asseylum Ver Allusia of the Martian Vers Empire, on Earth to conduct a peace mission between her Vers and the Terran United Earth (U.E.), is assassinated by the U.E. Indignant, the Versian Orbital Knights, a collection of 37 vassals that have sworn fealty and have, in turn, been given legitimacy and power, have declared war. With their huge orbital fortresses, or “Landing Castles” and mecha unit “Kataphracts,” they have sworn by their honor and civility to seek retribution for their slain royal by crushing all U.E. forces, wiping out all Terrans, and occupying Earth in her name…
…or so the propaganda goes. Setting aside the hypocrisy, Asseylum is revealed to be very much alive (a double was murdered in her place), and treachery festers within certain clans of the Orbital Knights, with the other clans ignorant of that fact jumping on the chance to exercise their duties, hatreds, and sadistic tendencies. A midst this hypocrisy and treachery surrounding and threatening Asseylum is Inaho Kaizuka, an emotionally muted but gifted tactical military school prodigy working for the U.E, and Slaine Troyard, an emotionally expressive vassal ostensibly faithful to the Vers Empire, but loyal only to Asseylum. The story follows these and other characters as Asseylum, with Inaho’s help, attempts to obtain contact with the Vers Empire to end the war, and Slaine attempts to protect and rejoin Asseylum.
War is complicated. The show explores a variety of different reasons for why this war and all wars in general are fought, including reasons beyond sadism (though that view is certainly represented). Wars are fought to acquire more resources and better living space. Wars are fought to maintain the political status quo by distracting people from questioning the governing ability and humanitarian concern of the prevailing authority with scapegoats to fight. Wars are fought on historic and socioeconomic grounds.
But what ultimately drives a good deal of Martians to war is the personal. National pride and resentment are institutionalized. Earth was an “unjust” oppressor of the “righteous” Martian people. Those “unjust” Terrans have better living standards than us “righteous” Martians. How is that fair? Martians are the superior race, and Terrans are rats and demons who we’ve let crawl over and deprive us for too long. That attitude even bleeds to Terrans working in th service of Vers like Slaine. It promotes unquestioned solidarity, enthusiastic soldiers, and easier and even enjoyable slaughter. Where nationalism, like in Vers, is rampant, every objective, even those not entirely individual, bleeds into and becomes… personal. War may be complicated, but the result of this process makes it appear simplistic. People like clarity, and simple is crystal. When confronted by conflicts, people tend to embrace more simplistic and dualistic narratives. Self-reflection is uncomfortable.
The cast can be arranged between characters who are proactive and characters who are reactive. Asseylum, Inaho, and Count Saazbaum, the head conspirator behind the Princess’ failed assassination, are proactive characters whose actions and behavior are dictated by their ideals. Characters like Slaine, Lt. Kouichirou Marito, a veteran haunted by his traumatic experiences from a previous war between the Vers Empire and the U.E, and Rayet Areash, the daughter of the assassination team whose father was murdered to bury knowledge of the deed, are reactive characters whose actions and behaviors are profoundly shaped by their experiences.
The proactive characters mentioned represent the general prevailing views on war:
– Assyelum represents the perspective of war being objectively irrational. She strives to bring an end to war peacefully and fairly.
– Inaho represents and follows the perspective of war being committed and fought by rational actors. Much a rational actor himself, he claims that wars start and wars end because of objective rationality, such as over material resources, and where the objective rationales end, peace begins.
– Count Saazbaum represents and embraces the perspective of war being personal. He strives to continue it until all his grievances are satisfied.
From these views are embodied different applications of justice that end up conflicting with one another. Assyelum believes justice to be incompatible with war in every way and pledges coexistence with everyone, Martian and Terran alike. Inaho justice distances personal sentiments from war objectives, and as a result, Martian and Terran are no different from each other once the smoke settles. Count Saazbaum believes justice to be a violent redress of every general Versian grievance, which he takes on personally, plus the personal loss of a loved one.
The reactive characters mentioned represent some of the consequences of war on people:
– Kouichirou and Rayet are two sides of the same coin. Both characters have suffered from extremely severe cases of emotional trauma to the point of affecting their mental health. However, different people react differently to trauma, and when faced with events that subconsciously trigger painful memories, they react in equal, yet opposite ways in accordance with their simmering conceptions of what they need to apologize for or do to assuage their troubled minds.
– Slaine is perhaps the most grounded character in the series. He is a character innocent of war, one that could shove all this conflict crap off a ledge and cares for nothing more than the happiness and safety of the person he most cherishes. She’s his “justice,” in other words.
These characters have their innocence shattered by war’s cruel nature, and how they react to and cope with its cruelty, as people who have physically survived this break from naivete, is something the show discusses throughout the course of its run.
Aldnoah.Zero has a rather intensive and ambitious examination of war’s various socially related elements that it’s somewhat disappointing that the show is hobbled by shaky execution. A midst these themes is a lot of padding in the form of slow conversations and mech fights. The first half, in particular, is dominated by a giant robot of the week or every other week, and the majority of the conversations themselves, mainly attempts by observer characters to balance the urgency of war with some degree of normalcy, are rather generic. The direction, outside of brief moments of dynamic aesthetics and beautiful backgrounds, is still and somewhat bland. The themes, at times, are exposited through off-puttingly direct words rather than illustrated through actions. Many of the remaining conversations are relegated to blunt exposition and clarification which, as a person who prizes subtly, is wearing. The animation for the mech fights suffer a degree of clunkiness while the fights themselves progressively devolve from sound, even clever, implementation of tactics to plot and character contrivance. Large portions of battles are self-indulgent padding that can be cut down to fewer minutes or removed altogether without affecting the essence of the narrative. Left to their own devices, they distract the audience from the show’s themes. That time could be better spent developing the main character roster, or building up to the plot developments of the second half, which is populated by twists and cliff-hangers. The sheer number of twists and cliff-hangers are also issues, cheap attempts at suspense, in other words.
There are exceptions, mainly relegated to characters that are reactive, but Aldnoah.Zero’s main cast is otherwise unremarkable. Inaho and Asseylum, for example, are better representations of their perspectives on war than being actual characters. This is not to say that they don’t have dimensions, but those dimensions revolve between facet one and facet two. The show tries to add more flavor to the two, Inaho’s growing fondness of Asselyum and Asseylum’s growing frustration with the seeming impotence of her efforts, but that flavor and everything else about their characterizations are uninspired, and being characters that, together, take the majority of the show’s run time (unless you mainly watch Inaho because he’s cool Asseylum because she’s pretty), is frustrating.
Frustrating as the show may be, it has some really great moments and explores some really poignant and relevant issues, like war, and “justice.” The quote from before demands of its adherents to justice to pursue it whatever may. But so many people have so many different conceptions of justice that these conceptions are bound to conflict with one another. Some people identify themselves strongly to their notion of “justice,” and when that “justice” fails them, it can be devastating, and when justice stipulates that even the heavens must fall in order to see it fulfilled, some people unquestionably, even militantly, believe it and follow through to the end. Compromise can extremely difficult, if not impossible.
If there is true “justice” out there, what is the true version? Is there a right version, and what and/or who needs to be sacrificed to “honor” it?
Management: For more on Aldnoah.Zero, Frog_kun has a write-up on the show that’s critical of Inaho’s “rationality” and the fan base’s somewhat strong attachment to it.