Review for Aldnoah.Zero - Season 2 Collector's Edition
The arrival of Aldnoah.Zero Part 2 has got me thinking about gaps. It’s been six months since the first part arrived on UK soil, and that’s longer than the usual gap between two halves of a series, at least longer than most anime fans are used to. So how long should you be prepared to wait? When it comes to movies and their sequels, a wait of years is reasonable. Can you imagine the wait for Return of the Jedi after The Empire Strikes back in the early eighties? That’s nothing compared to Blade Runner, which has had 35 years between its instalments. Of course there’s no ongoing storyline and pending cliff-hangers to resolve in Blade Runner. In television, it’s standard to have to wait around a year between seasons of shows, to find out who shot J.R, or what happened after the Borg assimilated Picard. So that really begs the question, following the striking cliff-hanger at the midpoint of Aldnoah.Zero, just why can’t I remember the cliff-hanger, indeed anything about the show after just six months?
History changed when the crew of Apollo 17 discovered a hypergate on the moon. That opened up the large scale colonisation of Mars, but it wasn’t long before the independent VERS Empire was established, built on the strength of ALDNOAH technology, discovered in ancient alien ruins on the red planet. It also wasn’t long before a war erupted over control of the lunar hypergate, a ceasefire only called when a tragic accident resulted in the destruction of the Moon in 1999, the subsequent carnage on Earth dubbed Heaven’s Fall. A tentative peace remains in place, albeit with Martian ships in a watchful and ominous orbit.
It’s been 15 years since Heaven’s Fall, and Princess Asseylum vers Allusia of Mars is on a state visit to Earth, a gesture of peace, but her assassination is all the excuse that Mars needs to resume the war. And the people of Earth aren’t ready for that threat, as their government has kept the Martian strength and their ALDNOAH technology classified. The Martian nobles and their giant robots quickly decimate Earth’s military, but one student, Inaho Kaizuki has an uncanny skill in figuring out the Martian weaknesses. It isn’t long before he’s drawn into battle, and an insidious conspiracy.
The concluding twelve episodes of Aldnoah.Zero are presented across four Blu-rays from All the Anime.
13. This Side of Paradise
14. The Beautiful and Damned
15. Toll for the Brave
16. Soldier’s Pay
17. The Turning Wheel
18. The Rose and the Ring
19. Here to There
20. The Light of Day
21. The Fortune’s Fool
22. Out of the Past
24. Inherit the Stars
Aldnoah.Zero gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer that is just a tad disappointing. Certainly given the episode distribution, three episodes per disc on four single-layer Blu-rays, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they would make the most of the disc real estate, but we get a little digital banding in the image. It’s not as prevalent as you might expect from a company like Funimation, but with three episodes per disc, the potential of 8 GB per 23-minute episode, I would have expected no banding at all. Other than that, the image is clear and sharp, with good detail and consistent colours. It’s a strong animation, with impressive character designs, detailed world design, and a whole lot of CG talent applied to the mecha designs. The anime style conforms to the mainstream design ethos, with nothing straying too far from the expected norms. But some serious time and effort has been put into the action sequences, and Aldnoah.Zero is a high budget affair throughout.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
Unlike the Aniplex release, we get uncompressed audio for both languages, PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The subtitles are locked during playback, but you can have any combination of audio and subtitles. You can’t switch the subtitles off completely though. I went with the Japanese audio, and was happy enough, even though the character voices were very archetypal. One oddity is that while the Japanese dialogue introduces some English profanity, the subtitles clean that up. The dialogue is clear, the subtitles accurately timed and typo free and the action comes across well. The show’s music is pretty good too, with some nice theme songs, and some driving incidental music. I gave the English dub a quick try, and it was okay-ish, although I kept wondering who Old Noah was.
These discs are Hanabee authored discs, given that when they boot up to the static menus, the default audio setting is Japanese with English subtitles. The menus are simple, static affairs, with a key art image, and a listing of options.
The extras on disc 2 comprise the textless credit sequences, and 2:34 of Promotional Video and Commercials.
You get one more textless credit sequence on disc 4.
I didn’t see the final retail release to comment on the packaging or any physical extras.
For most good or fair shows that turn bad, you can point to one moment where things irretrievably fell apart. It’s the ‘jump the shark’ moment as epitomised by Fonzie in Happy Days. That’s television, in film we have Indiana Jones’ ‘nuke the fridge’ moment. Well there’s a candidate for anime as well, as in Aldnoah.Zero’s ‘eyeball taking control of the body’ moment. If ever there was a scene that had me hurling obscenities at my television screen, that would be it. It took whatever respect I had for this rather mediocre show and flushed it all away. Fortunately it happened towards the end of the run, and I only had to spend a couple of episodes scoffing at the screen, before an ending that seemed to rip off the original X-Men movie ending wholesale.
Aldnoah.Zero held a whole lot of promise. After all, it had Gen Urobuchi behind the script. It also has some serious production values, with the show looking positively theatrical. The character designs are appealing, if occasionally difficult to discern, the action sequences are outstanding, breathtaking and adrenaline fuelled, and the show’s music soundtrack is stylish and unique. This is a show whose audio visual attributes will stick in the mind long after the end credits have rolled. On top of that, the concept behind the story is a solid one, a war of the worlds scenario that is as classic as science fiction as you can get.
It’s just that in the execution, Aldnoah.Zero falls apart. As mentioned in the review for Part 1, the characterisations are weak and uninteresting, or wholly ridiculous, and we end up in the unfortunate situation where the story dictates the characters, and preposterous things happen as a result. The previous collection ended on quite the cliff-hanger, difficult if not impossible to resolve. The resolution we get makes little sense, unless it takes place in a universe where being shot in the eye at point blank range is survivable, because the back of the eye socket is bulletproof, and the braincase is shock absorbing. Hence the bionic eye which the character can have a conversation with, the aforementioned shark-jumping eye which takes over when the character is non-compos mentis.
There are also six episodes of a comatose princess floating in a bacta tank to motivate Captain Stupidity to continue on his path of doing all the wrong things, the opposite things to what his inspirational princess wanted, in the belief that she actually wants the opposite. You’ll note that I’ve avoided names to limit the effect of the spoilers, although what happens in this show is so daft that spoilers might actually serve as due warning. Another disappointing thing is that other than the three main characters, the other characters in the show feel like an afterthought. Any back-story or development that they might have got in the first half or in this collection is really wasted. There’s no resolution, no satisfaction in how their arcs pan out, if they even do. Most of the other characters die in big anonymous explosions, or are just forgotten about.
24 episodes of anime could easily fit on just three discs, but with Aldnoah.Zero we have the resource wasting 8 disc release. It’s also a waste of your intellect. Despite being penned by Gen Urobuchi, this is really a dumbed down show, and any effort that you put into unravelling its story, trying to empathise with its characters is wasted effort, and will probably annoy you in the process once you realise just how vacuous it is. The thing is, I can’t say that Aldnoah.Zero is actually a waste of time. It’s pure, summer blockbuster, bubblegum anime. Its production values soar into the stratosphere, delivering eye-candy on an epic scale, and love or loathe the writing and the characters, each episode delivers on action and melodrama. While you’re watching Aldnoah.Zero you will be entertained, even if the effect wears off with alacrity. And until the eyeball moment, it will probably have you hooked too. After episode 22, all bets are off.