One thing as an anime fan I’ve never really been able to get into is the idea that a single name behind a project can generate hype. I think it’s better to prioritize looking at the scenario, and the studio’s track record first and foremost as opposed to getting excited because of the reputation of one individual. Of course that “one individual” in this case just so happens to be one of the most controversial writers in the business to date, Gen Urobuchi. I’m not really here to get into my personal stance on Urobuchi obviously, though If I was to be honest with you, I am for the most pretty indifferent to his output. So I wasn’t necessarily excited to hear that this was his brainchild nor was it much of a cause of alarm to hear he jumped ship. Considering how the quality of Gargantia and the Psycho-Pass franchise suffered after he handed those off (and not to mention the fact that the guy who took his place was the same dude who brought us Boku no Pico AKA everyone’s favorite meme recommendation) perhaps some serious red flags should’ve been raised. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. After an OK start, the writing really unravels itself into complete oblivion in the most uninteresting way imaginable.
As far as set-ups go, Aldnoah.Zero’s isn’t particularly groundbreaking since on its surface the UFE/Vers Empire strife is reminiscent to pretty much all the Earth Federation/Zeon conflicts out there in anime. The set-up is incredibly been there, done that and only distinguishes itself by staggeringly badly it’s all handled. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a war drama handle its own world as shallowly as Aldnoah.Zero as the worldbuilding is practically nonexistent asides from a few info-dumps in the 1st half. The series is so adamant on showing us flashy battles and poorly conceived character drama to the point where it forgets that there ought to be more to a war drama than explosions and love triangles. In the place of offering a worldwide perspective of the two sides to help breath life into the stale conflict. Instead, all we get is pompous Space Nazis who are only a couple of generations apart from the people on Earth have superior technology and want to take over take over the world. That’s it.
Another issue is that none of it’s battles feels particularly weighty or meaningful in the long run. The show doesn’t really manage to make up for that with sheer entertainment value since the skirmishes between the two factions feel very samey-samey and repetitious to the point where you can make a sort of drinking game out of it. A shot every time UFE (United Forces of Earth) soldiers shoots repeatedly to no avail at overpowered marauders from Mars and end up becoming death fodder. A shot for every time Inaho appears, analyzes the enemy and finds out their weakness just minutes into the battle and wins. A shot for every time the plot isn’t impacted in any meaningful way and all named characters come out alive. A shot for…OK, I think I’ve made my point. What also doesn’t help is that the battles somehow turn a strong Sawano OST and turn into a negative. The issue here is that the music selection is incredibly shallow and overstated. They literally play the same theme for every battle against each Martian onslaught, only swapping themes once after the season break and continuing to do the same afterward. This way the OST not only makes otherwise good tracks seem stale, it also assigns the same level of importance to the battles with random irrelevant bad guys as it would the season-ending climaxes. Gimmicks are the only thing that set the battles apart from each other, the only real question is what broken power will the Martians bring to the table for a high schooler to overcome. From the mech that erases everything he touches to the mech that can freeze surroundings to the mech that can clone itself endlessly, it still manages to feel rote. The impenetrable layers of plot armor and the uninteresting hold-overs from skirmish-to-skirmish eventually make the action in Aldnoah.Zero a complete bore.
Everything I’ve brought up this far has only really been enough to make the show completely mediocre at worst, but the characters are what make Aldnoah.Zero a true failure. It’s hard to not feel anything but the deepest of apathy for the UFE in particular since most of them aren’t given a lick of depth and the only character arcs that are thoroughly set-up (Marito and Rayet’s) fall off the face of the Earth in the 2nd season because they become entirely irrelevant. Honestly, the entirety of the UFE may as well be renamed the United Job-squad of Earth since they’d be about as capable as an infant in front of a bloodthirsty pack of hyenas if not for Inaho, which finally brings me to everyone’s favorite autistic ace-pilot. There really isn’t much to say about the guy that isn’t incredibly obvious from the 1st few episodes and that’s what hamstrings the show most out of all of it’s problems. There’s no getting around it, Inaho is just one massive, expressionless plot-win button to the point where the likes of Kirito and Tatsuya Shiba. They try to make it seem as if he actually gives a damn about anything by having other people talk behind his back about the guy he really is underneath, but even then he fails to stir much in the audience besides boredom since he would swear vengeance upon the enemy for the death of a friend with same level interest one would put into ordering a carton of discount eggs, possibly less. He has no interesting backdrop, development or anything resembling catharsis. He’s just “competence” incarnate and that’s fucking lame.
The Mars side fares better in the writing department considering, but that’s pretty faint praise by my estimation. Of course, the only interesting character to follow throughout the entire series is Slaine Troyard for better of or worse. He has the benefit of not only being allowed to make mistakes, yet he also drives the story forward so he’s already much better than any of the characters from Earth for that alone. The 2nd half mostly revolves around him and the decisions he makes that don’t necessarily line up with the desires of the princess he once tried to rescue. His actions and his ambitions essentially run in opposite directions in the latter half. Without going into specific-spoiler territory, everything that befalls him in the second is completely a result of his own lack of foresight and thus it becomes difficult to feel bad for the guy. His evolution from a chicken running around with its head cut-off in the name of the Princess to some sort of Machiavellian-type mass-murderer overnight and it’s hard to buy. The logic behind this character feels tacked on and silly. Sauzbaum had potential as a true antagonist because he was an actual character as opposed to most of the crazy warmongering elites, but even his character is wasted in a fairly stupid manner.
Aldnoah.Zero is just one of those titles I’ve completed only to question why I ever bothered with it in the 1st place. It sure as heck isn’t smart enough to win over Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Gundam fans, nor is it stupid or edgy enough to capture the appeal of Valvrave or Cross Ange. Of course Aldnoah.Zero is full of nonsense too, but it takes nonsense far too seriously to the point where laughing at the writers is the best reaction I could possibly hope for. It never even manages to become a complete trainwreck at the end because the resolution in the final episode just feels too damn simple and lacking in pay-off. Character arcs and plot-points (like the research of Slaine’s father, the origins of the alien technology, the issues with Inaho’s eye, etc) are tossed into the wind since the series has wasted too much time in the 1st 23 episodes to do anything but fizzle out in a way that makes much of what the viewers subjected themselves to feel even more pointless than before.
It’s a show for nobody, not even the most die-hard Urobuchi-philes since his influence on the majority of the story is non-existent and no attempts were made to even provide a cheap imitation of his voice. Want a mech series with romance, plenty of action and a strong OST? Watch The Vision of Escaflowne or Macross. Want a full-blown epic-scaled war between two sides with plenty of history behind it? Go check out Legend of the Galactic Heroes or get into the Gundam. As far as I see it, Aldnoah.Zero offers a war without weight and politics that lack intrigue.