Having discovered advanced technology on Mars in 1972, many humans migrated there and founded the VERS Empire, a domain that proclaimed itself independent from Earth. Fifteen years after VERS declared their first war on Earth, an attack on Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia during a peace mission plunged the two planets into yet another war. This time, the Empire and its 37 clans of Orbital Knights seek to conquer Earth once and for all, bringing both Earth and Mars under their control and making the power of the Empire absolute. With the young princess of VERS at first presumed dead, conflict is reignited by her most loyal friend, the Earth-born Slaine Troyard, who has swiftly ascended to the rank of Count. But while Asseylum is really kept in suspended animation, war continues without her permission as another plays pretender to the throne.
As season two begins, ace soldier Inaho Kaizuka of the United Forces of Earth wields Asseylum’s bestowed ability to activate ALDNOAH, a weaponised robot unearthed from the ruins of an ancient Martian civilisation. This has become a story of romance, allegiance and betrayal between family, enemies and comrades, one that even a Star Wars fan completely new to anime would find familiar. Through the political dance peppered with gallant mech duels, or the artistic spirit of concept artist Ralph McQuarrie in the planets and architecture, there is plenty to appreciate as a space-fantasy acolyte. Because that’s the hidden beauty of this show; it is a space fantasy, if one with more subtlety of tone, character and script than a certain much-dumped-upon filmmaker could find within the bounds of his writing ability.
The soldier shell ALDNOAH and the grace of its power displays tie in the key factor that differentiates this from Star Wars, or even its prominent anime touchstones, Gundam, Code Geass and sprinklings of Knights of Sidonia. For all its exploration of the unsteady, often imperceptible natures of good and evil, revolution and majesty, and grand battles at stately pace in bright, sterilised visuals, this show has a resounding undertone even more universally relevant than how we choose to stand up for our beliefs as an example to others. Rather, its base note is how we abuse our Earth as the mother that gave us all birth and nurture. ALDNOAH freezes the landscape as an attack, transforming the air and making it bite any enemy with frost and chilling winds, crystallising all remaining life as an example of how we sanction the power of technology over nature. And beneath the pomp and circumstance of war, the characters are all caught up in this same underlying conflict, which has become a parlance of our time.
The true Princess Asseylem is the advocate of nature, traumatised but open-hearted and willing to love. And yet, it was always going to take a colossal effort to bring her warriors around to her peaceful beliefs. Her champion Slaine is a tragic anti-hero caught on the opposite side of that impassable rift between war and nurturing the safety of his people. He, opposite Inaho, finds himself tumbling over the precipice of his aggression. Even as he wins the right to wed Asseylem, opening the door to a potential peacetime, he gets stuck between the weights of defending his pride and honouring the hopes of his beloved.
Either way, the war isn’t going to stop for a wedding. This is the terrible nature of hatred and the conflict it conceives. Neither Inaho or Slaine have a home to return to without the vanquishing of another. The two nemeses are at a stalemate, where both must take responsibility for their actions thus far, and forfeit their regrets for the greater good. One must kneel to defeat, and this gives rise to Inaho’s biggest developmental flaw – that his displacement as more of an android as the war rages on is barely explored. It simply skims across his mechanical eye as a flesh wound from his enmity with Slaine, that garners him the tearful sympathy of the female soldiers in his troop.
At the very least, the main cast is intricately tangled in an overarching calamity, one we witness as some omniscient galactic entity. This war has gone beyond one waged between peoples, now between cold weapons, over a coveted state of control. As we have come to know in our lifetimes, conflict crumbles to happenstance, while life outside it simply goes on. Often at a clumsy pace, as it tries to reconcile its placid tone with bringing a war to its conclusion, Aldnoah.Zero still brings you eye-to-eye with its heroes and villains. Even though finer details may slip by unnoticed on a first watch, the desires of both sides are raw and exposed as a fresh wound. They leave less of an ending, and more of a reassessment of how you feel for these soldiers with all atrocities in hindsight.
Extras: English dub; clean opening/closing animation; promo video & commercials.