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THE GREAT RETURN (Mr. Freeze Reviews Aldnoah.Zero)

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Post by Mr. Freeze on Fri Sep 18, 2015 8:52 am

(No matter how many times they kick me down, I will always get up...two years later. ROW ROW FIGHT DA POWA)

Mr. Freeze Reviews:


Well, today marks the two-year anniversary of me being a lazy piece of shit. So, why not celebrate with another lazy piece of shit, Aldnoah.Zero? Yes, what held so much promise when first revealed during panels with Nitroplus and Gen Urobuchi back in early 2014 reached its conclusion this year, and to say that fans (and particularly critics) were disappointed with the ultimate outcome would probably be an understatement.

So, what went wrong? Where did the famous "Urobutcher" lose his touch and why did this project by A-1 Pictures fall short of expectations? And is it really as bad as some reviewers say it is? Let's take a look into this mess of a show and find out.

The Concept in a Nutshell
In the 1970's, while exploring the surface of Mars, humanity discovered ancient technology and soon established an empire on the planet. This nation-state, called the Vers Empire, continued to grow until it declared war on Earth for its resources. The following battles resulted in the destruction of the Moon and a ceasefire between planets. This treaty held for fifteen years until, in 2014, a visit to Earth by the princess of Vers leads to an assassination attempt and war once again breaks out. Discovering that the princess is indeed still alive and that the situation is more complicated than first appears, a student named Inaho Kaizuka and his fellow classmates watch over the princess as they take part in the battles to come.

My score is broken up into 4 categories that add up to a potential score of 40. Letter grade is based on percentages akin to standard grading (i.e. 36 out of 40 is the lowest score for an A grade, 32 out of 40 for B, etc).

The Story
The plot has a fairly compelling opening, which sets up the general premise of the show quite well. Subplots begin to worm their way into the narrative as early as episode 3, and the Kataphract Inaho and co. face in the opening scenario is approached in a rather creative way that promises enjoyable scenarios involving physics and battles heavily in the favor of the enemy. Everything here, for the most part, is set to usher in an intriguing plot of interstellar warefare.

So why does it fall apart soon after that?

One could look to Gen Urobuchi for the answer. The creator of the series, Urobuchi's name is slapped atop the whole damn thing as if he owned it, alongside fellow Fate/Zero collaborater Ei Aoki. Such a heavy place amongst the credits and accolades would lead one to believe that he had a major involvement with the project. However, closer inspection and research reveals that he was being spread thin with other projects, and had less and less to do with the series as it went on. He is credited as the original creator as well as script-writer for episodes 1-3. The remainder of the script over the rest of the two seasons was primarily managed by Katsuhiro Takayama, the man who went from scripting the 2003 adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist to... Boku no Pico. Huh. Regardless, the major damning complaint from many people, Inaho's stoic and rather stagnant character, seems to be one of the aspects that Urobuchi was not particularly involved with even early on. The credit is given to Aoki for developing Inaho's character, and Urobuchi even states that he doesn't even remotely relate to Inaho, something that is striking given that relatable traits are a common theme among the characters he tends to write.

Now that we've got the ones responsible for the upcoming train wreck pinned down, let's look at why this show wasted its potential. It takes very little time for the battles to begin delving into rather simplistic or ridiculous tactics, and as some have noted before me, Inaho seems to be the designated hero simply because he acts and thinks rather than stand around and get decimated. This becomes disappointing quickly as battles begin to follow a similar formula before the enemy finally decides to wise up and bring more than one unit at a time. Sometimes it can be easy to miss how silly these fights really are due to other elements of the production (mentioned down below), but in retrospect these battles can be summed up as such: 1) Enemy deploys kataphract 2) Everyone panics before Inaho makes some sort of convoluted plan 3) ??? 4) Profit! There is generally very little deviation from this for quite some time.

The next Jenga block to help the crumbing of the structure is the fluctuation of character interaction and motives. The primary conflicting characters, Inaho and Slaine, finally cross paths in episode 6. Inaho's response to Slaine quickly slings the plot out of control and leaves a rather gaping plot hole, especially considering that Inaho's actions don't really fit with the stoic, analytical character he's had thus far. Though this is the only major break in character(?) for Inaho himself, the development of Slaine's character as a result of this quickly becomes a clusterfuck. His motives from the beginning have always been to protect and rescue the princess, but his actions from here on out until the very end of the show quickly become sporadic and often detrimental to his cause. There are times when he is explicitly told information that will cause his ideals to crash and burn, and his reaction is simply to let those events happen or even support them despite his goals! It's no surprise that the viewer as well as Slaine then expresses confusion as to why he allowed those events to happen in the first place. This only becomes more infuriating as the second season rolls onward.

What's most frustrating about this is that the conflict between Inaho and Slaine is clearly meant to evoke the intense and often well-developed standoffs present in Urobuchi's other works. The two are foils to one another, much as Kiritsugu Emiya and Kotomine Kirei from Fate/Zero are, or Kogami Shinya and Shogo Makishima from Psycho-Pass. However, in those prior examples, the conflict between the two characters is one of a moral dilemma, the obsession over each other consuming them until only one may emerge victorious. Here, the two characters are handled sloppily as we have little to no true understanding of how the characters operate nor do they seem to grow from each other's influence. It makes for forced conflict where conflict should be natural yet at an impasse.

The constant comparisons to Urobuchi's work is relevant overall as it's clear that Takayama is attempting to emulate his style without really understanding how or why it works. This leads to the awful ending to the first season and the damning second one that follows, so I am loathe to give the story anything higher than a 3/10 for the 3 Urobuchi episodes 2/10.

The Visuals
The visuals are polarizing, though if you are not bothered by conspicuous CGI you should manage without being too bothered. Outside of lazily computer-generated mechas, effort was clearly put into the rest of the visuals and it pays off the most when 2D characters are not on screen to clash with the CGI. The CGI is not bad (you can tell they spent money to make it look presentable), but for me personally it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when going back to hand-drawn mechas like those in Evangelion or Code Geass.

Character designs are appealing enough, but there's a distinct lack of fanservice throughout the narrative. Depending on how you feel about that, it can make or break a full investment to the 24 episodes. I can't say the visual composition of the shots wowed me, but I like to look at shows like Burst Angel or Dragonaut and count my blessings that the action in this is more visually palatable. Overall, the CGI doesn't do it for me and leaves me strongly adverse to the mechs at a 5/10 for visuals.

The Voice Acting
To be frank, I didn't bother with the dub. I can't speak for its quality, as I honestly didn't want to watch this again to verify. The sub, however, serves well enough and no one in the cast really flubs their part. Just look out for Inaho's general lack of interest, as he's not exactly a superstar nor does his performance wow in any way, shape or form. The voice acting receives a serviceable 7/10 for at least matching the mess of a story.

The Soundtrack
The glory that graces your ears during this adventure was composed by none other than Hiroyuki Sawano. Considered the "Hans Zimmer of anime," his music is characterized by a mix of orchestral instrumentation, electronic/rock influence, and fucking epic mixing of deafening percussion. His soundscape is a recognizable watermark on an anime, and Aldnoah.Zero is no exception to that rule. Perhaps the first and most obvious motif you will notice is the striking feminine wailing of "MKAlieZ," prominent in many major battle scenes throughout the seasons. The vocals are not unlike his work for his prior score to Kill la Kill and it's hard to deny the effectiveness of his overwhelming productions. He knows how to rock the fuck out. Other notable tracks include the more Attack on Titan-esque mix of choral and electronic minor tonality in "Chikyuu wo Kasei" and the more folk-and-rock-oriented leanings in "VERS." It's not anything striking and new for Sawano, but every day Sawano steps outside his house a 40-person choir, 50-piece orchestra, two drum sets and wall of subwoofers follow him to the grocery store so I can't say it's unimpressive.

All in all, I can't help but give the soundtrack a solid 9/10. It's classic Sawano, and his work goes a long way toward making the occasionally asinine story bearable.

Final Notes Before the verdict: I had a number of egg jokes prepared for this review, but I had to scramble to get this review out so I left most of them for the rest of the internet to deal with.

The Verdict
Aldnoah.Zero receives a 23/40, or an F in my book. What started out with some great potential ended up becoming a "buy the soundtrack" sort of show, which is almost more offensive than the mess that was Venus Versus Virus. Unless you're dying to ingest some new mecha anime this year, watching it means the yoke's on you.
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Post by Trollestia on Tue Nov 03, 2015 12:39 am

"I am going to kill the princess."
"No! You can't! I'll stop you!"
"Oh, main character! There you are. I will kill you."
"I hate the main character so I will help."
"Thank you Slain, now I will kill the princess."
*kills princess*
*kills general dude*
"booh hoo hoo, oh shit the main character is alive still."
*kills main character again*
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Post by Mr. Freeze on Tue Nov 03, 2015 2:49 am

Worst part about that is that no one dies.
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